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Infrastructure for Discovery

December 20, 2021

To the YSM Community:

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has reminded us of the power of rigorous observation, critical thinking, and scientific discovery. We have witnessed how the application of basic discoveries made over many decades can culminate in the rapid development of vaccine technology. Lessons we have learned about the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 have shifted our understanding of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.

The pandemic has also highlighted the need for continued investment in infrastructure for discovery. Even as we focused on keeping laboratories open and supporting individual investigators, we also engaged in strategic planning to ensure that we can continue to lead discovery in the future. Today, I would like to highlight work in two areas intended to enhance our research capabilities.

Space — the Final Frontier

Even prior to the pandemic, YSM was space constrained. This has been exacerbated as construction projects were delayed during the spring of 2020 and as the hospital has attempted to create more capacity for patient care. Fortunately, laboratory construction is back on track and we will be expanding our laboratory footprint within two to three years. Approximately 143 new workstations will come online in 100 College Street in 2023. Additional workstations are projected in 101 College in 2024. In 300 George, 110 new workstations will become available on the third and sixth floors in late 2023 with an additional floor opening in 2024 or later. In addition, we anticipate opportunities to create office space capacity as some workers continue to work remotely.

Nevertheless, until these construction projects come to fruition, we must be smarter about how we use space if we are to continue to grow our research programs over the next few years. While research funding per square footage of laboratory space is high at YSM compared to our peers, this density of funding is not consistent across departments. Among basic science departments, the ratio of facilities and administration (F&A) dollars to workstation in wet labs ranges from $16,102 to $41,330. Among clinical departments, the range spans from $97 to $46,364 per workstation. There is similar variation in the ratio of F&A dollars per dry lab space. Likewise, departments vary widely in their allocation of office space to faculty and staff.

To enable uninterrupted recruitment of faculty and program growth, we must rationalize space allocation and be more disciplined and efficient in our processes for assigning space. To this end, about six months ago, I tasked a group of chairs, deputy deans, and administrators to develop a policy for space allocation for the next few years. This policy was reviewed by the Faculty Advisory Council and ratified by the YSM Executive Group. It is designed to rationalize space allocation and ensure an equitable and transparent process. Departmental lead administrators will coordinate the administration of the policy. At times we may have to take difficult actions, such as downsizing the laboratory footprint of investigators who have a significant and sustained decline in or loss of funding. This work is not easy, but it is essential. Demonstrating discipline in this area will also resonate with the philanthropists who may consider investing in our missions during the capital campaign.

A “Central” Biorepository

During the pandemic, we saw the power of coordinated sample collection in a biorepository linked to our robust data warehouse. YSM investigators have collected genetic samples and tissues from patients with rare and common disorders over many years. Today, over 160 laboratories or investigators at YSM have active tissue banking protocols; however, these protocols are not coordinated, and procedures are not standardized. The result is that samples may not be collected to optimize their use for such organoid cultures, cell lines, or molecular studies, and opportunities for collaboration may be lost.

In April, I asked a task force led by Chen Liu, chair of Pathology, to develop a plan to establish an institutional biorepository that would allow for coordinated collection of tissue, plasma, serum and genetic samples, and clinical data, using common processes and information systems. The group surveyed leading institutions with centrally coordinated institutional biorepositories. They developed a plan for a College of American Pathologists (CAP)-accredited biorepository that would facilitate rigorous phenotyping of samples, and coordination of proteomic, metabolomic, and genomic analyses to enhance the identification of therapeutic targets and diagnostics. It is envisioned that the biorepository will function as a core that will provide standardized biospecimen acquisition, processing, storage, and distribution for investigator-initiated or programmatic tissue collection. While some investigators may wish to continue to collect and store samples locally, we have identified freezer farm space in the Temple Medical Building. We have committed funding to initiate development of this biorepository and the group will move forward with implementation. In a closely related development, we have received philanthropic support for the development of a unique biobank of brain tissue. We anticipate that investment in these resources will catalyze discovery for many years to come.

As we look forward, we have amazing opportunities to make discoveries that will transform our understanding of human health and disease and lead to innovative strategies of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. It has never been more important to create and to shepherd the resources that support this work.


Nancy J. Brown, MD
Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine
C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine