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UCSD constructing new facility for translational research

UCSD’s new $269 million Altman Clinical and Translational Research Center will encompass 360,000,000 square feet. It is about 40 percent complete and is expected to open in 2016.

In a move to expand its efforts in translational medicine, the University of California San Diego is building a new facility for its Clinical and Translational Research Institute.

Established in 2010, the institute is housed within 25,000 square feet of space in the East Campus Office Building. The new $269 million Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute will encompass 360,000 gross square feet and 189,000 assignable square feet. It will establish a central facility at the university where laboratory and clinical workers can collaborate and share resources in their efforts to translate scientific discovery into health improvement.

The building is named after Lisa and Steve Altman, who contributed $10 million for construction costs. Steve Altman is vice chairman of Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM). Additional funding for the building will come from external sources, as well as portions of federal research grants.

The seven-story research facility was designed by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, with Rudolph and Sletten serving as the project’s general contractor.

Construction on the Altman CTRI Building broke ground in early 2013. The steel and concrete building has three stories partially below grade, including a below-grade loading dock. It will include wet and dry research labs, laboratory support space, a vivarium, a 1,000-square-foot pharmacy, a clinical area, offices, an auditorium and a café. A pedestrian bridge will connect the building to the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center.

The project is about 38 percent complete and on schedule, said Michael E. Downs, UCSD principal architect and project manager for the Altman CTRI Building. Four floors of pour-in-place concrete laboratories are complete, and the steel is just starting to go up on the remaining floors.

When complete, the facility will be equipped with infrastructure to support state-of-the-art lab equipment and clinical research facilities. It also will include a research MRI facility and video conferencing to allow investigators to partner with other researchers around the world, Downs said.

One of the biggest challenges in the construction of the center was soil abatement. The project site is along the side of a hill that was once part of Camp Matthews, a military training base.

“It took a long time to get the soil mitigated. Camp Matthews was a Marine Corps base for rifle, machine gun and tank training during World War II,” Downs said. “As a result, there are shells, lead and oil all over the place. Any time we build something, we go through an extensive process and protocol for removing unexploded ordnance.”

The Altman CTRI Building is set for completion in January 2016. It will take about six to eight months for all the research groups to move in, Downs said.

Faculty and researchers in the existing CTRI building will move into the Altman building. Current members have affiliations that stretch across UCSD, San Diego State University, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Institute, Salk Institute, Rady Children’s Hospital, the VA San Diego Health Care System, nonprofits, biotech and pharma. Since the new facility is so much larger than the existing building, some new faculty and researchers will also be moving in.

“It has the capacity for over 100 faculty members, which is much larger than our current space. It’s 360,000 square feet, which is more than 10 times the size,” said Gary S. Firestein, M.D., director of CTRI and dean and associate vice chancellor of translational medicine. “There’s currently a request for proposals from faculty members and groups of investigators who are interested in the CTRI so that they can develop their programs in an environment that’s really designed to support translational research.”

Investigators from a variety of disciplines -- such as physicians, geneticists, immunologists, engineers and computer scientists -- will conduct research and collaborate on treatments for a broad spectrum of diseases and indications.

Firestein said that the new teams of researchers to take up residence at Altman CTRI will be determined over the next year or so. Two programs already set to move in include UCSD’s Pediatric Diabetes Research Center and the Center for Musculoskeletal Research.

The Altman CTRI will house only UCSD programs, and will be a magnet to recruit new faculty to the university.

“There’s a high likelihood that some of the space will be used to recruit researchers from outside UCSD,” he said. “It’s actually a very attractive environment already; we’ve been very successful at bringing investigators from other academic institutions, as well as from biotech and pharma. The new building will make it even more attractive, because it’ll have this concentration of investigators with very similar interests.”

The vision of the Altman CTRI Building is to bring multidisciplinary groups dispersed across the city together in one place. And the best place to study causes and treatments of human disease, Firestein said, is where the patients are.

“We’re helping to create this fabulous cluster of buildings -- with the (Moores) Cancer Center, Shiley Eye Center, Jacobs Medical Center, and the Altman CTRI building as a way of bringing all this together in one location,” he said. “It’s really going to be an amazing place.”

-Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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