February 14, 2006

Hospitals receive pair of multi-million dollar gifts

Two multi-million dollar grants to both the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) and the construction of the Jules and Gwen Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery at the U of C could transform the way biomedical research is conducted in Chicago. These contributions, partnered with the $42 million Comer donation in January, mark three major gifts to the University of Chicago Hospitals (UCH) in less than three weeks.

In a donation dubbed “Gift of the Week” by The Wall Street Journal, Jules and Gwen Knapp gave $25 million to the University of Chicago to help fund a biomedical research center that has been under construction since October.

The Jules and Gwen Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery will serve as a research facility for physicians and scientists focusing on the intersection of biology and medicine.

“It will fill the gap between the Center for Integrative Science, where researchers from the biological and physical sciences work together to study very basic questions, and the clinical researchers who practice medicine,” said John Easton, UCH spokesperson.

One-third of the center will house the Institute of Molecular Pediatric Science, whose chairman of pediatrics, Steve Goldstein, recently investigated the link between a “subtle abnormality” in cardiac muscle ion channels and sudden infant death syndrome, said Easton. Other research establishments located within the center will include the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center, the Ludwig Center for Metastasis Research, and the Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology.

Designed by the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership of Los Angeles, the 10-story building will span 330,760 square feet at East 57th Street and South Drexel Avenue, and is expected to be completed by the spring of 2008. The new center, along with the Donnelley Biological Sciences Learning Center and the Jules F. Knapp Research Center-which houses the Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research, the Knapps’ first multi-million dollar gift to the University-will form the Knapp Research Complex, according to a University press release.

“We, and most importantly, the Knapps, recognize that a state of the art biomedical facility is integral to the quality of the biomedical product as is state-of-the-art technology,” Hill said.

UCH President and CEO Michael Riordan expressed his gratitude for the Knapps’ donation. “The Gwen and Jules Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery will be a cornerstone of the University and Hospitals’ commitment to serving patients at the very forefront of medicine. We are deeply grateful for their generosity,” Riordan said.

In the second donation to biomedical science last week, The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust (CCT) donated $5 million last week to the CBC, a collaboration of Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The donation would fund biomedical research in the field of systems biology, encompassing proteomics, genomics, and informatics, which could ultimately be applied to curing types of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

The grant is part of a plan to donate $25 million over the course of five years, which could then increase to $50 million if found worthy of a five-year extension, said CCT President and CEO Terry Mazany.

The three universities currently communicate through weekly telephone conferences held by a small group of CBC scientists.

“CBC stimulates collaboration and interaction within different institutions and within different disciplines. The funding will help bring people together,” said Jonathan Silverstein, director of the UCH Center for Clinical Information, adding that collaboration is becoming increasingly important in large-scale scientific inquiry.

The new funding could usher in a new stage of development for the CBC. “Any funding which will overcome the inertia in between disciplines, and, in this case, in between institutions is beneficial to research,” said Larry Hill, assistant dean for planning in the Biological Sciences Division at the U of C.

The scope of the funding would extend beyond the three Consortium institutions, with the development of open-access software and other research tools to become available to other universities and biomedical research institutions in the Chicagoland area.

According to Rick Morimoto, professor of biochemistry at Northwestern University, anyone worldwide would have access to the utilities via the CBC website portal.

Morimoto said that the driving force for the CBC revolves around “changing the landscape of how biomedical research is done in Chicago area.”

By encouraging collaboration, CBC will accelerate a trend towards a more integrative and interdisciplinary scientific approach, according to Steve Kron, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Chicago.

“By stimulating these collaborations, the CBC will help change how we think as scientists and how we train our students,” Kron said. “Hopefully, it will also break down artificial barriers that sometimes keep us from working together.”

These two multi-million dollar donations, accompanied by the $42 million donation to the Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care, have lead to speculation that the gifts reflect a growing philanthropy movement at the University.

“This has been a remarkable month—the Comer donation followed in quick succession by the CBC grant and the Knapp gift,” Easton said. “We like to imagine that this is a trend, a leading economic indicator.”

Ronald Schiller, vice president for development and alumni relations, said that both of the donations reflect a continued trend in “principal gifts,” which the University encourages by showing donors its appreciation, letting donors in on the planning process, and emphasizing the donors’ impact to the University community.

“The University has built up many wonderful resources,” Schiller said, citing the process in which the University develops a long relationship with donors who have come to respect the work of the University.