Laboratory renovations sign of MCOM research investment, progress

The increase in laboratory remodeling across the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM) campus lately has prompted me to consider “what is a lab?” and to recall some of my own experiences.

In my first faculty position at Duke University, my lab was in a small building next to the helipad for the hospital. Every time the helicopter landed or took off we all held our breath (and our experiment) until the activity cleared. The lab was built in the 1950s, and was certainly not of the open-space design. I never did find a thermostat. Cell cultures were done in a closet and PCR was performed with three water baths on my office desk. But the space was functional and we were happy and productive. Our group consisted of two postdocs, two graduate students and one technician, and we just made it work.

A few years after I moved to the University of Cincinnati, I was offered a new open lab and resisted because I was so familiar with all my little spaces. But ultimately the Dean made me move, and I came to embrace the concept.

As we recruit our new faculty, there seems to always be multiple lab remodeling projects underway. One observation I have made is that the stated satisfaction of faculty members with their lab space is directly related to their experience and/or confidence in their research. So many times in the early days I would hold my breath as we showed a new faculty their remodeled space. I was so relieved by the simple response: “This will be fine, when can I start?”

We all need to remember that our lab space per se does not define us. But in the scientific community, the products of our research do play a major role in establishing excellence in a field. To that end, we continue to invest in new state-of-the art equipment to provide technology that takes our research to the next level. And to my mind, these investments have a greater impact than the physical attributes of a given lab. Last year alone we spent $13 million for such equipment in various research buildings across MCOM.

One of the many laboratories incorporating open-space design at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s facility, pictured after renovation was completed.

Nevertheless, as team science becomes increasingly necessary for high-impact results, we continue to modify our research spaces.  Currently remodeling is underway in the MDC building, the Center for Drug Discovery and Design, Shriner’s Hospital, the Byrd building, the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare, and other areas of the medical campus. These renovations have amounted to $5.2 million in costs over the last five years. And then, the Heart Institute is emerging as part of the construction of our new MCOM facility in downtown Tampa, with the 10th floor being poured a few weeks ago. This more than $50 million cardiovascular institute project has been challenging to design, because we want to satisfy our investigators’ needs yet remain flexible for the future. We have received great feedback from departments and investigators to help us hone in on the final design.

Finally, I want to congratulate our faculty and staff on our National Institutes of Health funding success; we have realized an 11 percent increase over the last two years in NIH expenditures. This type of return on the aforementioned investments indicates that our strategic plan for supporting existing faculty, recruiting new faculty, securing core equipment, and building and remodeling research space continues to pay off — increasing our basic, translational and clinical research, which are critical missions of the college.

Stephen Liggett, MD
Associate Vice President for Research, USF Health
Vice Dean for Research, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine
Professor of Medicine, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology

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