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New biotech center opens

By Clifton B. Parker on February 3, 2006 in University

A new science — biophotonics — has a new center of operations at the UC Davis Medical Center.

Quarters for the National Science Foundation-funded UC Davis Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology were dedicated Monday in the Oak Park Research Building at 2700 Stockton Blvd. Known as CBST, the biophotonics center is a research hub for roughly 100 investigators at nine institutions across the United States.

Biophotonics is the study of light in biology and medicine.

"This state-of-the-art facility makes UC Davis the world headquarters for biophotonics, one of the most exciting disciplines in biotechnology. The discoveries and technologies developed here will revolutionize biology and medicine," said Nathaniel Pitts, director of integrative activities for the National Science Foundation.

The $20 million, 40,000-square-foot building, completed in May, occupies a former empty lot adjacent to the UC Davis Medical Center. Besides CBST, the two-story brick, stucco and glass building also houses the UC Davis Center for Healthy Aging, and UC Davis infectious disease and cancer research laboratories.

"The opening of the Oak Park Research Building is important not just for UC Davis but for everyone in our region," said Claire Pomeroy, vice chancellor for human health sciences at UC Davis and dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. "This beautiful new building contributes to the renaissance of Oak Park, boosts Sacramento's reputation as a growing biotechnology hub, and makes possible tremendously exciting work in infectious diseases, cancer and biophotonics — work we will share through an ambitious technology transfer effort and innovative educational programs aimed at inspiring a new, more diverse generation of scientists."

The biophotonics center is the only National Science Foundation-supported center in the country that focuses on biophotonics. It was established in 2002 with a $40 million NSF grant. Participating research and education institutions — UC Davis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, UC Berkeley, UCSF, Stanford University, Mills College in Oakland, Alabama A&M University in Normal, Ala., the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., contributed $12 million in matching funds.

UC Davis is the lead institution.

The center's collaborating research institutions include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UCLA, the University of Toronto, the Canadian Institute for Photonic Innovations at Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, and National Yang-Ming University in Taipei.

'Sparks research'

Dennis Matthews, CBST director and an expert on applying lasers and optics to medicine, said, "NSF Science and Technology Centers spark research, technology development, education and industry all around them. In its new home adjacent to UC Davis Medical Center, CBST is helping to put UC Davis and the Sacramento area on the map as an important biotech and research zone."

He said researchers there are already testing new light-producing molecules that can be used in drug discovery and disease diagnosis, developing new light-based tools to identify cancer cells and epileptic tissue, and working on techniques to allow scientists to observe how microscopic particles like triglycerides and white blood cells damage blood vessels.

"The biophotonics field has far-reaching applications for medicine, from non-invasively diagnosing cancer to answering fundamental questions about how disease develops at the molecular level," said James Boggan, CBST co-director and professor and vice chair of neurological surgery at UC Davis.

In addition to research and development, the center is also charged with finding innovative ways to train young scientists and foster public understanding of science.

The center has designed kindergarten through high school curricula that make science engaging, interdisciplinary and focused on student-conducted research. The center has also developed new undergraduate and graduate courses.

Student tours

Other educational initiatives include undergraduate research internships, public demonstrations of biophotonics technology, innovative outreach programs for minorities and women, and a program in which undergraduate and graduate students mentor high school students in science.

About 60 students from Sacramento High School in Oak Park and Center High School in Antelope, Calif., participated in the building grand opening and toured center labs.

"Now that we've moved in, we look forward to engaging many more students," said Marco Molinaro, CBST chief education officer. "We want to spark an interest in science among children and young adults, and we want to ensure that tomorrow's science and technology leaders reflect the diversity of our population."

In addition to the biophotonics lab, the Oak Park Research Building houses several UC Davis Health System research laboratories. The largest belongs to Kit Lam, professor and chief of hematology and oncology at UC Davis Cancer Center.

Lam, a leading expert on combinatorial chemistry and drug development, is the inventor of the "one-bead one-compound" combinatorial library method. With funding from the National Cancer Institute and National Science Foundation, his lab is developing novel therapeutic and imaging agents for lymphoma, leukemia and ovarian cancer.

He has received two National Institutes of Health "road-map" grants for the development of chemical libraries and novel instrumentation for use in chemical microarrays.

Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, cparker@ucdavis.edu

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