Enthusiastic Crowd Celebrates Grand Opening of Regenerative Medicine Research Center

1,000 Visitors Attend First Buck Institute Open House

Open House Ribbon CeremonyClear, blue skies formed a perfect backdrop for the historic first public open house at the Buck Institute on Saturday, April 14, 2012, commemorating the official opening of the new Regenerative Medicine Research Center. Some 1,000 community residents, employees, volunteers and special guests attended the half-day event, which began with a short ceremony and ribbon cutting in the courtyard.

Buck Institute President and CEO Brian Kennedy, PhD, led a group of distinguished speakers in describing this new center. After a warm welcome, he recognized key individuals and organizations instrumental in developing the project, including Ralph O’Rear, Vice President for Facilities and Planning, current and past members of the board of trustees, as well as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), without whose support this new building would not have been possible. The Buck received a $20.5 million grant from CIRM to help fund the construction.

"The opening of this facility marks a new era at the Buck Institute as we expand our research to encompass stem cell-based research for many of the diseases associated with aging,” Kennedy said. He also noted cost savings associated with the project, which was originally budgeted at $41 million. “We brought the project in under-budget at $36.5 million, something that’s almost unheard of in the realm of new construction.”

James Edgar, Chair of the Buck Institute Board of Trustees, said that “while this project was initiated during the nation’s worst recession in the past 83 years, despite these travails, the unwavering commitment and dedication of the board to completing construction of the building never failed. Evidence of their resolve is seen here today.”

Art Gensler, member of the Buck Institute Board of Trustees and head of the construction committee, applauded the combined efforts of the Cahill Contractors and Otto Construction joint venture as well as the project management role of Kitchell Construction for completing the building on schedule. At least 92 subcontractors were involved in the construction, creating approximately 300 jobs in a project that almost entirely involved union labor.

Jonathan Thomas, PhD, Chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s (CIRM) Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee, and Alan Trounson, PhD, President of CIRM, described the key role the Buck Institute plays as a recipient of CIRM funding, which was established with the passage of Proposition 71 in 2004. CIRM supports a shared-research laboratory at the Buck that is used to train stem cell scientists. It is also funding research aimed at a stem cell-based therapy for Parkinson’s disease that is expected to lead to a clinical trial.

The Event Focused on Science and Family Fun 

While many attendees applauded the formal ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the most enthusiastic responses came from opportunities to explore hands-on science in exhibits staffed by Buck scientists and organized by Julie Mangada, PhD, the Institute’s K-12 Education Coordinator. “I think it’s essential that we make our science accessible and understandable to the general public,” she said. “I was thrilled with the turnout and delighted that both adults and kids were so engaged with the exhibits.”

Jim Flynn, PhD, Kevin Perrott, PhD, Birgit Schilling, PhD, and Atossa Shaltouki, PhD, were among the many Buck scientists who volunteered their time and explained their science. Adults and children alike earned stamps on their “event passports” by visiting exhibits and engaging in interactive science activities. Children explored stem cell biology using Play Doh. Water bears, microscopic creatures (also known as tardigrades) used in aging research, were on display. Researchers projected images of plates containing the nematode C. elegans, describing how the worms are used in lifespan experiments. Visitors lined up to sample liquid nitrogen ice cream and to view the very active “Mentos – Diet Soda Reaction” demonstrations in the courtyard.

A stem cell music video, produced by a group of San Marin High School students, was shown. Guests also listened to presentations from the Buck Institute’s Summer Scholars as they discussed their project posters. High-powered microscopes allowed visitors to see small objects and organisms at high magnification.

The open house included the inaugural exhibition of “SILVER: A State of Mind”, a photo portrait series by Vicki Topaz, featuring 40 x 48-inch prints of 52 women who have let their hair go grey. The exhibit is still on display and can be seen by those attending Thursday morning tours of the Institute. Call the tour reservation line at (415) 209-2245 if you are interested.

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