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Center on Aging Adds 20 New Research Labs

by Vikki Franklin

A new four-story, 34,000-square-foot addition to the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging provides greater opportunities for research into issues associated with aging.

The addition, which includes 20 new research labs and enlarged laboratory support facilities, attaches to the original building on all levels. The project, which cost $9.4 million, was funded with a $1.75 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, and $7.65 million in private and university funding.

The addition augments research programs that focus on healthy aging as well as Alzheimer's disease, stroke and other conditions primarily associated with aging. Under the leadership of director William Markesbery, the Center on Aging has become an internationally known aging center.

The additional labs ease the Center on Aging's overcrowding problem. Also, the relocation of researchers from elsewhere in the medical center to laboratories within the center has enhanced some multidisciplinary research programs.

Photo of Stephen Scheff and Jennifer KingStephen Scheff and lab technician Jennifer King

The new facility means the consolidation of research teams such as the one led by Stephen Scheff, professor of anatomy and neurobiology. "My laboratory personnel were spread out over three floors in the older portion of Sanders-Brown. The new addition has provided enough contiguous space that everyone in my laboratory is now together," Scheff says. "This results in a much more productive laboratory environment."

The laboratories in the addition are modeled after those in the UK Health Sciences Research Building, which opened in 1995. Each lab can be entered through a work station area with windows that provide natural light. Next to the work station is a room for use as an office or as a station for lab procedures.

The organization of the new space is a major improvement, says James Geddes, associate professor in the department of anatomy and neurobiology. "It's divided into several bays and office/desk areas. As a result, we can place our tissue culture facilities in a secluded area, resulting in fewer cultures ruined by contamination. Our microscope is now in a separate room. We need to turn the lights off to obtain photomicrographs of cells stained with fluorescent tags and can now do this without putting the entire lab in the dark."

Key features of the new addition include shared equipment rooms, shared environmental rooms for keeping specimens and liquids at constant temperatures, a central autoclave (sterilizing) facility, and large pieces of research equipment such as centrifuges, refrigerators and freezers. Such centralization frees up valuable laboratory space and allows more scientists to have access to the equipment.

Three Alzheimer's disease labs and mechanical space are on the first floor; six Alzheimer's disease and stroke labs are on the second floor; five immunology and Alzheimer's disease labs are on the third floor; and six labs housing atherosclerosis research are on the fourth floor.

The Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is connected on the third floor to the Kentucky Clinic and to the rest of the medical center via a covered pedestrian skywalk which crosses Rose Street. The research addition is the fifth major laboratory project developed at the medical center in the past 10 years in response to, and in support of, the medical center's growth in extramurally funded research programs.

"This added space also gives us more of an opportunity to recruit new high-quality faculty," says Markesbery.