London Vivisection Lab Plans


London's 'somewhat unusual' new research centre. Britain plans £600-million biomedical facility for young investigators

As the United Kingdom grinds through its worst recession in decades, British researchers have unveiled an ambitious design for a massive biomedical science complex in central London. The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) is the most significant scientific development in Britain "for a generation", says Paul Nurse, a Nobel-prizewinning cell biologist and chair of the project's scientific planning

Nurse says the state-of-the-art research centre will be among the largest in the world. In Europe, it will be second in size only to the Paris-based Pasteur Institute, he says. Its aim will be to understand the fundamental biology that underlies disease.

More detailed plans for the building, which will be located near London's St Pancras International train station, were unveiled at a press briefing on 18 June and feature a distinctive glass atrium that stretches the length of the entire structure. A small educational laboratory and a 450-seat lecture theatre also feature in the design, which will include lab and office space for 1,500 staff.

The open design mirrors Nurse's ambitions for the research it will house, which he describes as "somewhat unusual". He hopes that the research institute will attract young scientists in their mid-30s who are eager to try new ideas. They would devote a decade or so of their lives to UKCMRI before moving on to other institutions.

"Most institutions hang on to their best people. We will not do that," he says. "We're going to put great emphasis on training scientists for the future."
Nurse's medicine

To encourage collaboration, Nurse says that the centre will avoid traditional academic departments and instead have "interest groups" that are set up by researchers themselves. Administrators will provide some support for the groups, but Nurse hopes that the different teams will essentially drive their own research programmes. "This allows it to be truly multidisciplinary," he argues.

The grandiose plan will not come cheap. The building is expected to cost more than £600 million (US$887 million) to construct, and another £100 million per year to operate.

The stiff price tag comes at a difficult time, as several of the project's backers are facing a grim economic future. The UK Medical Research Council (MRC), which will pay roughly half the construction costs, is expected to have its funding squeezed in the coming government budget, and University College London, which will contribute £46 million to the building, has recently made voluntary redundancies in preparation for tight times ahead. The project's two other partners are the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK — Britain's largest biomedical charities.

The new UK coalition government recently announced that it will pay its portion of the project on a year-by-year basis instead of as a single lump sum, but the MRC says that its pledge to the new facility remains firm.

And Malcolm Grant, UCL's president and provost, says that the university also remains fully committed to the centre. "It is probably the highest priority for us," he says.

Nurse adds, "This isn't the time to be burning the seed corn. If we get this right, it will send a message to the rest of the world that the UK is serious about science."

Plans for the new facility will be submitted to local authorities in August and, if approved, construction could begin early next year.

Geoff Brumfiel.


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