Science & Tech

Science, engineering programs advancing

5 min read

Allston construction slowdown won’t delay key efforts

Harvard President Drew Faust today renewed the University’s commitment to the vision of advancing interdisciplinary, collaborative science in general, and the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (SCRB), the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (WIBIE) in particular.

“These important, forward-looking programs are vital to the future of Harvard science,” Faust said. “We will not allow these challenging financial circumstances to slow the advance of this vitally important research.”

Faust underscored the importance to Harvard of interdisciplinary science at the same time she announced the University would slow development of its Allston campus, including construction of the Allston Science Complex. She said the slowdown has become necessary to ensure the University’s long-term financial and academic stability as it navigates the worst economic environment since the Great Depression.

Work on the Allston Science Complex will continue at a slower pace through the end of the calendar year, at which point the foundation will have been completed and the walls will have risen from the basement to ground level. Throughout those months, Harvard will be assessing the economic conditions and reviewing building design and construction plans.

Planning has already begun to provide stem cell researchers with contiguous space in Cambridge, and to create a home for the Wyss Institute in the Longwood Medical area, with an additional presence in Cambridge.

Ironically, because this alternative scenario will result in some research scientists moving into their new laboratories by 2010, it will allow stem cell biologists to begin working side by side more quickly than they would if they were awaiting completion of the Allston Science Complex. 

A week ago, when a slow down in Allston construction was still being considered as one of several options (as was a possible move of stem cell scientists to Cambridge), SCRB co-chairman Doug Melton said that while he looked forward to eventually moving to Allston, there is “a way to think of this as good news, because we can come together sooner.” Speaking to members of his faculty about the various possibilities being considered, Melton said that locating in Cambridge “will allow us to proceed with all of our plans, but in a different place.”

Melton has told his fellow scientists that he views a move by SCRB to Cambridge as the “second of three stages” in the development of Harvard’s efforts in stem cell science. The first stage, he said, was the establishment of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute as a collaborative, followed by five years of unparalleled – perhaps even unexpected scientific successes, and the establishment of the new department. “The first phase involved proving the science,” he said, “and we did that even faster than we’d hoped. The second phase,” he went on to say, “will be our coming together in Cambridge facilities where we can work side by side, and can launch the new SCRB undergraduate stem cell biology concentration in the heart of the undergraduate campus. The third phase will be our expansion into more intersections with clinical medicine, and our eventual move to a new building in Allston, where we will join WIBIE and other programs with which we share interests and goals.”

SCRB co-chair David Scadden noted that “the good news here is that there is a continued commitment to this department and this area of research. Stem cell research and regenerative medicine, and biologically inspired engineering, are two areas the University is truly committed to pushing forward.”

Additionally as the new interschool Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology launches its new undergraduate concentration next fall, its new home will place it even closer to the undergraduates the scientists will be teaching. 

“We still see Harvard’s future in interdisciplinary science in Allston,” said Provost Steven E. Hyman. “Harvard is firmly committed to the vision of interdisciplinary, collaborative science and to two of its major exemplars, the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biololgy with its related Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. These must move forward and must succeed.

 “Programs and people – and the science they produce – are our immediate concerns,” Hyman continued. “Certainly, programs will be advanced by moving to new, state of the art facilities in Allston, but we will not allow the delay caused by economic circumstances to slow scientific progress.

Donald Ingber, Director of the Wyss, echoed Melton’s wish that a single site for the institute could be established in Allston sooner, but said that “the space we’ll have in the heart of Longwood will give us a real running head start. We’ll be able to bring scientists and clinicians together faster than would otherwise have been possible. And we will still be able to collaborate with colleagues in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.”