Take a look inside the new Center for Drug Discovery labs


Sitting atop the new $28.7 million Center for Drug Discovery, Dr. Philip Low, the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, leads six labs dedicated to finding cures to the planet’s most mortal, debilitating and infectious diseases.

In May, Low and his students and postdocs moved into the new digs from the historic Wetherill Laboratory. While Wetherill is still home to tremendous research in Chemistry, including Prof. Graham Cooks’ analytical work, Low has found his new labs as open, organized and home to ideas.

“The students and postdocs are excited to not only do better research but complete their projects more rapidly,” Low said.   

The thrust of Low’s work goes into creating molecules that fuel drugs to combat various cancers, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, and infectious diseases like malaria, influenza, HIV and MERS.

The third floor of the Center for Drug Discovery features offices and open areas for informal meetings. There’s even a patio for students to get fresh air after long hours in the labs.

Students have their own cubicles to analyze data before they don their goggles, lab coats and gloves for lab work. The labs are separated by large windows so Low and his students can see what’s going on at all times.

Inside, wet, dry and biochemical labs are spread out with graduate students expertly manning each station. Several eight-foot hoods are interspersed throughout.

Along with the traditional chemistry labs, Low pointed out storage rooms for chemical and powder drugs his lab is working on. There is also a cold room kept slightly above freezing for work on membranes and tissue that suffer in room temperature.

Other crucial areas of Low’s new labs include a radiation area, a bio tissue room and the secure space where samples of infectious diseases are safely stored away.

On the first floor of the Center for Drug Discovery, Dr. Mingji Dai’s lab is running at full steam. The assistant professor of Organic Chemistry specializes in the strategy and methodology of organic synthesis. The goal is to apply them to solve problems of biological and medical importance and ultimately impact human health. The work focuses on natural and unnatural molecules with particular potential for the treatment of cancer, CNS disorders and infectious diseases.

Like Low, Dai enjoys the openness of the new lab as well as the many windows, uncommon in Wetherill labs. Dai also moved into his new lab in May.

“My students and I were very happy we moved here,” Dai said. “The lab is very efficient.  … We have in-house vacuum and in-house air.”

New, cutting-edge equipment helps populate the news labs. Dai pointed out his new solvent purification system as a key piece of new lab technology.

Dai’s students echo their professor’s sentiments on the new facilities.

“The new lab is great,” said graduate student Kristen Gettys. “It’s definitely an upgrade from the old lab – a lot more workspace. We’re not all crammed up on top of each other, and it’s kind of nice having your own sinks and drying racks.”

Just two months after their moves, Low and Dai’s research to combat the world’s most dangerous diseases did not lose momentum. Low also expects more faculty to join them in the new building.

“The future of this building will involve filling it with very highly qualified faculty members with a major focus of their research on the design of new drugs to treat important human diseases,” Low said. “This new building will make it immensely easier to bring in the top quality talent in the country and we hope when we’re successful with this effort that we will have the preeminent drug discovery institution in academia in the U.S. and perhaps even in the world.”

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