‘A machine wrapped in glass’: Stunning new $112-million Cairns bioscience complex opens
14 Sep 2012

“Stunning.”

“Sleek.”

Those were some of the adjectives used to describe the visually imposing impact of the new Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex that officially opened at Brock University Friday afternoon.
But the hundreds of people gathered for the opening of the striking, $112-million complex covering no less than four acres of land were told in no uncertain way by officials and dignitaries that for all its good looks, it’s what the state-of-the-art complex will accomplish — and what it will mean for Niagara’s economy — that is really important.

Joe Robertson, chair of Brock’s board of trustees, called the building that’s literally at the forefront of the Brock campus in St. Catharines “technically brilliant and esthetically beautiful.” But he said for all its eye candy appeal, the Cairns complex will be a beehive activity with some of the best and brightest minds in science and medicine working on everything from health and wellness to biotechnology, research on cancer and diseases borne by mosquitoes, ‘green’ chemistry and plant pathology.

“Behind those glass walls is an extremely complex and sophisticated structure,” he said. “It is a machine wrapped in glass.”

Among the facility’s high-tech facilities are:

• A level three containment lab, allowing scientists to perform advanced research into diseases such as West Nile Virus;
• A phytotron greenhouse lab that can mimic various controlled conditions, such as those found at the equator, for generating new types of plants to create novel chemical-producing entities;
• A particle gun room, used to introduce foreign DNA, drugs and other biological substances into microbial and plant cells;
• The Centre for Muscle Metabolism and Biophysics, a cluster of facilities such as a vascular biology lab and biotech research lab, where researchers will look at the functioning and adaptability of muscle tissue and how it contributes to health and disease.

The Cairns complex also houses BioLinc, a business incubator designed to commercialize breakthroughs at the centre and to support start-up businesses, to keep bright, young Niagara residents in the region rather than have them look to greener pastures elsewhere.

The complex, which houses 176,000 square feet of labs and purpose-built teaching and research space, received $38 million from the federal government, $33.5 million from the provincial government, $2 million from the Region and $10 million from the family of late philanthropist Roy Cairns.

Brock president Jack Lightstone said the Cairns family made it clear the investment was a “business decision” to help Niagara’s economy be transformed into one away from traditional manufacturing that’s withered, and toward one where innovation is a driving force. He’s convinced the new complex will help accomplish exactly that.

“We’re going to come through,” Lightstone said. “We’ll pay those dividends.”

While Robertson praised Lightstone’s “determination and vision” in pushing for the creation of the bioscience research complex, Lightstone put that credit squarely on the shoulders of Brock vice-president of research Ian Brindle. Lightstone said he’d barely put his suitcase down when he arrived at Brock about six years ago as its new president when Brindle hustled him into a small room and “browbeat” him on the need for such a facility.

The Cairns complex will also house McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Medicine in Niagara. The partnership is designed to help churn out badly needed doctors who, by working and training in Niagara, are more likely to decide to stay after graduation in this region where many patients don’t have family doctors.

The Niagara medical school, now in its fifth year, is now starting to have that impact, said Patrick Deane, president of McMaster University.

“We’ve already begun to see a legacy of graduates staying to work here,” he said.

Jeff Cairns, son of the late Roy Cairns, said his family was “humbled” to have its name associated with a facility that will train vital doctors and lead to breakthroughs in medicine and bioscience.

Lightstone said the Cairns’ generosity likely made the difference between the provincial and federal governments getting on-board with funding the Cairns complex.

“No institutions like this get built unless the community steps forward,” he said.

Regional Chair Gary Burroughs told members of the Cairns family gathered that their investment will have a “ripple effect” across Niagara’s economy.

“Your investment will truly be felt for decades to come,” he said.

St. Catharines riding MP Rick Dykstra and Jim Bradley said the new complex will attract and train skilled, talented people and will can help future economic development to benefit Niagara residents.

Originally posted on Niagara This Week.