UCSF celebrates 50 years of cardiovascular research with groundbreaking today

By Lauren Hammit

The Cardiovascular Research Institute at UCSF is celebrating 50 years of research and medical innovation today (May 7) in grand style: a science symposium and a groundbreaking ceremony for a new state-of-the art building dedicated to its work.

The events will take place on the UCSF Mission Bay campus. The morning symposium will cover achievements in cardiovascular research and the direction it will take in the future. The afternoon groundbreaking ceremony will be hosted by UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop.

The Institute, known as CVRI, was established in 1958 in response to a worldwide need for dedicated research into heart and vascular diseases and their origins. These diseases remain the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, accounting for nearly one million deaths each year, and the incidence is expected to increase as the population ages.

The new $254 million CVRI building and program are being funded by UCSF resources, gifts from individual donors and foundations, and external financing.

“For 50 years, UCSF CVRI scientists have worked across disciplines to attack cardiovascular disease. Their partnerships led to major advances in understanding and in medical care, aiding everyone from infants with respiratory problems to adults with thrombosis, said Shaun Coughlin, MD, PhD, UCSF professor of medicine and director or CVRI.

To get the Institute started, CVRI recruited outstanding biomedical scientists from within and outside the United States. By the mid-1960s, it already was recognized internationally. It was one of the first scientific institutes designed to foster medical research across departments, incorporating the formation of multidisciplinary teams in which experts in specific fields of study worked together to solve problems. 

CVRI’s numerous achievements include the development of measures to genetically predict cardiovascular diseases and research that led to the development of drugs that prevent blood clotting, improve allergic asthma attacks, fight inflammation, and enable surgery to be averted for newborns with dangerous heart conditions.

One of the earliest accomplishments of a CVRI team was the discovery and development of surfactant-a substance that allows the lungs to inflate properly-as a therapy for infants with respiratory distress syndrome, resulting in the largest drop in infant mortality in the US in modern history.

Today, CVRI focuses its work in eight programs that reflect unmet medical needs and opportunities for research-with the overall goal of achieving new understanding and treatment for cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, coronary artery disease and stroke, peripheral vascular disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary conditions.

The CVRI 50th anniversary science symposium will celebrate the Institute’s past and chart its future with speakers covering its early history, how CVRI science has translated into medicine, and the future of genetic disease risk profiling.

Groundbreaking for the new building is a significant milestone for CVRI because its basic research scientists and clinicians are now dispersed over several sites.  The new building will bring them together for the first time under the same roof and double the amount of lab space, allowing CVRI to double its faculty.

This close-proximity arrangement and the addition of new and complementary faculty programs will accelerate research and improve understanding of cardiovascular diseases, according to Coughlin. 

The entire building has been designed to emphasize collaboration. “Having access to each other is supremely important to us,” Coughlin said. “We’ve clustered our offices and designed open shared laboratories to maximize interactions among faculty, trainees and staff.” An outpatient clinic on the first floor will provide state-of-the-art service for patients and an engine for clinical research, and will ensure that physicians are easily and fully integrated into the building’s research programs.

“Given the CVRI’s history, we have every reason to expect that the work done in this building will benefit victims of cardiovascular disease the world over,” Coughlin said. “There is no better way to do that than to create an environment where great science and path-breaking medicine come together.”

Expected to be completed in 2011, the new five-story, 236,000 square-foot building is designed by the architect team of SmithGroup and Jim Jennings. Stainless steel, terra-cotta and glass make up the exterior of the L-shaped building and maximize energy efficiency. Leading-edge laboratory space and offices will have natural light from windows, glass walls and sky lights. Inside, offices will be enclosed in glass of different levels of opacity.

UCSF and the building’s designers are committing every effort to plan a green and highly efficient laboratory building, constructed to the rigors of silver-level LEED certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a designation given by the US Green Building Council and rarely to laboratory buildings. The project’s general contractor is Rudolph and Sletten, and the landscape architect is Andrea Cochran.

According to SmithGroup, the CVRI building is one of the most efficient laboratory buildings ever designed. The building’s energy consumption will beat the requirements of California Title 24 by 20 percent.

It will be the fifth research building on the current UCSF Mission Bay campus, a 43-acre biomedical research campus located just south of downtown San Francisco. Groundbreaking for the first building took place in 1999, with first occupancy in January 2003. Completion of the research campus is forecast for 2020, with a projected population of about 6,500. In addition, UCSF plans to build a 289-bed, integrated hospital complex to serve children, women and cancer patients on 14.5 acre site south of the research campus. The complex is expected to be completed in 2014.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

A rendering of the Cardiovascular Research Institute building at UCSF Mission Bay is available at: http://pub.ucsf.edu/imagedb/imsearch.php?iname=050720081