A giant step
W.M. Keck Center is working to cure spinal cord injuries
Archived article from Nov 12, 1999
By Joseph Blumberg
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been recently injured as well as those who have been paralyzed for years. The researchers are working closely with the neurosurgery department at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey on surgical approaches and with the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation on rehabilitation therapy.
"Our goal is to move promising therapies from the laboratory into clinical trial as quickly possible," said Young. "We see our role as not only accelerating the pace of preclinical research but also working to validate these therapies thereby increasing the chances that the trials will be successful."
He hopes that some of the therapies now being developed will go into clinical trial in two to three years, depending on the laboratory results. He expects that at least one or more therapies already in or close to clinical trials will restore some function to some people within two years.
Seventeen current research projects at the center are being run by small teams of three to five researchers and students, with a total of thirty-two staff and students including undergraduates. In addition to the Spinal Cord Injury Project, a Brain Injury Project is also on the drawing board.
Reasons for hope
Travis Roy, a wheelchair-bound former Boston University varsity hockey star and author of "Eleven Seconds: A Story of Tragedy, Courage and Triumph," was the featured speaker at the dedication. "This new facility holds all of my hope," said Roy. "The fact is, Dr. Young and everyone who has worked to make the W.M. Keck Center possible are the reasons I can be hopeful and remain positive. Over and over I hear the same thing (from friends and family), 'I just wish I could say or do something that would change your situation.' Today is a very rare occasion in my life when that 'something' has been found to help not only me, but also all people affected by spinal cord injuries. This center is that 'something.'"
Beyond its leading-edge research activities, the new W.M. Keck Center is a story in innovative design. The fully interactive laboratory, with videoconferencing and Internet connections throughout, includes an open internal architecture to encourage scientific interaction and exchange among researchers. It also allows real-time, simultaneous collaboration of researchers from around the globe, serving as a hub for more than 60 laboratories worldwide.
Inspired by Young's innovative thinking and direction, the architectural firm Gertler & Wente worked closely with a team that included Rutgers' facilities department, Young, and the laboratory consulting firm of Da Silva & Associates, to achieve a design that reflects the shared nature of the facility and its service mission. From concept to completion, the design focused on enhancing interdisciplinary science, teamwork and communication.
The entire center is 100 percent accessible to persons in wheelchairs, the people who will benefit most from its work. All of the work surfaces have been located at sitting height, no shelving or cabinets are located out of reach, and many of the doors are automated.
The entrance to the new facility is constructed of an inviting mix of maple paneling on the walls and ceiling, carpet and hardwood floors. Several windows bring natural light into the offices and entry area. A 35-seat, state-of-the-art confer-encing center will be used for lectures and open houses for the public. This room has a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass that gives the audience a view of the research areas.
An open design
Offices continue the open feeling through the use of interior windows into the corridor and large glass panels between the offices and adjacent spaces. Each of the faculty members within the private offices is therefore visible to staff, students and technicians at all times.
The design for the research lab proper strives to maximize interactions among the scientists working in the laboratory and with those visiting the center. The main laboratory functions are grouped within one common space, eliminating the standard rigid laboratory geometry and providing, instead, a large open area that encourages collaboration. A series of interactive research islands allow the researchers to face each other while working on the same experiment, instead of being back-to-back as in the more traditional setting.
Even the staff lounge was designed to promote interaction. It is an elliptical wood-and-glass room with views to the lab at the heart of the center. It includes a kitchen area, conference table, staff lockers and blackboard surfaces.
The center is fully equipped to carry out fast-paced, high-volume work. Its high-technology equipment permits real-time, high-resolution interactions via the Internet, making it possible for team members from all over the globe to work together on experiments. In this advanced setting, research that previously took months or years may now take days or just hours.
"A cure is possible for spinal cord injuries, and collaboration is the means by which that goal can be reached," asserted Young. "Our science benefits
people. At the entrance to the center are photographs that many people have sent to us. We have named this the Wall of Hope. It is an ever-present reminder that our work is grounded in human lives."
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