Scientists begin research work at new £650 million Francis Crick Institute building

The first scientists have moved into the new £650 million Francis Crick Institute building in London and are starting work in their purpose-built labs. Next to St Pancras station and the British Library, the Crick will be the biggest biomedical research institute under one roof in Europe.

Research groups will continue moving in each week until the end of the year, as lab space is adapted for each research group. The start of 2017 will see the Francis Crick Institute up and running with all staff moved in and research projects ramping up.

The Crick

Research at the Crick aims to discover how and why disease develops in order to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, infections and neurodegenerative conditions like motor neurone disease.

The Crick has been established through the collaboration of six founding partners: the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, Wellcome, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King's College London.

The institute is bringing scientists together from across disciplines to tackle the pressing health concerns of the 21st century. By being open to collaboration, by training future science leaders and by seeking to improve people's health and wellbeing, the Crick aims to boost UK science and health and help drive the UK economy.

The building

The Crick's building is one of the most complex buildings in London. It has been designed by architects HOK with PLP Architecture and constructed by Laing O'Rourke. Arup and AKT II were the engineers on the project, with Arup also the project manager. Turner & Townsend were cost consultants on the project and Cordless Consultants have provided IT and AV facilities.

The design, construction and commissioning of the 170m-long building with approaching 1 million square feet of floor space over 12 floors has been a technically challenging undertaking and an engineering project in itself. It required very high specifications to be met for the most sensitive and advanced research equipment to be used - such as high vibration resistance, close temperature control, minimisation of electromagnetic interference and high rates of air change. The building has also been designed to minimise impact on the environment, with solar panels on the roof and its own combined heat and power system. The energy-saving features should reduce the energy bill by a third and the building has been given an 'excellent' BREEAM rating.

Our approach

On 1 April 2015 the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research and Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute merged to become the Francis Crick Institute. These research groups are being joined by scientists from our university partners (UCL, Imperial and King's), who bring with them specialist knowledge, skills and resources across a range of scientific disciplines. In particular, university researchers working in the Crick help add expertise in the physical and clinical sciences.

Collaboration and interdisciplinary working is designed in to the Crick. Research groups from different disciplines and from different original organisations have been given neighbouring lab space. Coupled with lots of open work space, breakout areas and shared core facilities, this means scientists can't help but bump into each other, have conversations and share ideas. It is all expected to lead to the generation of new insight, research directions and innovations.

The new building is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for biomedical research. Genetics and genomic studies have access to advanced DNA sequencing, while the latest mass spectrometry equipment allows gene expression, proteins and metabolic pathways to be characterised. Bioinformatics support allows studies involving very large datasets. The robots in the high-throughput screening facility allow tens of thousands of drug candidates to be tested in cells. Electron microscopy, X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance suites allow biological structures to be studied in fantastic detail.

The Crick specialises in discovery science: investigating the fundamental biological processes underlying human health and disease. But the increased understanding of these key processes can lead to opportunities to develop novel drugs and innovative new treatments. Translational research - the turning of biological discoveries in the lab into treatments for patients in the clinic - will be a focus for the Crick. For example, the institute has an ongoing partnership with GSK in which teams of scientists from both organisations work side by side in the lab and benefit from the sharing of ideas and approaches in investigating biological systems.

Public engagement and schools outreach are another focus of the Crick. The education team visits local schools in Camden with science activities, demonstrations and experiments, and there a discovery lab on site for school visits will soon be open. The aim is to reach all 27,000 state school children in Camden every year with some activity from the Crick. Dedicated public space with a gallery, café, a large 450-seat auditorium and versatile seminar rooms means the Crick can also run a significant and varied programme of events, talks and exhibitions. With all of this available on site, people can directly engage with the work of the Crick and the scientists that work there.

Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, said:

A remarkable state-of-the-art new home for the Crick has been completed and the occupation by scientists has started. But this is only the beginning. As all our research groups move in over the rest of the year, it will be the discoveries we make here that will establish our place at the forefront of science in London, the UK and worldwide.

David Roblin, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Scientific Translation at the Francis Crick Institute, said:

It is tremendous to have reached the point when science is beginning in our glorious new building. It's been an achievement of many people to this point - in the design, the construction, the fitting out, and the project management of moving in people, equipment and experiments. To do this while also running active research programmes across multiple sites speaks to the skill and effort of our staff and supporters. It gives a sense of what we'll be able to achieve once we're all together in our new home.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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