September 16, 2014

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Lederle grad labs reopen after $12.3M renovations

The Lederle Graduate Research Center laboratories, after $12.3 million of renovations, have been re-opened for research, according to a University of Massachusetts press release.

Courtesy of umass.edu

The official ribbon cutting ceremony on Dec. 10, 2012 celebrated the completion of the two-year project, which has resulted in 15,000 square feet of renovated laboratory space.

“Lederle Graduate Research Center was state-of-the-art in its time, but doesn’t reflect current research practices,” said Craig Martin, head of the chemistry department. “The laboratories received only minor updates and repairs over the past 40 years, so the infrastructure has been in need of attention.”

According to the release, renovations were made possible with $7.1 million of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, along with $5.2 million contributed from the university.

According to James Staros, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, the proposal that was eventually funded was revised and edited repeatedly by the time ARRA was passed in 2009. Funding for the project was achieved after funds from ARRA were distributed to NIH.

“Due to the hard work of Professor Jim Kurose and Joe Balzano, capital project manager with Facilities Planning, who had led the group iterating the proposal, we had a ‘shovel ready’ project in the hopper when NIH received the ARRA funding,” Staros said. Kurose is a UMass professor in the computer science department.

According to the release, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said he was very impressed that the campus had successfully earned funds from the NIH, despite such a competitive grant process.

”One factor that helped is the long and fruitful history of collaboration between chemistry and biochemistry on this campus,” he said. “It certainly makes our future look bright.”

Martin said the funds received were used to completely “gut” three floors of Lederle’s lab space.  New plumbing, air handling, wiring, fire protection and new offices and facilities were installed, according to the release.

He added that one of the most necessary improvements was the “open floor plan” of the laboratory, which he said allows more groups to share space, ideas and resources. According to the release, Martin said the space will allow for six research faculty to move in, all part of the NIH-funded Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program. As its name suggests, the program “promotes training and research in areas that interface between chemistry and biology,” according to an informational presentation posted on the University’s website.

“We’re particularly excited to be giving our young researchers the space they deserve,” Martin said in the release. “They’ll get state-of-the-art new labs built on an open floor plan that encourages interaction between groups.”

Along with the structural renovations, Martin said new additions to the laboratory include replacement autoclaves – devices that sterilize glassware and solutions for cell cultures – in the basement, as well as a space for the X-ray crystallization center and a $1 million nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.

According to Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Professor Lila Gierasch, the NMP spectrometer uses a magnetic field, allowing researchers to study the structure of large biomolecules, such as proteins. It is currently being used to analyze a protein that assist cells in coping with stress, including stress that may result from heat, mutation or the environment.

“The protein is a molecular chaperone, Hsp70, and we have learned how this protein protects other proteins from aggregation, which is causative in several diseases including neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and some cancers as well,” Gierach said, adding that this research was recently featured in the journal Cell.

The new equipment, Gierach said, will also benefit the University’s students.

“We also are pleased that students at UMass Amherst will be able to use state-of-the-art instrumentation, helping them prepare for their careers,” she said.

Staros added that with an outdated facility, it was difficult to carry out effective and competitive research. According to him, the reopening of the laboratory will change this.

“The renovation of these laboratories in Lederle has brought them to state-of-the-art status, which will catalyze the research of the faculty members, students and staff members who occupy them,” he said.

“Students, both graduate and undergraduate, will interact not only within their groups, but also more than before, across groups,” Martin said, referring to partnerships he hopes will form as a result of students having access to the open space of the laboratory.

“This makes for better science and for better education,” he added.

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at jbryson@student.umass.edu

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