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Northwestern opens Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center

Nation’s largest biomedical academic research building

Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center at night

The Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center officially opened June 17 at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. It is the largest new building solely dedicated to biomedical research at an American medical school, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Northwestern dignitaries and political leaders attended the late afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception.   

VIDEO: Watch the ribbon cutting ceremony

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro thanked the building’s major donors, in particular, Northwestern Trustees Louis A. Simpson ’58 and Kimberly K. Querrey. 

“Kimberly and Lou, the biggest donors to the ‘We Will’ Campaign, remarkable visionaries,” President Schapiro said. “You never stop giving back to everything you do… When we first talked about this magnificent building, you both said, ‘We want to be part of this. We want to facilitate this.’ You are absolutely remarkable.”

The president also thanked political leaders in attendance, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), whom he called “a relentless supporter of research money.”

"Now we're going to fill it with some of the best and brightest in the world to find cures for diseases that are long overdue." - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin

“We never would have built a building if we didn’t have people like yourself who advocate over and over for us at NIH (National Institutes of Health),” President Schapiro said.

In his comments, Durbin noted that NIH funding has grown to $39 billion a year and $900 million of that comes to the state of Illinois each year.

“And of that $900 million, the largest single recipient is Northwestern University,” Durbin observed.

“Northwestern climbed from 39th to 15th in NIH funding between 2002 and 2018. The whole world is watching and, in fierce competition, they're sending their money to the place that can use it the most effectively,” Durbin added. “You built a beautiful building, I say to the Simpson Querrey family. Now we're going to fill it with some of the best and brightest in the world to find cures for diseases that are long overdue.”

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also in attendance, was a pivotal supporter of the new biomedical research center. 

“There are times you make significant decisions (as mayor) that change the trajectory of a city. This is one of those decisions,” Emanuel said. “The reason I could do it is all of you, because we're unique here in the city of Chicago, no other city can come together--the public sector, families, corporations and the university and make a decision that we're going to build the biggest, most significant biomedical research center, stand alone, in the country. And we did it…We have been a leader in science, we have been a leader in technology and now we're going to be a leader in biomedical research.”

Northwestern is the fastest-growing research enterprise among all U.S. medical schools. The new center provides much-needed biomedical research space to continue Northwestern’s projected growth. 

“The Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center is an inspired new home for discovery on Northwestern University’s Chicago medical campus,” said Dr. Eric G. Neilson, vice president for medical affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Inside this modern new building, scientists will pioneer discoveries that will impact the practice of medicine and transform human health. Here, we will accelerate the pace of lifesaving medical science that fuels the local and national economy, near world-class campus partners and in a global city with unrivaled opportunities for biomedical commercialization and entrepreneurship.”

The new 12-story Perkins+Will-designed building, with striking curved-glass exteriors and light-filled laboratory neighborhoods, adds more than 625,000 square feet of research space to the Chicago academic medical campus. The building is designed for a future expansion that can more than double its size vertically, with up to 16 new floors in the second phase of construction.

The University already brings in more than $700 million in total sponsored research funding annually. The new facility will enable Northwestern to increase that by $150 million annually or $1.5 billion in the next 10 years with the additional space and investigators. It will also create 2,000 new high-paying, full-time jobs in the new space and is expected to generate an additional $390 million a year in economic activity in Chicago. In the building’s first phase, it created more than 2,500 construction jobs.

The Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center is named in honor of Simpson and Querrey in recognition of their generous support that has advanced the University’s academic excellence and scientific discovery.

“The Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center represents one of the most important initiatives at Northwestern in recent years, and the fulfillment of promises the University made to the city of Chicago,” said President Schapiro. “It will help Northwestern’s research community to reach its fullest potential and to make unprecedented advances in improving life for countless millions.

“But while this center’s impact will be global, many of its benefits are intentionally local. It will serve as an economic engine within Chicago, working with nearby partners from education, business and government to create new opportunities for so many people who call this region home. The Northwestern community is immensely grateful to all who’ve helped make this moment possible.”

