On what was once a wind-swept empty field, University of Massachusetts officials and a host of political dignitaries introduced the new $400 million Albert Sherman Center to a gathering of about 500 Wednesday afternoon inside the newest building on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
The 512,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art biomedical research and education facility – called a "world-class building filled with world-class ambition" by UMass Medical School Chancellor Dr. Michael F. Collins - opened earlier this month.
Gov. Deval Patrick, who placed the facility at the center of his Life Sciences Initiative for the commonwealth, said "Our investments in education, innovation and infrastructure have come together to support the completion of the Albert Sherman Center. This landmark project is a testament to what is possible when we work together to invest in this generation and the next."
More specifically, the governor referenced work already being done at UMass Medical to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. The disease has afflicted one of Patrick's predecessors, Paul Cellucci, who was governor from 1997 to 2001.
The Sherman Center will double the school's research capacity. It's intended to maximize collaboration and interaction among researchers, educators and students to encourage innovation and learning across medical disciplines. It will also serve as the home of the school's Advanced Therapeutics Center, made up of the RNA Therapeutics Institute, the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, the Gene Therapy Center, the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, and the Center for Experiential Learning and Simulation, according to a statement from the school.
It will also serve as the home to 2006 Nobel Laureate and UMass Medical School Professor Craig Mello, who will continue his work on RNA interference, a key focus of the Life Sciences Initiative.
Speaking at Wednesday's event, Mello alluded to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address 150 years ago, comparing the nation's struggles during its civil war with today's battles against disease.
"Sadly, we too often forget the courage of 'the soldiers' who fight the battles" toward reaching cures, he said. Alluding to a line in Lincoln's address, he added that those in medicine must be "dedicated to the task before us.
"Indeed, it could make all the difference."
Minutes before cutting a ceremonial ribbon with Patrick, Sherman said he was humbled but also hopes the building "will be both a source of hope and inspiration." He added that Mello may be the first Nobel laureate out of UMass Medical School, "but not the last."