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New vet med research building enhances collaboration

Dr. Shawn Acuna fills an eyedropper with microcystis aeruginosa — blue-green algae found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — as part of an exhibit Friday during the grand opening of a new research building at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | March 17, 2013 | Leave Comment

Asked about the value of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s new research building, beyond its $58.5 million price tag, Swee Teh, the director of the aquatic health program, nodded at young researchers from his lab.

“Look at all the smiling faces,” Teh said, adding, “I think most of them come early now.”

The vet school on Friday celebrated the public opening of its new research building, bringing the school a step closer to a decades-long goal of creating a unified vet med area on campus.

What it lacks in a name, the four-story, 76,000-square-foot building northeast of the veterinary teaching hospital — dubbed Veterinary Medicine Research Facility 3B — more than makes up for with bright, open biomedical research space intended to increase both the sharing of equipment and sharing of ideas.

The new facility’s lab, office space and conference rooms will house more than 400 faculty, staff and students, bringing the school’s basic science researchers into closer proximity with clinicians and students.

Some of the more than 40 teams that soon will be under roof have been holed up in far-flung labs and aging temporary structures in Haring Hall, Surge II and the Wildlife Health Center.

Together, they research a wide spectrum of animal, human and environmental health. Among the topics that will be further explored there: diseases that affect animals and humans, nutrition, reproduction, food safety, toxicology and aquatic toxicology. Some research projects involve partnerships with researchers from the School of Medicine delving into autism or respiratory disease.

The building also is home to the 100K Genome Project, which aims to sequence the genomes of 100,000 infectious microorganisms and speed diagnosis of foodborne illnesses.

Dean Michael Lairmore said that complex problems in food safety or nutrition or aquatic health cannot be solved by researchers from any one discipline.

“If multiple heads are better than one, when you get together microbiologists with pathologists with epidemiologists they look at it differently but they’re all solving the same problem,” he said. “A building like this brings them together in an open lab structure, so they’re bumping into each other, they’re talking to each other, they’re doing lab meetings together more often.

“If they’re in different buildings, scientists being scientists tend to be isolated. This kind of building physically brings them together in a nice environment. The morale of the faculty and staff and students when they come in here is just … up.”

Rob Atwill, the director of the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, which will be setting up shop in the building, said there’s “a lot of enthusiasm over the new labs, the equipment we’re getting and being on a more cohesive environment.”

“What we’re hoping for is a renaissance of collaboration,” he said.

Lairmore said that placing UCD’s One Health Institute on the building’s ground floor “sets a real tone” for collaboration.

The institute, which focuses on the link between people, animals and the environment, is home to efforts that include the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, Gorilla Doctors, avian flu research and PREDICT: a global surveillance effort to detect and prevent diseases that could spill over from wildlife to humans.

Designed by the St. Louis-based international architecture and engineering firm HOK and built by Sundt Construction Inc. of Sacramento to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED gold standard for environmental sustainability, the building will use an estimated one-third as much energy as a similarly sized, older facility.

“If you had a wasteful building and you’re doing research to protect the environment, it’s incongruent,” Lairmore said.

Among its features:

* Large windows and walls made of glass or painted in light colors that bring natural light deep into the building;

* Automatic sunshades to block out the summer sun;

* Radient heating and cooling, rather than a forced-air system;

* Systems that capture rainwater and gray water for reuse;

* Centralized research freezers; and

* Lighting controlled by motion sensors.

Vet Med 3B was funded by $45.3 million in state funds, $7.7 million in private funds from donors and foundations and $5.5 million in university funds.

Chancellor Linda Katehi; state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis; and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis; told about 200 people at Friday’s ceremony that the new building suited a top program. They lauded all of those who’ve had a hand in what’s been a lengthy, $354 million effort to build eight new buildings for the School of Veterinary Medicine.

UCD launched the building program after the American Veterinary Medical Association put the school on limited accreditation in 1998, because it found the facilities inadequate for the number of students UCD had enrolled. Full accreditation was restored in 2004.

UCD has since claimed the No. 2 place among vet schools in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, behind only rival Cornell University. In all, the UCD vet school’s 300-some faculty members combine to attract $63.7 million in research funding annually, the most among the nation’s veterinary colleges.

Next up for the school: a second building phase, beginning with a new student services and administrative building. It will replace a 60-year-old temporary structure on the core campus.

That will be followed by work to modernize and increase the capacity of the veterinary hospital. It set the standard for such facilities when it first opened in 1970 but has since grown from 3,500 patients per year to 39,000.

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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