Open for leading-edge science: New Brown wet labs open at Point 225 in Providence

The sixth floor of 225 Dyer St. has been outfitted with much-needed life sciences lab space to welcome Brown University researchers and encourage innovation and collaboration.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The incubators and centrifuges are plugged in. Refrigerators are humming. Beakers, scales and microscopes have been unpacked. And 31,000 square feet of new Brown University life sciences lab space in the Point 225 building in Providence is ready for use.

Over the past year, Brown and Wexford Science & Technology have transformed the sixth floor of 225 Dyer St. into research space designed for individual and team discovery. The new labs are located near the University’s Warren Alpert Medical School and Laboratories for Molecular Medicine as well as the site of Brown’s planned integrated life sciences building, an ambitious work in progress that will house researchers in biology, medicine, brain science, bioengineering, public health and other life sciences disciplines.

While the ILSB is still a few years from completion, the new laboratory space at 225 Dyer St. is welcoming researchers now, said Dr. Mukesh K. Jain, senior vice president for health affairs and dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown.

“There is an urgent need for physical space to accommodate the expansive life sciences research already taking place here at Brown,” Jain said. “While we eagerly await the completion of the integrated life sciences building, we are excited to be able to offer Brown biomedical researchers beautiful, state-of-the art lab space and accompanying support technology. Across the entire sixth floor of 225 Dyer, members of the Center on the Biology of Aging, the new Brown RNA Center and faculty from biomedical engineering will now have the space and opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research and collaborate on innovative new projects.”

The University committed to the sixth floor lease in 2022 to meet its growing demand for web lab space to support health and medical research — particularly as Brown embarked upon a plan to significantly increase investment in high-impact research that benefits communities locally and nationally.

Leasing the space also continued the University’s investments in projects focused on adding vibrancy to Providence’s Jewelry District, with a particular focus on scientific and biomedical research with the potential to create new economic activity in the city and state. In addition to Brown’s new labs on the sixth floor, Wexford has transformed the seventh floor into lab-ready space as well, with the aim of appealing to life sciences companies by reducing the time necessary to build out a tenant’s laboratories.

Point 225 was already home to Brown’s School of Professional Studies and Division of Pre-College and Undergraduate Programs, as well as to dozens of companies located in CIC Providence. The sixth floor was previously an open, unfinished space with exposed concrete, said Adam McGovern, senior director of biomedical facilities planning and operations at Brown, who oversaw the buildout of Brown’s labs. Unlike standard offices, he noted, life sciences labs need appliances like sinks, ovens and refrigerators, as well as plumbing, fume hoods and extra power. The project involved upgrading electrical and HVAC systems, including the installation of a generator that could provide backup power for research equipment.

“After those large structural improvements had been made, the project became about designing the space that works in a flexible way for the researchers,” McGovern said.

Roughly two-thirds of the floor is set up as wet labs, while a third is configured as administrative space, with conference rooms, workstations and meeting areas. Sixteen research groups will ultimately occupy the floor, each with about six to 12 researchers and staff members. Construction took nine months and was finished at the end of 2023. The research groups started to move in during February.

A collaborative space for health and medical research

Gerwald Jogl’s research group, part of Brown’s Center on the Biology of Aging, didn’t have far to travel from their prior lab at 70 Ship St. to the new space at 225 Dyer. But in the process of moving, they gained a new outlook — on both the City of Providence and on their work itself. The lab of six now occupies a space with windows facing southwest, toward the medical school.

Jogl, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry, said he appreciates how the open layout of the space is conducive to conversation on the lab’s research.

“There’s been much more interaction within my group — we get to talk more, in passing and throughout the day, and it’s easier for colleagues to see me and therefore come talk to me,” he said.

A structural biologist whose study of ribosomes overlaps with areas of study at the Brown RNA Center, Jogl is looking forward to opportunities to collaborate across labs, too.

“I’m optimistic that the architecture of the space will enable people from different centers and groups to come together and think about larger projects across different fields and dimensions,” Jogl said.

The layout of the 225 Dyer labs intentionally separates office spaces from lab areas — researchers conduct experiments at high benches in the wet lab zone and then move to a dry zone of desks to work independently or to communal spaces for group discussion. And several of the labs have been designed and outfitted to accommodate computational work, which is becoming an increasingly common aspect of biology research, said John Sedivy, director of the Center on the Biology of Aging.

One refreshing feature of the new labs, Sedivy said, is expanded support space to house large equipment. This noisy equipment, which doesn’t fare particularly well in sun-exposed areas that may heat up in summer, has been consolidated in the floor’s central core, away from the floor-to-ceiling windows ­— leaving the researchers to benefit from the natural light afforded by the sunny, bright areas near the building’s perimeter.

Sedivy also noted that the lab space brings researchers affiliated with Center on the Biology of Aging together in one location.

“The main impact for us is that for the first time, the aging center will have its own dedicated space for all of our existing people, who have thus far been dispersed on different floors of different buildings,” Sedivy said. “The core faculty of the center are really coming together for the first time in this new space.”

That includes biology professor Marc Tatar, who co-founded the Biology of Aging Colloquium with Sedivy in 1998. Tatar has taught classes and conducted research with Sedivy for well over two decades, yet has been located over a mile away from members of the Center on the Biology of Aging. Tatar’s lab, formerly on College Hill, was the first to move into 225 Dyer in February.

The Brown RNA Center is located on the opposite side of the floor, separated by a common area with couches, tables and chairs. Juan Alfonzo, a professor of molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry who came to Brown last fall to lead the RNA Center, said he’s delighted with the new space, and especially how researchers from different groups will be able to get together. The work of the RNA Center overlaps with the work of the Center on the Biology of Aging, and in this new space, researchers will not only be able to talk at their work stations, but also have spontaneous conversations in the spacious common area. It will be helpful to not be physically separated by department, Alfonzo said, as often happens at academic institutions.

“I can see how there can be a lot of collaboration between our two centers,” Alfonzo said.

From an infrastructure standpoint, the new labs have everything a state-of-the-art molecular biology lab would need, Alfonzo said, including autoclaves, ultracentrifuges, incubators to grow bacterial cultures, a large oven and more. He added that his research team appreciates the natural light of the space as well as separate, enclosed dark rooms, which allow researchers in RNA labs to do advanced fluorescent microscopy — an essential tool in cell biology that enables the visualization and analysis of complex cellular processes.

As part of a new Human RNome Project research group at Brown, the RNA Center is also purchasing a mass spectrometer.

“This specialized piece of equipment will allow us to map and quantitate RNA modifications, a major point of emphasis at Brown and nationwide,” he said.

Alfonzo, who is currently interviewing candidates for faculty positions with the RNA Center, said he enjoys showing researchers around the new labs.

“You can see their eyes light up when they come out of the elevator,” Alfonzo said. “It’s a fantastic space.”