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Oakland space befits pioneering research


The Magee-Womens Research Institute, which was built in part to house the research of a scientist once entangled in an international cloning scandal, wants to project a new image.
On Thursday, the Oakland research institute will host a grand opening celebration for a $31 million expansion. The 70,000-square-foot addition more than doubles the building’s research space, and aims to attract and keep top scientists dedicated to women’s health and infant research.

“There is not another facility like this in the country,” said Jeanne Jordan, associate director of the institute. “For us, the ability to have greater space to attract more researchers who focus on women and infant health has been key.”

The idea for the expansion at the corner of Forbes and Craft avenues was planted a decade ago, five years after the institute first opened. The burst of the stock market bubble delayed those plans, but construction finally got underway in 2005, aided by a $4.5 million state grant.
Just after construction began, Gerald Schatten, a reproductive scientist and deputy director of the institute, demanded his name be removed from a landmark stem cell paper that he wrote with now-disgraced South Korean human cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk. He also urged the retraction of the paper, much of which was later shown to be fabricated using unethical research practices.
The expansion project was dogged by traffic nightmares. Working in a confined space just off the Forbes Avenue exit of the Parkway East, construction forced the closure of a lane on Forbes for nearly 18 months, creating continuous traffic jams at the entrance to Oakland’s main drag.

All that is changing, said Dr. James Roberts, director of the institute. All lanes of Forbes have reopened, and a University of Pittsburgh investigative panel ruled last year that Schatten likely did not know the research was fabricated, although it did censure him for shirking his scientific responsibilities.

At the entrance to the building, visitors are welcomed with a large poster that spells out the institute’s goals for the expansion: “projecting an image reflective of the innovative research being conducted inside.”

The expansion incorporates “green” building principals -- including recycled floors, energy-efficient heating and cooling units and water conservation systems -- and open laboratory designs that promote communication between scientists.

Corner offices with sweeping views of the Monongahela River will serve as sanctuaries for 30 of the institute’s star scientists. The 200-plus research associates and staff who support the scientists have private desks and offices, as well as spacious kitchenettes and lounges.

Light pours into conference rooms equipped with wireless Internet and 54-inch flat screen televisions to dazzle philanthropists and visitors with research presentations: “This fancy space turns out to be something you need occasionally,” Roberts said.

Most importantly, the laboratory space in the building -- coupled with its proximity to Magee-Womens Hospital, which means a wealth of patients for clinical studies -- keeps the institute among the top places for cutting-edge research on women’s health, Roberts said.

“Women’s health research is a rapidly growing, important field,” said Jo Parrish, vice president of institutional advancement at the Society for Women’s Health Research, a nonprofit organization in Washington. “Magee is one of the leaders in this area.”

At least one floor of the seven-story building will house the Pittsburgh Development Center headed by Schatten.

The fabricated South Korean research was done under Schatten’s faculty appointment at the University of Pittsburgh and was not affiliated with his work at Magee-Womens Research Institute, Roberts said, adding that the scandal has not affected the institute’s ability to attract and retain scientists.

“It’s hard for people not to notice when something like that happens, and there’s no question it’s been tough on him,” Roberts said. “But nothing that had to do with the Korean thing had an impact on his role here.”


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