Opening of UCLA's Terasaki Life Sciences Building highlights innovations at UCLA
[Watch video interviews with UCLA Division of Life Sciences dean Victoria Sork and life sciences professors Mark Frye, Steve Jacobsen, Matteo Pellegrini, Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Dr. Owen Witte at http://ucla.in/amUOhW.]
When UCLA holds its official grand opening of the new Terasaki Life Sciences Building on Monday, Oct. 25, at 11 a.m., the building itself will be a symbol of the dramatic changes transforming UCLA's Division of Life Sciences.
"The Terasaki Life Sciences Building could not come along at a better time and is a metaphor for what UCLA is doing in the life sciences — the essential science of the 21st century," said Victoria Sork, dean of the UCLA Life Sciences Division. "The new building includes open laboratories designed to enhance interactions among life scientists conducting state-of-the-science research, often in interdisciplinary teams, working side by side, using different tools and new approaches. The building's very design promotes the 'new life sciences.'
"The new life sciences provide the foundations for understanding biomedical innovations, applied human health problems and biodiversity challenges facing our planet, and this research will lead to improvements in how we live," Sork said. "UCLA is wonderfully poised to have a major impact on these questions. The life sciences at UCLA have a plethora of strengths. Faculty and students are working together to reveal the secrets of life."
The building's special features include the newly launched Broad Stem Cell Research Center–California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Laboratory, on the third floor, which conducts human stem cell research under the leadership of Dr. Owen Witte, director of the UCLA's Broad Stem Cell Research Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. The CIRM, created by the passage of California's Proposition 71 in November 2004, administers state funds for stem cell research.
The third-floor space includes research laboratories and facilities for such tasks as computational and bioinformatics analysis of stem cells, bioengineering for stem cell growth, and career development space for young clinical faculty.
Sork and Witte both said the new Terasaki Life Sciences Building provides many opportunities for collaborative, interdisciplinary research that will benefit society.
UCLA life scientists are studying how genes work and interact with one another, how cells function and develop, the microbiology of infectious disease, and the workings of the human mind, among many other key issues. Using advanced technology, they can simultaneously study all genes and the interactions among them.
UCLA is integrating such fields as cell biology, molecular biology, computational biology, genomics, bioinformatics, stem cell biology, evolutionary biology, physiology and cognitive neuroscience.
"We are analyzing systems as a whole, not just one piece of the puzzle," Sork said.
The grand opening of the Terasaki Building will include tours; comments from UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Sork, CIRM officials and others; and a reception.
The building is named for Paul Ichiro Terasaki, UCLA professor emeritus of surgery and a pioneer in organ transplant medicine who in 1964 developed the test that became the international standard method for tissue typing, a procedure that assesses the compatibility of organ donors and recipients. In addition to being the first to devise a method to perform this typing, Terasaki developed antibodies to be used in the process. Over the past 40 years, all kidney, heart, liver, pancreas, lung and bone marrow donors and recipients were typed using the tissue typing test he developed.
Terasaki recently gave $50 million to the Division of Life Sciences in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, the largest gift ever given to the UCLA College and among the largest received by the university in its 91-year history. Terasaki earned his bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA in zoology. He has published more than 900 scientific articles and has trained some 100 postdoctoral scholars at UCLA.
Terasaki's generosity to UCLA goes back many years and covers many parts of the university. In 2001, he established an endowed chair in U.S.–Japan relations, and in 2006, he and his wife contributed $5 million to UCLA to promote better understanding between the United States and Japan at the renamed Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at the UCLA International Institute.
"The Terasakis have long been generous friends of our campus, and Dr. Terasaki has brought great prestige to UCLA as a distinguished member of our faculty and through his legendary innovations in transplant medicine," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. "The Terasaki Life Sciences Building will further his legacy by fostering an atmosphere that enables future generations of researchers to pursue life-changing science."
Hundreds of scientists work in the building's 33 laboratories.
The UCLA Life Sciences Division comprises five departments — ecology and evolutionary biology; molecular, cell and developmental biology; microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics; integrative biology and physiology; and psychology — and several interdepartmental programs, including computational and systems biology; molecular biology; molecular, cellular and integrative physiology; neuroscience; and society and genetics.
An environmental biologist, Sork is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a faculty member at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. She is a pioneer in the field of landscape genetics, an area that integrates genomics, evolutionary biology and conservation. She is the first woman to become dean of a UCLA science division.
In her research, Sork examines ecological processes in plant populations from both an evolutionary and conservation perspective, asking, for instance, how natural selection acts on genes. She uses a molecular ecology approach, studying genetics, sequencing DNA, analyzing molecules and genetic markers, and applying novel statistical approaches. Her research group studies trees in tropical and temperate ecosystems, with a special focus on oak trees in California.
"Research is my passion," Sork said. "I love connecting evolutionary biology with contemporary social problems, such as climate change and landscape change. Environmental change is jeopardizing the health of natural systems and ultimately the health of this planet. Fortunately, state-of-the-science genomic tools are providing new insights into and solutions to critical conservation biology problems."
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of more than 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 328 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.