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New BRC opens OC

By Josh Rutenberg     8/27/09 7:00pm

Following eight years of planning and months of construction at the corner of University Boulevard and Main Street, the BioScience Research Collaborative opened its doors on Monday to Rice students and faculty. The new center, designed with the intent to facilitate interdisciplinary interactions between Rice researchers and the Texas Medical Center, will focus on improving human welfare through scientific research. "There is an extraordinary frontier in biomedical science," Provost Eugene Levy said. "Fortunately, [Rice] is situated across from one of the world's best medical centers," he said of the Texas Medical Center.

With 10 stories and three levels of underground parking, the BRC adds 477,000 square feet to Rice's facilities, and will be the first Rice building to host a department off campus. The BRC houses a 280-seat auditorium, a 100-seat seminar room and has eight floors dedicated to research space.

The design of the building allows for further construction, including the planned addition of a visualization center, a floor dedicated to biomedical informatics and a second research tower of 150,000 square feet.

A bus stop by the BRC was added to the Texas Medical Center shuttle route which runs every half hour from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

Michael Graves, the architect who designed Martel College, also designed the BRC.

Because it is Rice's first thrust into off-campus construction, the distance has felt like a burden to some students who have to make the trip to and from campus during the day.

"It's a hassle to have classes there," Lovett College junior Drew Berger, who is taking a statistics class at the BRC, said. "There is nothing in the BRC that lends itself to teaching statistics. I should not have a statistics course in that building."

In addition to offering statistics courses, the BRC will serve as the new home for the Bioengineering Department, as well as elements of the Chemistry and Biochemistry and Cell Biology Departments. Levy said that Rice hopes to eventually oversee the establishment of a bioinformatics center, but that details are still in the early stages of planning.

Levy said the idea for a bioscience research center started in 2001 to take advantage of an initiative to bring Rice and the TMC closer together, and enthusiasm from Rice faculty and students has grown over the years. He said he and others believed it would allow Rice substantial opportunity to coordinate its efforts with the TMC.

Levy added that all reports he has received from the BRC's new tenants have been positive.

"Faculty and students are moved in, and the reports are wildly enthusiastic," Levy said.

Over the summer, the Texas Children's Hospital, a top-10 best children's hospital according to the U.S. News and World Report, became the first organization from the TMC to join Rice by leasing space on the eighth floor of the BRC for 10 years. However, the financial downturn has slowed talks with other local businesses, though the discussions will be continued, Levy said.

John McDevitt, Brown-Wiess professor of Bioengineering and Chemistry, moved from the University of Texas at Austin to Rice because of the BRC. McDevitt said he believes the BRC will become a magnet for a "bench to bedside" perspective, the view of bringing projects from research to application with real medical relevance.

"It's something that's often difficult to do," McDevitt said. "We have doctors we can talk to over a cup of coffee, and that ability to frequently communicate is what ultimately makes the BRC so powerful."

McDevitt is currently working with medical microdevices to replace large, refrigerator-sized instruments for use in remote areas where the technology is unavailable.

His Lab-on-a-Chip design will process blood and saliva that could help test for a variety of diseases. The opportunity for biomedical advancement at Rice gives McDevitt hope for new industry in Texas, he said.

"The BRC can help Texas move past the oil industry and into a pipeline for new medical technology," McDevitt said.

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