More Than Bricks and Mortar

Assistant Professor Monica Burdick uses fluid dynamics to study how cancer cells move through the body.

Photo courtesy of: Ohio University Photography

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More Than Bricks and Mortar

Multidisciplinary group conducts innovative research in newest learning and research facility

Part one of a two-part series featuring the influence of The Osteopathic Heritage Foundations and Charles R. and Marilyn Y. Stuckey Academic & Research Center (ARC) on Ohio University’s faculty and students.

By Ellee Prince
A three-story, brick building occupies a far corner of West Green, surrounded by ribbons of sidewalk and long strips of green grass. Nestled among other brick structures, silver lettering identifies this building as: The Osteopathic Heritage Foundations and Charles R. and Marilyn Y. Stuckey Academic & Research Center, affectionately called “the ARC” by students and staff. What makes it special is not its location or the quality of its brick, but what’s happening inside: a unique collaboration among engineering, technology and medicine.

“We started up this engineering/molecular biology/medicine group,” says Dr. Kelly McCall, assistant professor of endocrinology and a lead researcher for the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM). Twelve years ago, in the windowless basement of Konneker Research Labs in the Ridges, faculty and students from OU-HCOM and the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology began collaborating.

“(The Russ College researchers) started asking us some questions that we had never really thought of, and vice versa. We would take turns presenting at those weekly meetings and then we would get each other’s perspectives,” says McCall.

Buildings located in the Ridges, which were once home to a progressive psychiatric hospital in the early 1900s, now house the Konneker Research Labs. Originally a patient dormitory, the Labs occupy building number 25. The interdisciplinary research group would travel more than one mile, uphill and downhill, between the labs and other offices on campus.

“We were like ships in the night,” said Dr. Doug Goetz, a professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering, and a researcher with the interdisciplinary research group. “I’d be going up when Kelly (McCall) was leaving, and vice versa.”

Then, in 2010, the ARC opened its state-of-the-art doors and the group began meeting in a space on its third floor. “They put us all in one place and allowed us to start new collaborations and efforts. It is very much a shared environment. We not only share our equipment, we not only share our lab space, but we also share our ideas and expertise,” says McCall. “This building has really allowed for our research to come out of the basement of Konneker (Research Labs) and to be spread to the community.”

One of the group’s founding members was Dr. Leonard Kohn, a renowned researcher who passed away in April of this year. Before joining OU-HCOM in 2000, he worked for many prestigious institutions including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He co-founded Interthyr Corporation in Ohio and furthered the commercialization of autoimmune diagnostic tools he had developed.

“His love and curiosity for science and medicine stimulated all of us to think outside the box and not limit ourselves to the current trends at the time,” says McCall. “Dr. Kohn helped establish and foster the current interdisciplinary research team. We are now able to collaborate and interact with world-renowned scientists and clinicians.”

Kohn brought his discovery of the natural compound C-10 (phenylmethimazole) with him to OU-HCOM. This compound blocks proteins involved in activating cell immune responses, some abnormal that appear in autoimmune diseases like diabetes and cancer.

The interdisciplinary group, which includes teams lead by Goetz and McCall, conducts research in the ARC that includes novel diabetes and cancer treatments using Kohn’s discovery of C-10. The research findings could mean major steps forward in the treatment of two of the country’s largest health concerns. This work already has earned recognition, publication and multimillion-dollar grants from the NIH.

“We built the ARC building on our research strength,” says Karoline Lane, director of communication for OU-HCOM, and a project coordinator for the ARC development and construction. According to McCall, Goetz and Lane, medical research and collaboration at OHIO was innovative long before the ARC was built. All it needed was a little space – designed specifically to enhance what the research group was doing.

More than 550 individuals and groups collectively contributed $34.5 million to build the modern research center. Among these were alumni from both colleges who were once a part of the history of collaboration at OHIO.

One design choice born out of the existing culture of collaboration was purpose-built labs: constructed without doors and interconnected by long hallways, students and researchers can casually walk through, catch glimpses of other’s work, and chat without having to make plans and hike across campus leaving their labs behind them.

“You don’t have the sense that here’s engineering and its barrier, and there’s medical and its barrier,” explained Goetz. “Here, it’s almost as good as it gets.”