March 28, 2014
Thursday marked a new day for UNC’s research mission as Marsico Hall – the glassy, nine-story state-of-the-art research building – officially opened for business at a dedication ceremony that Chancellor Carol Folt, PhD, presided over.
More than 150 faculty, administrators, dignitaries, students, and media packed the first-floor lobby of the sparkling Marsico Hall, the third-largest building on campus.
“This building will house faculty, students, and staff who are going to push the boundaries of human knowledge and change people’s lives forever,” Chancellor Folt said at the dedication. “Here, in this building, talented people from the School of Medicine and the School of Pharmacy will develop new therapies to treat diseases and new vaccines to prevent them entirely.”
The 340,000-square-foot building will be home to world-class imaging equipment, including a hybrid MRI/PET whole body scanner, a 7 Tesla MRI whole body scanner, and a cyclotron – a machine used to create the isotopes that researchers and clinicians use in their cutting-edge imaging techniques.
UNC and Massachusetts General Hospital – in affiliation with Harvard – are the only two academic medical institutions in the United States that will house all three pieces of technology at one site. The synergy between these medical machines – as well as the top-notch researchers working with them – makes Marsico Hall arguably the most powerful imaging center in the world.
William L. Roper, MD, Dean of the UNC School of Medicine, said, “Leading researchers will use this facility to continue advancing medical breakthroughs in fields such as cancer research, lung disease, infectious disease, and new drug delivery systems, including nanomedicine and pharmacoengineering.
Dr. Roper was one of several speakers Thursday to praise the taxpayers of North Carolina and the N.C. General Assembly for allocating the funds necessary to construct Marsico Hall.
The building occupants include researchers from the UNC School of Medicine, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Marsico Lung Institute, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Biomedical Research Imaging Center (BRIC).
Weili Lin, PhD, the Director of the BRIC said, “The new facility offers substantial improvements in many different ways over our current facility. In particular, the new state-of-the-art cyclotron and radiochemistry facility – the first on the UNC campus – will considerably enhance our molecular imaging capability, as well as our ability to translate research into the clinics to benefit patients.”William Goldman, PhD, Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, said his faculty are excited to do science in a well-designed building with modern lab bench space, plenty of natural light, and good traffic flow, a stark contrast to his department’s former main home in the 34-year-old Mary Ellen Jones Building.
“This is what we need to be competitive in recruiting new faculty, students, and lab personnel,” said Goldman. “The architects have created spaces for impromptu discussions, group meetings, formal conferences, and classes. All these spaces are well integrated with both labs and office spaces. We have struggled with a shortage of such rooms in the past.
“There’s a lot of department history in Mary Ellen Jones but the building has not aged well,” Goldman added. “It was designed for a different era of biomedical science when the equipment was bigger and the lab spaces were smaller. Fortunately, Mary Ellen Jones is slated for a major renovation.”
Goldman also said Marsico Hall will allow for greater collaboration between scientists, a point echoed at the dedication ceremony several times, including by Robert Blouin, PharmD, Dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, who said, “The secret formula for success on this campus is not its buildings or even the specificity of faculty research; it’s the way that our faculty blend their research with that of other scientists to create a collaborative environment that helps this university solve the most complex problems facing us.”
Ned Sharpless, PhD, Director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said, “In this building we’ll be doing something special in the fields of genomics and immunotherapy; those programs are very strong here at UNC, but our faculty are kind of scattered. By bringing people together I think we’ll speed up our research progress.”
Formerly referred to as the Imaging Research Building, Marsico Hall was named to honor Thomas Marsico, a Denver-based philanthropist who has made substantial contributions to the university. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of Marsico Capital Management, LLC, and father of two UNC alumni.
“This is an overwhelming experience,” Marsico said at the dedication. “[A naming ceremony] is something I never aspired to.” For years, Marsico’s philanthropy has been anonymous. University administrators convinced him to accept this honor. “My wife and I and my family wanted to make an investment in an area that could some day really make a difference,” he said, “and that is in lung and pulmonary disease.”
Marsico Hall was paid for by the people of North Carolina through state appropriations in 2009. The N.C. General Assembly – led by representative Marc Basnight and senator Tony Rand – allocated $243.5 million for construction. UNC provided the remaining $1.5 million. Rand was in attendance Thursday, as were staffers representing several U.S. congressional offices, to acknowledge the importance of this new research facility for the citizens of North Carolina. It was the only building to receive public funding in 2009.
Representing the state Thursday was Aldona Wos, MD, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. At the dedication, she said, “On behalf of Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina I offer congratulations to the UNC School of Medicine and the entire university system on completion of this absolutely phenomenal and impressive and important research facility, one that holds promise for the future of medical research. This building is both a testament to the robust health of research efforts at UNC and an indicator to your dedication to improving medical care for the people of North Carolina.”
Also among the speakers Thursday were W. Lowry Caudill, Chair of the UNC Board of Trustees, and Thomas W. Ross, President of the UNC System.
“I want to underscore that we have not gathered here to celebrate the additional square footage,” President Ross said. “What will emanate from here is what really counts – the boundless potential of interdisciplinary research that will take place in these fabulous new labs brings renewed hope for better treatments and eventually cures for cystic fibrosis, cancers, autoimmune disorders, and a multitude of other diseases.”
He added, “This world-class facility will provide a showcase for what the world’s best scientists can accomplish.”
By Mark Derewicz, UNC School of Medicine. All images by Max Englund, UNC Health Care.