Pairing high-end eqpt. with advanced minds

November 26, 2008 7:01:52 PM PST
The Bay Area is considered the heart of the bioscience industry. Now a facility on the new UCSF campus at Mission Bay is taking some of the most advanced equipment in the field and pairing it with some of the most advanced minds, and it is called QB3.

If some of the architecture at Mission Bay looks like something out of Stonehenge, consider the mysteries being solved inside.

Reg Kelly is the director of QB3, a huge cutting-edge science center dedicated to solving some of the most advanced problems in bioscience. An ultra-advanced MRI can spy on the way tumor cells metabolize in real time.

"What we actually believe now is we can, with a machine, be able to just look and see whether a tissue is diseased," said Kelly.

It is technology that he says could ultimately be miniaturized into a handheld device.

Down the hall, you will find lab technicians developing biochips that could someday become a laboratory the size of a postage stamp.

"...set up a chip that recognizes every virus known to man. Whether it's human animal or plant virus," said Kelly. "We can take biological materials, live or material from the body, and tell whether there is in that tissue sample, any virus that has ever been identified."

With the city skyline as the backdrop, hundreds of scientists move between labs that were conceived as a faster way to bring discoveries made by the University of California into practical use for the public.

The facilities at Mission Bay are so state of the art, you might imagine researchers fighting to keep them to themselves. But many of the high-end instruments at QB3 are being offered up to up and coming biotech firms that otherwise would not be able to afford it.

"Our goal here is to enable people to do great science," said Clement Chu, director with the Center for Advanced Technology at QB3. It is a lab where people talk about genome analyzers the way others might rave about a sports car.

"These guys can sequence a billion a day," said Chu. "This guy back here is what we call a flocytometer, so this allows you to look at cells using optical measurements at rates of 50,000 cells a second... these guys over here are spotted arrayers for making gene chips... this was the one that cracked the SARS mystery."

Whether it is identifying a rare virus or peering into the minute reaches of human cells, QB3 has grown in just a few years into a unique concentration of researchers, high-tech, and bioscience.

"Dude, if you like technology and you like science, this is the dream job. I mean, you cannot beat this place. It's a toy shop in here," said Chu.

In case you were wondering, QB3 actually stands for Quantitative Biosciences. The three is a reference to the two other labs that are part of the project -- one at Berkeley and one at UC Santa Cruz.


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