Gregory S. Boebinger: Fund homegrown research
Published: Friday, February 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 7:51 p.m.
The state of Florida recently announced it will give $60 million to Oregon Health and Science University to create a branch of its Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute on Florida's east coast. The institute joins Germany's Max Planck Institute, the Burnham Institute, Torrey Pines and Scripps Florida, wooed since 2003 with hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.
That's money well spent. These efforts will provide important new economic opportunities and help to attract major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to our state.
But as our leaders enthusiastically import new biotechnology institutes, they should continue to nurture and support the world-class research facilities that are already well established right here in Florida.
As director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, a consortium among the University of Florida, Florida State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory, let me use as an example the laboratory I know best, which was described as "truly a jewel in the crown of U.S. science" by the most recent National Science Foundation review committee to visit the magnet lab. We received a similar assessment from our External Advisory Committee, whose membership consists of scientific heavyweights from around the nation, including two winners of the Nobel Prize.
The UF and FSU magnet lab campuses have developed world record and world-recognized magnets and instruments for magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance. These include technologies that provide unprecedented biomedical imaging and have allowed investigators to obtain high-definition pictures of human and animal brains and probe details of cells and biological molecules needed to develop new drugs and potential cures.
Among the areas currently under study: imaging support for gene and adult-stem-cell therapy for human disease; attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; nicotine addiction; muscular dystrophy and rehabilitation; drug development; human brain function; breast cancer metabolism; epilepsy; diabetes treatment; and cardiac research.
The lab's world-class biomedical facilities strengthen research at UF and FSU by helping professors attract another $15 million-plus each year in Federal and private-sector research grants. Indeed, just recently, the magnet lab announced a $2 million National Institutes of Health award to map the surface of proteins that the tuberculosis virus uses to attack the body. And the Department of Defense recently funded a study that investigates glucose metabolism in breast cancer cells.
The magnet lab helps fuel Florida's economy. An economic impact report concluded that for every dollar the state invests in the magnet lab, the state will realize a return of $5.50 in increased economic activity. As such, since its inception in 1990 the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory has benefited the state of Florida by an amount well over $900 million.
The magnet lab, a research institution at home on the campuses of Florida's two strongest research universities, and its faculty are building the future biotech work force, providing fertile training ground for students, many of whom will go on to work at institutes such as those our state leaders have successfully recruited. Magnet lab and other university scientists already collaborate with Scripps-Florida, lending their unique techniques and equipment to the growing intellectual infrastructure that is so important in our new knowledge economy.
The magnet lab is not alone among Florida-based research and educational institutions struggling to maintain their position as world-leading research institutions. In the case of the magnet lab, this is especially true in light of growing research and educational investments in high-magnetic-field research in the rest of the world. The magnet lab's facilities are aging as rapidly as China, Japan, and Korea are building brand new magnet labs from the ground up.
There is no question Florida should continue to build and attract new research institutions. As our state's leaders refine their strategy for growing Florida's science and technology sector, it is important for the state to support the educational pillars of the infrastructures that already exist right here in Florida.
Gregory S. Boebinger is the director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, in Tallahassee.
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