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Expanding the Footprint of Scientific Discovery

November 16, 2017
At the symposium celebrating the 10th anniversary of West Campus (l-r): Mary Miller, Senior Director, Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage; Gary Brudvig, Director, Yale Energy Sciences Institute; Scott Strobel, Vice President for West Campus; Richard Levin, Yale’s 22nd President; Christine Jacobs-Wagner, Director, Yale Microbial Sciences Institute; Ann Kurth, Dean, Yale School of Nursing.
The 10-year anniversary of the purchase of West Campus highlights the potential for progress when scientists work across disciplines.

Ten years ago, when Yale purchased the 136-acre Bayer Pharmaceutical campus, it was a blank slate. Rather than transfer existing laboratories and administrative structures to the sprawling West Campus, it was viewed as an opportunity to reimagine the areas of scientific inquiry the University wanted to pursue.

Today, West Campus is fertile ground for the kind of interdisciplinary collaborations that drive scientific discovery. Under the able direction of Michael Donaghue, PhD, who served as director of planning and program development in the early years, and now Scott Strobel, PhD, it houses seven research institutes centered around health, energy, culture, and the environment, as well as state-of-the-art core facilities that are used by researchers throughout the university. With 41 laboratories led by faculty from 15 departments across the School of Medicine, the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, along with the School of Nursing—relocated here in 2013—West Campus is a hub of activity.

Establishing the West Campus, which brings together 1,600 individuals to work and learn, has been an enormous undertaking involving resources and commitment from across the university. The celebration of its first decade offers an opportunity to highlight a few of the West Campus’s many discoveries and achievements:

  • The first use of exome sequencing as a diagnostic tool took place at the Yale Center for Genome Analysis (YCGA) when researchers identified a mutation in both copies of the gene associated with congenital chloride diarrhea in an infant. Investigators have also uncovered genes and pathways involved in brain malformations, hypertension, Gaucher disease, melanoma, and autism. YCGA also houses one of three national centers created by the National Institutes of Health to study the genetics of rare inherited diseases
  • Researchers at the Yale Center for Molecular Discovery—which has enabled the launch of four biotech startups— showed that cardiac glycosides used in heart medications also have the potential to treat cancer.
  • At the Yale Systems Biology Institute, researchers are creating bacterial “factories” to generate large amounts of a kinase that causes glioblastomas to spread, then screen for drugs that inhibit the kinase and inhibit the cancer’s growth
  • Researchers at the Yale Microbial Sciences Institute found that gut bacteria have developed mechanisms to keep competitors away by delivering toxins into neighboring cells and defending against toxins injected by similar cells.
  • At the Yale Cancer Biology Institute, researchers discovered a spectrum of effects from different epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) binding mechanisms beyond “on” and “off” that lay the groundwork for new cancer therapeutics.

Such cutting-edge equipment as the Titan Krios cryoelectron microscope and the fastest genome sequencers in the world are an integral component of speeding the pace of discovery, providing researchers ready access to equipment they would not be able to afford on their own. But these facilities also provide opportunities for investigators to congregate, exchanging ideas in an atmosphere that has been designed to foster such interactions. Throughout the campus at places such as the conference center, the cafeteria that serves three meals a day, or the Landscape Lab, where projects are designed to contribute to a more sustainable future, scientists encounter one another in unexpected ways that spark conversations and collaborations.

At the recent symposium to mark the 10th anniversary of the purchase of West Campus, I was struck by the transformation of this vast space. The echoing halls of ten years ago are now bustling with activity. The science taking place is allowing Yale to move in new research directions beyond what is possible in any one program, department, or school. The most exciting part is that we have just begun to realize the potential of West Campus. Along with faculty, students, and staff from across Yale, I am eager see what the next decade brings.