Fall 2010
Ushering in a new era of research

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Center for Molecular Medicine Exterior

The Center for Molecular Medicine encompasses 140,000 square feet of space dedicated to laboratories, patient care areas and administrative spaces all devoted to medical research with the purpose of bettering patient outcomes. Photo by Edgar Antonio Nunez

The Center for Molecular Medicine, the first new basic science research facility to be built at the University of Nevada School of Medicine in nearly 30 years, officially opened Aug. 16, 2010 heralding in a new era of research for Nevada.

By Anne McMillin, APR

The center houses portions of the medical school’s Departments of Microbiology, Pathology, Pharmacology and Physiology and Cell Biology and serves as headquarters for the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Diseases and the University of Nevada, Reno Center for Healthy Aging.

The entire facility is a center for workforce training in the life sciences and a resource to attract biotech industries while expanding the state’s ability to pull in private sector investments. The focus of the Center for Molecular Medicine will be biomedical and translational research providing new insights into the fundamental questions of health and disease including infection, immunity and cancer.

The Center for Molecular Medicine will create new horizons for biotechnical research collaboration and expand the breadth of science in Nevada. It will increase the scientific workforce in the state and provide more employment opportunities for graduate student and post-doctorate fellow training as well as technicians who will run the facility, according to Tom Kozel, microbiology professor and the school’s liaison to the center.

To accomplish that, 14 School of Medicine basic scientists are moving their research laboratories into the facility this fall and will ultimately occupy 70,000 square feet of the building; the entire west wing. The Whittemore Peterson Institute will have 21,000 square feet on the second and third floors of the east wing and the Center for Healthy Aging will occupy about 6,650 square feet on the east wing’s first floor.

Five scientists from the pharmacology department are transferring their laboratories to the facility, including Iain Buxton, Pharm.D., who sees the building as the largest stimulus to research in Nevada since 1982 when the Howard Medical Sciences Building on campus opened.

“For me, the notion of moving to the new Center for Molecular Medicine conjures an uncontainable excitement. More than fresh paint and windows with a view, the move offers an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with others as we carry out experiments in an open laboratory design,” he said.

Buxton, who is the principal investigator for the translational research program in pharmacology, added that the center will facilitate growth as a community of scholars and will support gathering as colleagues to discuss science in an informal setting.

From his perspective as a researcher studying the causes of preterm birth, Buxton said the more efficient technology, including mechanized sampling machines that accelerate the handling process and reduce labor requirements, is a huge leap forward. He noted that the ability to bank genetic samples more efficiently and store them with the intent to share with other researchers is a great opportunity for the entire research process.

Building features like these will allow research to move more quickly, thereby attracting funding, according to Buxton.

Sanford Barsky, M.D., representing the pathology department in the Center for Molecular Medicine, sees the facility as giving the University of Nevada School of Medicine a greater ability to compete at the national level for very limited resources and research dollars.

“We need a level playing field with state-of-the-art facilities and the Center for Molecular Medicine gives us that,” said Barsky, the department chair, whose research interests focus on the molecular mechanisms of inflammatory breast cancer and lung carcinoma metastasis.

He said the center provides the medical school a more robust research presence that will be integrated into its teaching and patient care missions.

Barsky also sees an economic boost resulting from this building. He will be doubling the size of his lab and will have a postdoctoral researcher, resident scientists, medical students, residents and undergraduates working there.

Subhash Verma, Ph.D., is one of four scientists from the microbiology and immunology department moving his lab into the new center.

His research involves understanding the role of viral latent proteins and identifying the cellular proteins that cooperate with viral partners to induce tumors. Specifically, he focuses on identifying the mechanism by which tumor viruses, in particular the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus, infects human cells and induces tumorigenesis.

“The concept of open lab spaces in the building will provide us more acquaintance to interact with other investigators of our department as well as the other departments. Additionally, we will have better access to the specific instruments belonging to other departments, as they will be housed under the same roof,” Verma said.

He is anxious to use the multiple high-speed and ultra centrifuges for the purification of viruses, DNA/RNA and proteins. “The fluorescent and laser con-focal microscope will be useful in my research for the characterization of protein-protein interaction and viral DNA replication sites,” he said.

Violeta Mutafova-Yambolieva, M.D., Ph.D., from the physiology and cell biology department, is looking forward to having adequate research space after 13 years as a faculty member and seven moves to accommodate her research needs.

Like Verma, she is looking forward to using new equipment that will be shared among researchers from the four departments: freezers, storage spaces, vacuum centrifuges, evaporators, multi-plate readers and a con-focal microscope. Access to this equipment will help expand her research interests in the area of neural control of vascular and visceral smooth muscles.

"Our move into the center will also generate a domino effect as other investigators will have the opportunity to inhabit our freed space and expand their research capacity," she said, adding that she expects the move into new facilities will have a multilayered impact by more fully supporting overall research at the medical school, thus increasing the creativity and productivity of basic scientists and ultimately benefiting patients.

The new center also offers a better environment for collaboration between colleagues due to its open space design, she said.

Additional research in chronic fatigue syndrome is being conducted in the building by the Whittemore Peterson Institute at its translational research lab. The institute's goal is to bring effective treatments to patients with illnesses that are caused by acquired dysregulation of the immune and nervous systems, often resulting in disability.

In addition to laboratory space, the Center for Molecular Medicine will house an auditorium, meeting rooms, a vivarium, patient examination and treatment rooms for the Center for Healthy Aging and the Whittemore Peterson Institute and Pathways, a food service outlet.

The Center for Molecular Medicine cost approximately $77 million and the majority of the funding—$60 million—was generated through the efforts of researchers from across the University of Nevada, Reno, including the School of Medicine. A $12 million appropriation from the Nevada State Legislature and funding from the Whittemore Family Foundation account for the balance.

Technology in the research facility may become available for collaboration which does not currently exist with private industry. The center will be a resource to attract biotech industries while expanding the state's ability to further diversify, contribute substantially to the local economy and strengthen and support services to advance health care research in Nevada.

Following the grand opening at the Center for Molecular Medicine on August 16, the public was invited to attend a community day on August 21 when nearly 500 people toured the facility and met with researchers.

University of Nevada School of Medicine researchers in the Center for Molecular Medicine

  • David AuCoin, Ph.D. Emerging Infectious Diseases
  • Sanford Barsky, M.D. Breast Cancer
  • Dean Burkin, Ph.D. Muscular Dystrophy
  • Iain Buxton, Pharm.D. Preterm Birth
  • Robert Harvey, Ph.D. Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Tom Kozel, Ph.D. Infectious Diseases
  • Norman Leblanc, Ph.D. Regulation of Smooth Muscle Cells
  • Violeta Mutafova-Yambolieva, M.D., Ph.D. Neural Control
  • Greg Pari, Ph.D. Herpesviruses
  • Brian Perrino, Ph.D. Gastroparesis
  • Cherie Singer, Ph.D. Asthma
  • Subhash Verma, Ph.D. Herpesviruses
  • Qi Wan, M.D., Ph.D. Stroke and Neurodegenerative Diseases
  • Wei Yan, M.D., Ph.D. Male Infertility