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Lord Sainsbury opens £25m University building

Posted on 16 July 2003

The University of York's £25 million Bioscience Building is to be officially unveiled later this week (Friday 18th July) by Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science and Innovation.

And the doors of its laboratories will be open to the guests so that they can walk around and talk to leading scientists who work in many different fields of biology, including cancer research, plant science, and ecology.

The Government has invested £21m in the new building and equipment, with major contributions from Yorkshire Cancer Research and the University of York itself.

The three-wing Department of Biology building has state-of-the art laboratories and a ground-breaking central technology 'hub', housing specialist equipment worth £5 million. The hub allows researchers from different disciplines to share high-tech equipment. The building incorporates the Structural Biology Laboratory which is part of the University's Department of Chemistry. The existing buildings have also been refurbished to bring them up to a high standard for 21st century science.

Among major research projects the Departments have undertaken recently are:

  • A revolutionary method for detecting which human embryos are most likely to develop successfully to the stage at which they implant in the womb. The research has been funded by the Medical Research Council, and the discovery, if confirmed in clinical trials, could bring new hope for many couples undergoing fertility treatment since current failure rates are high.
  • A new technique called RNA interference has been used to kill human cervical cancer cells grown in culture without causing damage to healthy cells. The discovery could have major implications, potentially leading to the successful treatment of cancers caused by viral infection, without any harmful side effects.
  • A study which shows that many of Britain's plants are now flowering two weeks or more earlier than they did a decade ago. The researchers believe this is one of the clearest signs as to how powerfully climate warming is now affecting the natural world.
  • The development of a process to help recreate and produce the water-resistant glue which enables mussels to cling to rocks in the stormiest seas. The glue has many potential applications such as glueing bones, dental enamel, and soft tissue.
  • The identification of the way in which plant cells take up salt, opening new possibilities for enhancing plant growth on salty soils, a major problem especially in the developing world.
  • Detailed insights into how the female sex hormone oestrogen and its analogues work at the molecular level, leading to the rational design of anti-breast cancer drugs and new hormone replacement therapies.

Speaking in advance of the opening Lord Sainsbury said, "I am delighted to see our investment in the infrastructure of Universities is paying off in the form of this new Bioscience Building at the University of York. This important facility for biological and medical research is precisely the kind of project that is needed.

"The research carried out in our laboratories today is the foundation for the new products, medicines and technologies of tomorrow. The UK cannot remain at the cutting edge of research if it remains dependent on deteriorating and inadequate buildings and equipment.

"That is why the University of York has received £25million from the infrastructure fund and will receive a further £21million in the future."

Professor Alastair Fitter, Head of the Department of Biology, said: "We're delighted that Lord Sainsbury can perform the opening ceremony for our superb new building. He came here to see progress when it was a building site, and we shared our vision with him. This building will allow us to make real progress with our exciting work in all sorts of areas - the causes and treatment of cancer, the ways in which molecules interact in living cells, and understanding biodiversity in the natural world."

The opening ceremony will be followed by speeches from Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of the BBSRC, and Professor Brian Cantor, Vice-Chancellor of the University. During the morning there will be talks by structural biologist Professor Sir Tom Blundell FRS, from Cambridge; Professor Enrico Coen FRS, of the John Innes Centre at Norwich; Professor John Lawton CBE, FRS, Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council; and Professor Martin Raff FRS, a member of the Medical Research Council.

Notes to editors:

  • The Biology Department, one of the largest and most successful in the country, is a closely integrated group of research teams, whose work spans the biological spectrum, including plant biology, ecology, and cancer research. The department has a research rating of '5' which signifies work of international standing. It also has the highest possible score - 24 out of 24 - for its teaching quality. It holds research contracts worth £30million.
  • The Structural Biology Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry consists of 83 researchers and has 39 current research grants totalling £8 million.
  • Both the building and its new equipment have been paid for by the Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF), with major contributions from Yorkshire Cancer Research, and the University of York itself. The JIF contribution was funded by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) through the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), the Department of Education and Skills (DfES) through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), and the Wellcome Trust.
  • The BBSRC grant of £21.6m was awarded in December 1999. Work started in 2000 and the building is open on schedule. The BBSRC is one of the Government's five research councils which fund fundamental and applied science in the UK. Yorkshire Cancer Research funded the new laboratories in the building for Professor Norman Maitland.
  • The Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) was a DTI/Wellcome Trust/DfES initiative designed to boost research facilities in universities.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153