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Research is underway in Stanford’s new, $200-million stem cell building

By Kate Johnson | 9 Feb 2011

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The Stanford School of Medicine opened its Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research building this fall with $200 million in private donations. (Photo courtesy of Stanford University)

Stanford’s stem cell scientists still have boxes to unpack, but they already seem at home in the nation’s largest stem cell research center, built at a cost of $200 million.

“Now that we’re all here, collaboration is much easier,” said Dr. Mark Chao, a cancer stem cell biologist and Stanford medical student.

Chao moved into the Stanford School of Medicine’s newest research facility, the Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, last November. The building’s tenants come from various backgrounds, including regenerative medicine, cancer research, and neuroscience, but all the work conducted here relates to stem cells.

The 200,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility officially opened Oct. 27 after nearly two years of construction. Funding for the project came from various sources, including a $43.6 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a $75-million donation from Business Wire founder and Stanford alumnus Lorry I. Lokey. University funds and smaller private donations made up the remainder of the $200 million budget.

Project proponents designed the space with collaborative, interdisciplinary research in mind, and according to Chao, their vision is already becoming reality. He especially appreciates having so many of his colleagues concentrated in a single building. He notes that meetings often bring together stem cell scientists from separate lab groups and various backgrounds to discuss questions of common interest to the field. It’s a spirit of interaction and partnership, he says, that defines Stanford.

When the building is fully occupied, about 40 faculty members will spearhead research here. More than 500 lab benches and 33 equipment rooms will give scientists the elbowroom they need to work effectively. All the lab groups will have access to common spaces such as darkrooms, conference rooms, and sterilization facilities.

Facilities Manager Linda Heneghan estimates that 85 percent of the 550 tenants are now unloading boxes and setting up offices and labs. The remainder, mostly temporary faculty and new appointments, will trickle in over the next few months.

“It was a huge undertaking,” Heneghan said of the move. Since she began work in the building last September, she has helped new arrivals negotiate everything from burned-out lightbulbs to overloaded circuit breakers. On a Friday morning last week, stacks of empty trashcans filled her first-floor office, awaiting distribution to various rooms throughout the building.

Lokey’s brand-new, state-of-the-art infrastructure has made settling in interesting.

“In an older building where a lab has moved out and another lab moves in, there are certain logistics,” Heneghan said. “But it’s usually not, how do the utilities work?”

This one-of-a-kind sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly adorns the building's lobby. (Photo courtesy of Stanford University)

One of the most exciting experiences, she adds, was observing the installation of the blown-glass sculpture that hangs in the building’s entryway. Crafted by glass artist Dale Chihuly in Seattle, the sculpture arrived at Stanford in more than a hundred boxes. Crews took two weeks to assemble and hang the 4,000-pound piece, working from three layers of scaffolding that completely filled the atrium.

Chao, who relocated from a Stanford facility on Arastradero Road, knows that it will take time to get the new building functioning smoothly. He is still waiting for technicians to finish calibrating some of Lokey’s high-tech facilities, such as the state-of-the-art animal research center in the basement. But once everything is operational, he said, “it’s going to create a lot of great science.”

Planning for the move began more than a year ago.  A project team worked with eight main lab groups to schedule move-in dates and plan for equipment placement and other logistics, according to Heneghan. The groups, which varied in size, arrived at a rate of about two per month between September and January.

Many relocated from nearby Stanford School of Medicine buildings such as the Beckman Center and the Center for Clinical Science Research.

Chao thinks the effort that went into facilitating the move has paid off. “Anytime you move a lab, it takes a while to get up and running,” he says. “But it’s been smoother than anticipated.”

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