The building’s design is a direct response to the original 1925 campus master plan, which maximizes the use of limited urban land resources. Added greenery and open space at the street level along with an airy glass lobby create permeability and transparency in a dense urban neighborhood. 

‘Collaborations will explode’ 

The medical school has principal investigators in cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurosciences, epigenetics, nanotechnology and biomedicine, epithelial biology, infectious diseases and more, and some of those programs will be in the new building. Each floor in the new building can house 23 principal investigators and their teams.

Principal investigators, support staff and newly hired scientists began moving into the building in late April.

“Collaborations will explode on campus,” said Dr. Susan Quaggin, director of the Feinberg Cardiovascular and Renal Research Institute. “I just know scientists will start talking about things that will lead to new directions and experiments, and bridge clinical and basic science.”

Quaggin, also chief of nephrology and hypertension in the department of medicine at Feinberg, is excited about her new proximity to potential collaborators, such as scientist Ali Shilatifard, director of the Simpson Querrey Center for Epigenetics. This proximity will enable enhanced access to his bioinformatics teams, and “very hot” single-cell RNA sequencing technology, developed in his lab. This technology, unique to Northwestern, will unlock a deeper understanding of how glaucoma occurs and how to best develop new drugs, Quaggin said.

Close to identifying a lead therapeutic candidate for glaucoma, Quaggin says the larger lab space also will enable her to hire new scientists with stem cell, vascular and developmental biology expertise to advance her efforts to develop a bioengineered kidney and pancreas that grow blood vessels, which is “the holy grail,” she said.

Flexibility is critical

The lab plan on each floor is designed around the idea of flexible “research neighborhoods,” with the goal of creating a vibrant hub for scientists and their teams. Each floor also has deliberate interaction space in the center to promote cross talk between the three lab “neighborhoods” and promote collaboration.

“The building was designed with elegance and transparency in mind, welcoming the public at street level and prioritizing varied space types, natural light and extensive collaboration areas for researchers within,” said Ralph Johnson, design director of Perkins+Will.

Flexibility is critical. “Research groups grow based on new discoveries and new funding,” said Dr. Elizabeth McNally, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at Feinberg. “What you want is space that is much more open to expand and contract to follow where the science is going. That’s what the new Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center gives us.”

Space in the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center will allow McNally to hire new scientists to advance work on her new treatment for muscular dystrophy, a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass in children, mostly boys. McNally is currently ramping up production of a newly discovered “super glue” protein that can be delivered orally to help reseal and repair damaged muscles. Preclinical testing will begin soon to ensure patient safety for a clinical trial. 

Connected campus

The new building brings physicians and scientists from the Feinberg School of Medicine, McCormick School of Engineering and Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute together with top-ranked clinical affiliates Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab — all in one academic medical district.

The building includes floor-by-floor connections with the University’s Robert H. Lurie Biomedical Research Center as well as a new skybridge connection to the Searle Medical Research Building, enabling sensitive equipment and materials to travel long distances on campus with no exposure to Chicago’s climate.

The Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago will occupy four floors of the new building, allowing investigators in pediatrics to share the same research space as Northwestern scientists across disciplines for the first time.

“We look forward to relocating our research facility just a short distance from Lurie Children’s and on the campus of our academic partners,” said Dr. Tom Shanley, chair of pediatrics at Lurie Children’s and president and chief research officer of the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. “This building not only allows us to enhance our research capabilities across numerous scientific neighborhoods, but also more effectively leverage the proximity of our clinical and health service and policy research partners to identify greater translational opportunities to improve childhood health.”

The Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute was named for investor, business executive and generous philanthropist Stanley Manne in 2014 in recognition of a transformative gift to sustain and enhance pediatric medical research at Lurie Children’s.  

Additionally, the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center will feature new public spaces, such as the Potocsnak Family Atrium, the 160-seat Simpson Querrey Auditorium, the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg Gallery, the Kabiller Student Commons and the Senyei Conference Center, with five conference rooms on the mezzanine level.

The building is on track to be LEED Gold Certified, signifying a strong commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency.

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