Headlines

As reported by the Farmington Patch, December 22, 2010.

New Stem Cell Center Offers Myriad Research Possibilities

Work to Focus on Genetic Causes of Autism

By Kira Goldenberg

The most prominent hallway intersection in the University of Connecticut's new Cell and Genome Sciences Building contains a cafe, some couches and a demo room with conference tables and a large screen.

That room has multiple uses, Marc Lalande pointed outóthe building has been open for three months, and the demo room has hosted stem cell conferences, classes and, most recently, holiday-party karaoke.

The group of uses possible in just one room is a microcosm of occupants' attitudes toward the entire facility, 117,000 square feet devoted to fostering collaborative stem cell research.

The $50 million property purchase and renovation was started originally to offer a full range of non-federally funded stem cell research toolsóconducting research that destroys human embryos has long been prohibited on federally-funded equipment. (Some of the research there includes stem cells made from skin cells.)

"But this is much more than just a stem cell building," said Lalande, senior associate dean for research planning and coordination at the Health Center, director of the Stem Cell Institute and professor and chairman of UConn Medical School's genetics and developmental biology department.

He stood just outside the demo room in the building, at 400 Farmington Ave., and greeted every passerby by name without derailing his train of thought.

The new building is, he said, "a multidisciplinary approach using stem cells, genomics, computational tools and sophisticated microscopes to look at how we can use stem cell biology for medical problems."

The building has yet to have its official grand opening, since UConn officials want incoming Governor Dannel Malloy to attend, and it's still missing finishing touches like consistent signage.

But, with scientific scribbles covering every white board, it's already the up-and-running new home of the university's department of genetics and developmental biology, the Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling and the Stem Cell Institute.

They occupy a renovated space, designed by Boston architecture firm Goody Clancy. The building is full of sky lights and internal windows that allow natural light to filter through to its hallways. It boasts communal lab facilities with high-end microscopes, centrifuges and imaging systems. And its 100-seat auditorium, built partially with materials repurposed from other university construction, is already named to commemorate a recent $700,000 donation from an alumnus.

"It's amazing what they did to renovate it," communications officer Carolyn Pennington said. She and Lalande said that, pre-renovation, the building was dark and full of equipment related to animal testing.

With its new owners and occupants, the building-wide focus for the next five or so years will be researching the genetic causes of autism, Lalande said. There are grant applications in the works.

"We're going to have different kinds of people looking at this problem," he said.