UCSF Neuroscience Building to drive advances against brain diseases

By Jennifer O'Brien

The Neurosciences Laboratory and Clinical Research Building

UCSF is set to construct a major neuroscience building on its Mission Bay campus. The building will bring under one roof several of the world’s leading clinical and basic research programs seeking cures for intractable neurological disorders.

Approval to proceed with the funding and financing plan for the building was given today, January 21, 2010, by the University of California Board of Regents.

The five-story building will bring together clinicians, clinician-researchers and basic scientists to accelerate advances against such disorders as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, migraine, epilepsy, autism, mental retardation and cerebral palsy. It is a milestone in the evolution of UCSF’s world-class neuroscience enterprise.

“This culminates a 10-year dream,” says Nobel laureate Stanley B. Prusiner, MD, director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, one of the programs that will be based in the building. “This building will bring together some of the best scientists in the world to work on these very prevalent diseases of the brain. The opportunity for major progress is tremendous.”

The research space provided by this neuroscience building and the space in the adjacent Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Hall neuroscience building will together constitute “more than 400,000 square feet dedicated to studying these extremely complex, challenging diseases,” Prusiner says. “UCSF Mission Bay will be one of the biggest neuroscience complexes in the world.”

“This building exemplifies UCSF’s commitment to discovery, education and patient care,” says UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH. “It represents my vision for UCSF. In the face of these challenging financial times, it is imperative that we maintain our strategic vision and continue our leadership role in tackling the world’s devastating diseases.”

The building, known as the Neurosciences Laboratory and Clinical Research Building, will house the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, the UCSF Department of Neurology and the W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neuroscience at UCSF.

The first floor of the building will be occupied by clinicians and clinical researchers of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, which is part of the Department of Neurology.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity with this building to establish a Manhattan project-like approach for moving in on these devastating neurological disorders,” says Stephen L. Hauser, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology.

“Clinicians treating patients with neurological conditions, clinician-researchers carrying out brain imaging and drug studies in patients, scientists studying the molecular and cellular basis of diseases, and scientists studying how the brain normally functions will be able to share their expertise, brainstorm, collaborate.”

“Ultimately, we want to be able to stop disease progression, repair damage that has already occurred and prevent disease from occurring in the first place,” he says.

“In MS, we’re currently planning the first clinical study to see if it can be halted before it begins.”

Collaborations with Silicon Valley, the biotech industry and the pharmaceutical industry will be key to this effort, Hauser says. Equally critical, he says, will be cultivating the next generation of neuroscience investigators and inspiring careers in translational medicine.

The world-class neuroscientists of the Keck Center, whose studies of brain function have shed light on how the human brain learns and remembers, how it sees, hears, moves the body’s limbs, and feels pain, will add another dimension to the research conducted in the building. Pioneers in the study of the brain’s “plasticity,” or capacity to change, these scientists focus on how brain cells work together to generate behaviors. Their intent is to learn enough about these processes that the brain could be taught to repair itself in patients born with disabilities, such as autism, or afflicted with disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases or stroke.

“Our goal in moving to this building is to help our colleagues understand how the brain works when it’s functioning well and for us to discover what happens in the whole system when brain function fails at the level of molecules and cells,” says Allison J. Doupe, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist and senior neuroscientist at the Keck Center.

The total project cost of the 237,000-square-foot building is $200 million. It will be built and owned by a private developer under a model intended to provide an alternative delivery structure for UC projects. UCSF, which owns the land, will ground lease the land to a developer and enter into a space lease for the building for a period of between 32-40 years, depending on bond market conditions. Lease costs will be paid by a combination of indirect costs from research grants, campus funds and philanthropy. UCSF plans to raise $95 million through philanthropy over the next five years. At the end of the lease period, ownership of the building, paid in full, will revert to UCSF. No state funds will be used to support the lease.

UCSF also plans to assess the potential to raise another $55 million over the same period to provide critical neuroscience program support, including funds for recruitment.

In their actions today, the Regents also approved $37 million to fund the drafting of preliminary plans, working drawings and basic site infrastructure to support the neuroscience building and three adjacent blocks of real estate at Mission Bay for future UCSF research buildings.

The building will house approximately 100 principal investigators and more than 500 additional researchers and staff, and be an engine for job creation. A dozen additional investigators who are experts in neurodegenerative diseases, drug discovery and drug synthesis will be recruited.

The LEED-silver certified building will be 25 percent more energy efficient than the base LEED-sustainability standard and achieve 20 percent water use reduction over the Energy Policy Act of 1992, through the use of such features as waterless urinals and occupant sensors.

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.