COLUMBIA, Mo. – A new state-of-the-art research building on the University of Missouri’s campus could bring patients from across the state to Columbia for health care.
Missouri Chief Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley is the only reporter who’s been inside the building before next week’s grand opening and spoke with health officials and building directors about the Roy Blunt NextGen Precision Health Building.
Inside the 265,000 square foot building, there’s an MRI machine found nowhere else in the state. There are labs the size of football fields, a unit that allows researchers to conduct human trials and space to produce pharmaceutical drugs.
Researchers and those in charge of the building say this building puts Columbia and Mizzou on the map for health care.
“The whole goal is to improve the health of Missourians,” executive director for the building Dr. Richard Barohn said. “This building is a game-changer for the University of Missouri. It really puts us in the heart of the conversation of how you can improve health.”
After breaking ground in 2019, Mizzou is ready to open the doors on its new $221 million dollar research building.
“Science has evolved to the point where it’s different than just going to your typical health care provider 30 or 40 years ago,” Barohn said. “Now with the advent of precision health tools, we can really deliver a different type of health care.”
Barohn, a neurologist that specializes in muscle and nerve disease, says precision health research involves looking at genetic, behavioral, and imaging factors.
Inside the new facility, researchers will be looking closely at things like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
“It’s approximately a football field’s worth of open wet lab space where our teams of scientists that study similar disorders can work together,” associate director of the building Dr. Scott Rector said.
Rector said the open space concept could lead to fast findings.
“Traditionally it takes about 20 years to go from a discovery at the bench to getting that into a patient,” Rector said. “We hope that the philosophy in the building would be that we could expedite that process and get to that endpoint more quickly.”
In the basement, there’s an MRI machine found nowhere else in Missouri.
“Twice the horsepower of other scanners in hospitals,” radiologist for MU Health Dr. Talissa Altes said.
The device, known as a 7T MR machine, gives doctors and researchers a better look inside the human body.
“Particularly going to steer patients who may have Parkinson’s and some other of the dementias because those are the diseases that really start in the small structures of the brain that we are going to be able to see better with the 7T,” Altes said.
She said this machine could cut the time it takes for a scan in half.
“I expect people will be coming from St. Louis and Kansas City because we’ll be able to see certain structures that are important for their diseases,” Altes said.
The structure will also house microscopes that can see at the atomic level.
“For instance, we can use this for our biology research for COVID or for influenza where we are looking at the molecular structure of an actual viral particle,” scientific director for NextGen Precision Health Dr. Thomas Spencer said.
By next spring, there will also be space on the third floor of the building for clinical trials for patients.
“Realistically, take something from the bench to the bedside in the terms of producing a molecule that can be used for clinical trials in humans,” Spencer said.
The Clinical Translational Science Unit (CTSU) will allow patients to participate in trials for research. Spencer expects there to be more than 100 physicians and researchers working in the clinical trial space.
“Patients will come in or volunteers and they can stay part of the full day,” Spencer said. “Maybe they will have to take something we will monitor it in their blood, or they do some type of exercise and then we monitor them. It’s a good way to understand how diseases affect the human body.”
The cutting-edge research going on inside the new facility could lead to a health care discovery.
“We would hope that we make an initial discovery at the bench, we would do pre-clinical testing since we have the capability, we would then be able to do clinical testing in patients and then we could develop the drug for those types of studies,” Rector said.
The grand opening for the building is Tuesday. Roughly 40 to 50 researchers will work in the building.
Nearly two dozen of them are already at Mizzou while the rest are being recruited from around the country. The MRI will be ready for patients in the next two to three weeks.
“We’re going to be a designation for certain types of treatment,” Spencer said.