About Children's

Researchers pack up shop for new Children's Hospital

Pittsburgh Business Times, (10/17/08)

Shabaana Khader gets a little starry-eyed talking about the big move.

“We’re going to have so many other resources,” said Khader, a 34-year-old tuberculosis researcher at John G. Rangos Sr. Research Center in Oakland.

Khader is among dozens of researchers who will start moving the Children’s Hospital research arm to a new Lawrenceville campus next month, several months before patients and beds are moved.

Inpatient services, such as surgery, generate more revenue than research for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital, but the Rangos research engine attracts millions of dollars annually in grants, fueling the local economy and creating jobs that are all but immune to stock market vagaries. Children’s received $24 million in government funding in fiscal 2008, with every $1 million in research funding creating 36 jobs, according to Dr. Art Levine, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Bigger things are in store. The 10-story building will only be half filled when researchers finish the move in December, and federal research grants are expected to reach at least $50 million — $90 million in total research dollars — during the next five to 10 years as lab spaces fill, according to Rangos Scientific Director Dr. David Perlmutter.

“It’s a big-time contribution to research on children’s health,” Perlmutter said. “The space is wonderfully designed. It’s a big, open lab.”

Children’s research projections are conservative, based on current funding levels from the National Institutes of Health. In fact, research money has been rising rapidly at Children’s in recent years, and the projections do not include revenue from intellectual property, ideas and processes that lead to the creation of businesses.

UPMC is betting on researchers like Khader to lead the growth. Her focus is improving a weapon used to prevent tuberculosis, a vaccine introduced in 1921 and still widely administered. But the vaccine doesn’t work well on a disease that causes death once every 15 seconds worldwide. Key information is missing even as other vaccines are being developed.

“We don’t have a good hypothesis of why one vaccine works and why one doesn’t work,” she said. “We need to understand why it’s not working.”

Khader’s research identified — for the first time — cells that “recruit” other cells in the human body to kill the TB bacteria, a finding that may open the door to a more effective vaccine. Her findings were published in a scientific journal last April, and she joined Children’s in November.

Children’s has leveraged building design to wring every penny out of the research dollar. Maximizing space allocated for labs, for example, encourages sharing of equipment and resources among investigators, limiting duplicate equipment purchases while maximizing government funding for indirect costs associated with grants.

Lab space size can be adjusted, depending on the researcher’s needs and amount of his or her grant, limiting the need for interior renovations in future years. “There will be far less need for renovation, because it’s flexible space in a sense, which can accommodate the needs of diverse researchers,” Perlmutter said.

Between Nov. 3 and Dec. 19, moving trucks will line up on Euler Way, a narrow alley behind Rangos, and as many as 27 people will fill the trucks and then unload them in Lawrenceville, according to Shawn Ward, assistant director of research facilities at Children’s. Sensitive testing machines will be moved by the manufacturer to protect warranty and calibration.

In all, 21 departments and 35 laboratories will be moved at a cost that won’t be known until the job is done, Ward said.

Khader has already started packing, and so have other researchers in the eight-story Rangos building. Khader will have more than double her current lab space in the new building, 2,500 square feet compared with about 1,000 square feet, but figures the move will cost her a week or two of research. “We need all this to be done really quickly with as little down time as possible,” she said.

Helping limit the down time will be Pat McLaughlin, relocation coordinator for Marodi Transfer & Storage who has 28 years’ moving experience. North Versailles-based Marodi has been moving medical facilities for years: moving into the Hillman Cancer Center and out of the former St. Francis Hospital were among the company’s jobs. Such moves generally go smoothly, but things like traffic jams and broken elevators can cause headaches, he said.
“I just hope God’s with us with the equipment and traffic,” McLaughlin said. “Other than that, things will go smoothly. We’re used to big projects.”

Lab growth
Children’s Hospital is doubling the size of its research arm with its move to a new facility.
Research space: 65,000 sq. ft.
Primary Investigators: 35
Jobs: 300
Building size: 8 stories
NIH Research funding: $24 million
Other research funding: $21 million
Research space: 150,000 sq. ft.
Primary investigators: 70
Jobs 600-700
Building size: 10 stories
NIH research funding: $50 million
Other research funding: $40 million

Source: Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
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Last Update
November 6, 2008
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Last Update
November 6, 2008