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Systems Biology NYU School of Medicine’s Smilow Center Officially Opens

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New York University’s School of Medicine has officially cut the ribbon on its newest addition, the Joan and Joel Smilow Research Center. Rising above the city’s East River, the 13-story facility is equipped with 230,000 square feet of new lab space and a mission to “advance the pursuit of translational medicine,” according to Robert Glickman, the school’s dean.

One day prior to dedicating the new center in late May, a scientific symposium was mounted at NYU’s School of Medicine. Glickman opened the talks, which were presented by a roster of biology’s luminaries. In a bit of Nobel symmetry, laureates David Baltimore and Paul Greengard gave the opening and closing presentations, respectively. Richard Lifton and Eric Lander both gave crowd-pleasing talks on genomics.

Lifton spoke on the impact genetics and genomics will have on the future practice of medicine. He described his own research approach as “using the world as a laboratory” — that is, by scouring the world for genetic outliers in an effort to use the tools of genomics to solve complex physiological problems. Lifton’s own research ranged from pinpointing renin-angiotensin system mutations responsible for Gitelman’s syndrome, a salt wasting disorder, to demonstrating the molecular mechanism by which a polymorphism left half a family with perhaps the highest bone densities on the planet. Lifton closed by re-emphasizing the point that therapeutics will be marked by understanding that traits are not simply Mendelian, and that linkage disequilibrium studies to find common alleles will anchor the future of medical practice.

Lander launched into a talk billed “Beyond the Human Genome Project,” a sufficiently vague headline that, he said, afforded him the ability to choose his actual topic just days before the symposium. The strategy was a good one. He gave a wide-ranging talk on highly conserved non-coding elements across genomes, which dovetailed into his recently proposed hypothesis on human speciation as a case of hybridization with chimps around 5 million to 6 million years ago. In closing, Lander extended his congratulations to the center for “having the confidence and courage to make big bets on meaningful science.”

In true systems bio style, the center itself features open-plan lab space, which translates into reconfigurable bench areas with neither walls nor doors. Interaction duly promoted, researchers will have the ability to reshape floor plans in accordance with changing research needs (not including the need for a little privacy). The center also boasts traditional amenities, such as a 140-seat lecture hall, conference rooms, a ground-floor café, and courtyard.

In the end, the building will house about 40 research teams, “a mix of current investigators and new recruits” according to Glickman’s dedication statement. Smilow’s researchers will have the opportunity to build future collaborations with scientists at New York City’s East River Science Park, a $700 million complex of bioscience facilities to be built on the Bellevue Hospital Center campus.

The center is named after Joel E. Smilow, former head of the Playtex empire and current chairman of Dinex Group, a company that owns several restaurants in New York City, Palm Beach, and Las Vegas. Smilow’s business successes have bankrolled his medico-philanthropic projects in the cardiovascular field, which include funding NYU Medical Center’s Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation center and an endowed professorship in cardiology. One of many other endeavors in his donor portfolio includes genome research at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

— Jen Crebs

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