WPI’s Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center Set to Open This Spring

BEI: Connecting the Dots

A number of the research projects described in this publication have something in common—they fall under the growing umbrella of the WPI Bioengineering Institute, a Gateway Park tenant whose mission is to make connections between researchers working on related fields in the life sciences and between WPI’s research teams and commercial entities that can translate their innovations into new products and businesses. Topics for work under way in BEI’s eight centers include bacterial adhesion, medical imaging, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, and nanoscience.

On a site that once teemed with the machinery of the Industrial Revolution, a modern research center is nearing completion. The four-story, 124,600-square-foot WPI Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center is the vanguard of a new technological revolution that promises to transform the economy of central Massachusetts as profoundly as the looms, lathes, and machine tools of that bygone era.

The new center represents not only a symbolic but physical bridge between the region’s industrial past and present, as it seamlessly merges a new life sciences laboratory structure with a former industrial building constructed in the 19th century by Stephen Salisbury II, a Worcester merchant and a WPI founder. The existing structure is being renovated to provide space for faculty offices, the headquarters of WPI’s Continuing and Professional Education Division, meeting rooms, and a café with the clever moniker Pi. The old and new buildings are linked by a four-story bridge structure containing core facilities.

"The fact that Gateway Park will be used to incubate businesses, much the same as it did more than 100 years ago when the industrialists founded WPI, brings the site full circle."
— Richard B. Kennedy ’65, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce

The center, which represents an investment by WPI of some $43 million, is the first new structure to be built at Gateway Park, an 11-acre mixed-use life sciences–based campus that WPI is developing with the Worcester Business Development Corporation (WBDC). The site will eventually host three additional laboratory buildings that will be leased to biotechnology and bioengineering companies and research organizations. In all, the park will encompass about a half million square feet of space designed to help fuel the development of central Massachusetts as a center for the emerging life sciences industry. The park is part of a larger Gateway District that will boast housing, restaurants, and other businesses.

"The fact that Gateway Park will be used to incubate businesses, much the same as it did more than 100 years ago when the industrialists founded WPI, brings the site full circle," noted Richard B. Kennedy ’65, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, in December 2006 when the Chamber presented WPI and the WBDC with its coveted Silver Hammer Award. The award is bestowed on organizations for exemplary reuse and restoration of historic structures. (WPI and the WBDC also received the 2006 James D. P. Farrell Brownfields Project of the Year Award from the Environmental Business Council of New England in recognition of the successful remediation and redevelopment of Gateway Park.)

The tenants in the Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center will include Gateway Park Incubator, a new venture of Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives. The incubator will identify and capture academic research discoveries in the life sciences and provide the research infrastructure needed to translate them into viable companies (some of which may become Gateway Park tenants). Likewise, the WPI Bioengineering Institute’s mission is to foster forward-looking research and commercialize the products of that work, spinning off new products and companies.

The WPI Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center nears completion within the 11-acre Gateway Park. In the new building, laboratory benches are arranged in long, open bays, with ample windows offering views toward downtown Worcester.

The Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center will be home to researchers from four academic departments—Biology and Bio-technology, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Chemical Engineering—as well as WPI’s Bioprocessing Laboratory, which provides contract research and development services to the biotechnology industry.

In the new center, faculty and graduate students will find a different approach to research, one that places a premium on collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Laboratory benches are arranged in long, open bays. Nearby are shared facilities—microscopy suites, cold rooms, tissue culture rooms—along with cubicles for graduate students. Bench space will be assigned based not on department affiliation, but according to research interest.

"The building will foster collaborations, not just among the faculty, but among graduate students and undergraduates," notes Eric Overström, head of the Biology and Biotechnology Department. "That’s exciting."

Just as WPI’s life sciences and bioengineering researchers are on the leading edge of fields that hold the promise of transforming health care and improving our quality of life, Gateway Park is riding the crest of a wave that is already beginning to revitalize the economy of central Massachusetts. As biotechnology companies expand westward—half of the largest Massachusetts biotech firms are now located between Route 128 and Worcester—the area is primed to become an important hub for the rapidly growing life sciences industries.

As an indicator of how far the region has advanced toward its vision of becoming a focal point for the life sciences revolution, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick cited the area and, in particular, the fruits of WPI’s collaboration with the WBDC in Worcester as a model for the rest of the state, after touring the Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center recently. At a press conference in the new building, he said, "During our tour at Gateway Park, we saw an example of people who created a big vision, one that was out of the immediate reach of most. Then, WPI and the WBDC created a partnership across many interests. We have to do that all over Massachusetts."