Medical school looks for lab space

No one wants his cardiovascular surgeon bumping elbows with his neurosurgeon in the ER. And those same cardiologists don’t want to be bumping elbows with the neurologists in the lab.

But with space shortages becoming increasingly acute, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine are often forced into such cramped conditions, interviews sugest. Clinical sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, especially neurology and pediatrics, are looking for ways to alleviate a lack of campus laboratory space that YSM professors said affects faculty members, funding and quality of research.

Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said the administration does not currently have a plan to alleviate the space crunch for the clinical sciences. Although YSM will soon be opening facilities at the new Bayer HealthCare campus — nicknamed the West Campus — in West Haven, the new buildings will not be devoted to alleviating the strain on clinical research facilities, Alpern said.

Instead, the medical school is addressing the lack of clinical practice space, he said. Within the next few months, the administration will hire a consultant to examine the demographics of the state, determine what types of health care are in highest demand and figure out how best to distribute resources and space at the West Campus.

Neurology professor Hal Blumenfeld said the shortage of space has limited scientists’ ability to perform high-quality research.

“There isn’t enough space for people to work,” he said. “If you have resources for people to do more experiments, then that opens the door to do the science that you could potentially do.”

A shortage of space also constrains the number of faculty members that departments can hire and, in turn, the amount of funding they can pursue while writing grants, Cardiology professor Frank Giordano said.

In the past, YSM faculty and administrators have taken steps to increase available research space, which provided relief to some departments, including General Medicine and Immunobiology, but provided little relief to Neurology and Pediatrics. In 2003, YSM opened The Anlyan Center for Medical Research, or TAC — a building that provided over 400,000 square feet of laboratory space largely intended for disease-oriented research, according to University officials. In the summer of 2007, the University opened another research building at 300 George St., Alpern said.

Giordano said Cardiology was given some space in the TAC building and will likely expand into the 300 George building the next time the department names a new section chief. Neurology professor Stephen Strittmatter said General Medicine took up much of the TAC building, which has resolved many of that department’s space problems.

But Neurology received none of that space. And when the Bayer campus opens, opening up an additional 1.5 million square feet of room, Neurology will not receive space there either, Alpern said.

“In general, most of the talk I hear [does not include] any existing departments and programs using the majority of that space, but really new directions and new programs,” Strittmatter said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a way for any department to change dramatically the amount of space it has.”

But Strittmatter called the goals of the Bayer campus “laudable” and said he does not resent the fact that his department will not receive any of the new space.

Even if the medical school decided to construct another building to accommodate the needs of Neurology and Pediatrics, Alpern said, it would be years before the departments could move in. What is more likely, he said, is that shuffling departments between new and old facilities will free up space in the old buildings for Neurology and Pediatrics to augment their existing research space.

“I’ve been here for 15 or 16 years, and it’s a continuing issue that’s never been resolved,” Strittmatter said. “Neurology especially is under enormous pressure. It really has a small fraction of the kind of space that is attributed to neurology departments at comparable institutions.”

Strittmatter said he is unsure why Neurology experiences the brunt of the shortages at Yale, but he hypothesized that it has something to do with Yale’s historical emphasis on basic sciences that have no clinical component, such as cell biology and genetics.

He said the University’s focus on basic over clinical sciences can likely be attributed in part to New Haven’s relatively small size. Yale-New Haven Hospital has fewer beds — and thus a smaller clinical section — than hospitals at comparable institutions located in larger cities, Stritmatter said.

But a lack of clinical practice space is also a problem, he said, although there is plenty of room to expand clinical activities on West Campus.

“Neurological disease is devastating,” Blumenfeld said. “I think the department should get space to do that sort of [clinical] work.”

Alpern said the consultant the administration plans to hire will address the problem of cramped clinical practice through redistribution of facilities on the West Campus.

Aside from physical space, Strittmatter said, the Neurology Department lacks other resources as well, including nursing and technical support. Neurology could benefit from expanding its clinical programs, he said, and needs monetary resources to do so.

Giordano said he thinks the administration has thus far made significant strides in resolving cramped lab conditions.

“The school’s done a lot to alleviate that by building new buildings and buying the Bayer space,” he said, although he called the issue of space “a perpetual problem.”

Comments