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Margin of excellence

As the U’s Biomedical Discovery District nears completion,
the research within it is already opening doors to better health


In a state with a thriving biosciences industry and rich history of innovation, it only made sense for the 2008 Minnesota Legislature to invest in a state-of-the-art research park at the University of Minnesota. The Biomedical Discovery District’s six buildings — the last one will open in 2015 — will provide 700,000 square feet of space for more than 1,000 investigators and personnel to collaborate on research leading to lifesaving discoveries in cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, brain sciences, vision, hearing, immunology, and infectious diseases.

Accelerating discovery

A groundbreaking idea can come from anywhere — from silence, from a brainstorm, from a chance encounter with someone new. That’s why the Biomedical Discovery District purposefully incorporates flexible, open laboratory spaces and common areas for those who work there: to make collaboration easier. By sharing knowledge and building one another’s discoveries, basic science researchers and clinicians working side by side here can find new treatments for some of today’s most challenging and complex health conditions, faster than ever before.

Petri Dish

The full spectrum

Research in the Biomedical Discovery District covers the lifespan and a wide range of diseases.

Molecular to cellular, cardiology to neurology

Working across disciplines ensures that even small discoveries in one area have the maximum impact on research happening throughout the district.

(Photo: Scott Streble)

Fulfilling the promise

At the very core of the Biomedical Discovery District is translational research — bringing breakthroughs in the laboratory to patients as quickly as possible. Ultimately, that’s the value of the work that happens here. And that’s the goal driving the University’s best and brightest thinkers to keep pursuing better treatments and cures.

Exponential impact

Working in the University-affiliated Adult Congenital and Cardiovascular Genetics Center, Cindy Martin, M.D., sees how heart and blood vessel abnormalities affect her patients’ quality of life. And through her lab investigations in the new Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building, she aims to make their lives better. Martin acknowledges that she’s just one physician and can treat only a finite number of patients. “But the beauty of science and innovation,” she says, “is that what we can potentially discover has the capacity of logarithmically affecting people.”

(Photo: Brady Willette)

A special contribution

Ten-year-old Caroline Schlehuber remembers the day that she and her mother volunteered to have a “cookie cutter” punch small skin samples out of their arms. Caroline summoned her bravery to make a donation to stem cell research focused on type 1 diabetes at the University with a larger goal in mind: “In any way I can, I always want to help find a cure.” Mom Michelle takes pride in the tiny scars that she and Caroline took away from the experience. “She and I both have that badge of honor that we contributed in a very unique way,” she says of the research, which will use stem cells made from skin samples to look for clues about why some people develop diabetes while their relatives don’t. “We have high hopes for the work they’re doing.” Watch a video about Caroline's life with type 1 diabetes here.

(Photo: Jim Bovin)

Location, location, location

For cancer geneticist David Largaespada, Ph.D., moving into the new Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building means moving into a better “scientific neighborhood” in which to conduct his work. “We have a world-class imaging facility near us, we have immunologists, we have cancer chemistry, we have cancer genetics — all in one place,” he says. “I think this will be a fantastic, synergistic environment for new research that will allow us to take the best and most logical steps [toward therapies for] human patients. Given how difficult and time-consuming and expensive it is to do that, we must take the absolute best steps and the best shots we can when we bring something to the clinic.” Watch a video about Largaespada's new research "neighborhood" here.

(Photo: Scott Streble)

Part of the solution

The world-renowned Center for Magnetic Resonance Research specializes in pushing the limits of imaging technologies to get previously unattainable information. Using the center’s high-field spectroscopy technologies and expertise, Gülin Öz, Ph.D., and colleagues James Cloyd, Pharm.D., and Paul Tuite, M.D., found that a natural product that’s available over the counter increases antioxidant levels in the brains of people who have Parkinson’s disease — which could eventually slow the course of the disease. Öz says the medication needs further study, “but it could be part of the solution and keep patients healthy a little longer.”

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In the Biomedical Discovery District, where science and innovation are at the forefront, public art visually represents themes of movement and change. (Photos: Scott Streble)