(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A facility that will bring research partners together to investigate diseases like cancer, autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s will open on Medical Mile this week.
The Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center (MSU GRRC), first announced in 2014 but in the works since 2010, will open this Thursday, Sept. 20, at 400 Monroe Ave. NW.
According to MSU’s most recent estimates, the center is expected to increase employment in the Grand Rapids area by about 480 jobs by 2029 and have an annual economic impact of $29 million from 2029 onward.
Paid for by MSU’s general fund, tax-exempt financing and $40 million in private donations, the six-story, 162,800-square-foot center came in just under the initial $88.1-million budget, which included the cost of demolishing the former Grand Rapids Press building that previously stood on the 7.85-acre site.
Norman Beauchamp, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, said the MSU principal investigators and their teams previously located up the hill in the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) will move their studies to the new center but maintain ties with VARI.
“(MSU and VARI) have strong correlations in the things we research, such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” he said. “We’ll also look at diseases that relate to neurodevelopment — disorders like autism. In our lab, we’ll study genetics, and they’ll study epigenetics.”
He said MSU GRRC and VARI will share some of the most expensive equipment, including DNA sequencing machines, electron microscopes and mass spectrometers.
“Sometimes it will be housed in the Van Andel and sometimes here,” Beauchamp said.
MSU GRRC also will host oncology researchers from the Spectrum Health-MSU Alliance and other research collaborations with Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and Grand Valley State University’s health sciences programs.
MSU said the center will eventually hold up to 44 principal investigators and their teams, or as many as 260 employees, once the fifth floor — with a to-be-determined use — is built out.
For now, the center is divided into four focus areas on the first through fourth floors.
The main floor has a welcome area, a calming garden in the center that visitors can see from the staircase above and community spaces, Beauchamp said.
“We have the large conference room and in there, we’ll bring together people and have symposiums and seminars. It’s connected by video to the East Lansing campus, which will allow them to participate in these forums,” he said.
The first floor also will house a lab for biomedical informatics — an interdisciplinary way of detecting diseases before they are too advanced to stop by using genetic and biomedical data and health records.
Floor No. 2 will focus on neuroscience research, including neurodevelopment disorders like autism; neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression; neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s; treatments for traumatic brain injury; and gene therapy intervention.
Floor No. 3 will focus on women’s health issues, including infertility, endometriosis, uterine and ovarian diseases; fetal and maternal diseases; prenatal origins of adult disease; and perinatal population health outcomes.
“Our chair (of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology), Rick Leach, has brought together world-class research,” Beauchamp said. “Part of what we want to do is study what are the factors when people are living their daily lives — nutrition, pollution or stress — that contribute to the birth of unhealthy children? What are the things that cause disease in newborns, and how can we prevent that?
“We see major disparities in infant mortality based on race. We need to go at that. What are the causes and how can we lessen that?”
Researchers will conduct pediatric health and human development studies on the fourth floor.
“We’ll do work in precision medicine to determine the best ways to provide individualized care to a child,” Beauchamp said. “We’re going to look at ways to improve outcomes for children with autism, and then we’re going to look at the way genes affect outcomes in children.”
“On a number of the floors, we’ll look at cancer research,” Beauchamp said. “Cancers of women, those will be on the third floor; pediatric cancers, the fourth floor.
“(Regarding) drug discovery — are there meds currently used that could be repurposed to treat cancer? Or are there new meds that could be developed? There’s a drug currently used for a not very common disease, and some of our research suggest you could use it to prevent melanoma from metastasizing. And there’s another drug that could be used to treat neuroblastoma. There might be a drug that works for one disorder that, for the same reason, could stop another.”
Beauchamp said the College of Human Medicine decided to hold off on developing the fifth floor to accommodate future growth in the other four departments.
“Instead of filling the building on Day 1, let’s give a chance for the research groups to find success and recruit new investigators, then those new researchers will use the upper space,” he said. “Rather than trying to determine which group would grow the most, we’ll leave it open.”
He said the fifth floor might play host to public-private partnerships that would take discoveries made in the MSU GRRC and bring them to a broader region.
MSU standards specify that all new buildings must be constructed with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards, but the MSU GRRC was built with the goal of achieving LEED Gold status. It won’t be eligible for certification until after the researchers have moved in, but Beauchamp said the top floor houses evidence of the building’s zero-impact technology.
“The mechanics are like looking inside a precision watch to see how these things come together to provide pure oxygen, pure water, and heating and cooling to the building in the greatest possible efficiency to lower the cost of the building and ensure we have no environmental impact,” Beauchamp said.
The rain garden on the building’s outdoor terrace also was designed to reduce the building’s environmental impact.
Besides the labs for professional scientists, the building also provides dedicated spaces for research science students and medical residents to learn about and participate in MSU’s research.
“We will be seeking students from all over the community,” Beauchamp said. “MSU has 600 students a year whose major is neuroscience who are looking to participate. Students at Grand Valley have a big focus on health sciences. They would be welcome as well.
“We’re also going to host forums and events that reach out to inspire children, learners of all ages — elementary, middle and high school — to learn about what we do, and undergrad, grad and post-grad trainees.”
The building’s interior capitalizes on an abundance of natural light provided by floor-to-ceiling windows on every level. The unenclosed staircase is the centerpiece of the building and has open-backed steps to let light pass.
White walls are accented by neutral tiles in the halls and gray patterned carpets in the offices.
Green Herman Miller Swoop lounge chairs occupy open gathering spaces in the center of each level that are meant to foster collaboration among the scientists. The first floor wall behind the stairwell also is green, thanks to copper roof tiles reclaimed from the old Grand Rapids Press building before demolition.
Beauchamp conceded that it is unusual to have so much open space and so many labs and workspaces that flow into each other in a research setting.
“It goes back to, ‘How do we foster collaboration?’ By having these open spaces where it is well lit, you can see your colleagues, and there are no barriers so you can go over and talk to one another. In other places, the line of sight to other investigators is not good. The collaboration is not good.”
In addition to the researchers, the MSU GRRC will employ departmental administrators, as well as custodial workers and security personnel.
Beauchamp said another facet of the anticipated economic impact includes indirect job creation through spinoff biomedical technology startups, patents and hardware and software discovery.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Ellenzweig designed the research center.
SmithGroupJJR of Detroit provided engineering services.
Clark Construction Co. of Lansing and Rockford Construction of Grand Rapids co-managed the construction.
Dick Temple was the MSU project manager.
Economic Impact of MSU GRRC
Externally sponsored research funding for MSU’s Grand Rapids campus in 2017: $49 million
Cost of MSU GRRC: Just less than $88.1 million
Estimated economic impact of the construction: $100 million
Annual economic impact after 2029: $29 million
Jobs it will create in the region by 2029: 480
Source: MSU College of Human Medicine
MSU GRRC Research Teams
Second floor: Neuroscience – Department of Translational Science and Molecular Medicine
Third floor: Women’s Health Science – Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology
Fourth floor: Children’s Health Science – Department of Pediatrics and Human Development
All floors: Cancer – Interdepartmental
Source: MSU College of Human Medicine