WSU’s New IBio Center Plans Holistic Approach to Urban Health Issues

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

Wayne State University held a grand-opening ceremony Wednesday for its new $93 million Integrative Biosciences Center (IBio), situated on a formerly abandoned 2.7-acre block in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood.

Mike Brinich, WSU’s associate director of communications, says the facility will be the first of its size and kind, due to its holistic approach to studying and eliminating the diseases that Detroiters experience in disproportionately high numbers. At IBio, researchers will initially focus on metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and pediatric asthma.

“Pediatric asthma is 26 percent more prevalent in urban, African American kids,” Brinich says. “It has consequences; it causes a higher rate of school absences and doctor visits. Part of Wayne State’s mission is to be an urban research institution serving the surrounding community. We want to look at the whole life span.”

In the IBio model, behavioral and environmental scientists will work alongside experts in bioengineering, heart disease, and diabetes, for example, so they can share findings and generate a more complete picture of the ailments that plague Detroit residents in high numbers. The Henry Ford Health System will have a bone and joint research center as well as clinicians on the building’s first floor, and the Skillman Foundation, which works to better the lives of children in metro Detroit, will also have a presence at IBio.

Many of the ailments that are common in the Motor City also affect other urban centers, Brinich says, and the university hopes its new cutting-edge facility will attract talented young scientists from around the world who are interested in studying these disorders. “If you’re a researcher working on any parts of the urban life span, no matter the discipline, we have 200,000 square feet of state-of-the-art lab equipment,” Brinich says. “We’re actively looking to bring researchers in.”

At first, IBio will include research teams focused on a host of common-in-Detroit disorders and cardiovascular health disparities; a clinical research center with a disease-specific biorepository; and the Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors, which is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Brinich says IBio was intentionally designed to be a collaborative space. “Typically, there are silos in research labs,” he adds. “We designed IBio to make sure people in the building are interacting. We want to collaborate and solve problems. It’s definitely a team science approach.”

IBio is located a few blocks away from TechTown, the university-affiliated startup incubator, and Brinich says that was intentional. “The goal is to bring them in to help commercialize what we discover here,” he says.

IBio includes 127,000 square feet of renovated and repurposed space from the former Dalgleish Cadillac dealership building, which was designed by famed architect Albert Khan. The state of Michigan provided $30 million in funding for the project, and the university contributed the rest, Brinich says.