Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Work on research lab that will transform our understanding of diseases starts at Harwell

Work has begun today on a unique research building at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory that will develop new technologies to transform our understanding of diseases and speed up drug design. 

The £40 million building sited near Oxford will be the central hub for the Rosalind Franklin Institute, a new national research institute funded by the UK Government through UK Research and Innovation.

Chair of the Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI), Vivienne Cox, who has broken ground at the site today said:

“This is an exciting day for the Institute as we begin to build the hub which is such an important part of our vision. We already have several projects underway with our partners across the UK, and the hub will provide further impetus, creating a fantastic space for research and collaboration that will enable real advances to be made.”

The ground floor of the building, designed for optimum stability to house sensitive scientific instruments, sets the design apart. The foundations of the ground floor will be separated from the rest of the building to shield it from vibration. To prevent electromagnetic interference, stainless steel reinforcement will be used in the structure, and non-ferrous materials used in the fabric, finishes and MEP services. The aim is to create a close to perfect, stable environment to test the limits of specialist technologies such as electron microscopy and mass spectrometry.

Set to open in late 2020, the 5400m2 building will ultimately provide space for over 200 researchers from academia and industry.

Commenting on this latest RFI milestone, STFC Executive Chair Professor Mark Thomson said:

“One of STFC’s key initiatives in recent years has been the creation of our very successful health technology cluster here at Harwell. As the delivery partner for the new home of the Rosalind Franklin Institute we see this unique facility as an essential element in that growing health technology ecosystem and I look forward to supporting the RFI in finding answers to the great challenges of the day in the life sciences.”

The building will honour the Institute’s namesake, Rosalind Franklin, the experimental scientist famous for taking the X-ray photograph of DNA that helped establish its helical structure. The front of the building will incorporate graphics of the DNA double helix taken from the iconic X-ray photograph – known as Photo 51.

Meanwhile, the search for new drugs to combat diseases more effectively could be revolutionised through a new five-year £30 million electron microscopy project that has also been announced today by RFI and global life sciences company Thermo Fisher Scientific.

New techniques would allow experts to be able to see, for the first time, how a particular drug works within a patient at a cellular level or the molecular processes set in motion by a genetic mutation.

The technology aims to create 3D images of cells at very high resolution to transform our understanding of diseases such as cancer and revolutionise how new medicines are designed.

The construction of the RFI hub will be managed by STFC, part of UK Research and Innovation, who are also one of the partners of the Institute alongside ten leading UK universities. Harwell Science and Innovation Campus was chosen as the ideal site for the hub as it also houses other complementary research capabilities, including the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Diamond Light Source, as well as attracting industrial partners who take advantage of the co-location of these national research facilities to collaborate and further their own scientific research.

Notes to editors:

About Rosalind Franklin Institute

The Rosalind Franklin Institute is a new national institute, funded by the UK government through UK Research and Innovation, dedicated to bringing about transformative changes in life science through interdisciplinary research and technology development. The Institute was formed by UKRI-STFC and ten UK universities: the Universities of Birmingham, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, Leeds, Manchester and Southampton and Imperial, Kings College and University College London.


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