Group founded by Mark Zuckerberg to spend $250 million on new Chicago biotech hub, with researchers from Northwestern, UChicago and UIUC newstrendslive

A group founded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife will spend $250 million to create a new biomedical research hub in Chicago where scientists from Northwestern University, University of Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will study human disease.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, named for Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, plans to invest $250 million in the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago over a decade. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has also committed $25 million in state dollars to support the project.

Biohub leaders are still in the process of finding a location, which will include laboratories, meeting spaces and special instrumentation and equipment.

Scientists from Northwestern, UChicago and UIUC will work together at the location, as well as at their own universities on biohub research projects. The biohub will also have its own dedicated staff of scientists and researchers. Leaders hope to start operations in April.

Northwestern, UChicago and UIUC beat out proposals from about 60 other teams across the country to win the funding. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative spent about a year narrowing down the applicants, until the Chicago universities emerged as the winner, said Steve Quake, head of science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Pritzker committed the $25 million in state capital funds during that selection process.

The biohub will be a “real boost to our biotech ecosystem in the city,” said Milan Mrksich, vice president for research at Northwestern.

“We were up against teams that included Harvard and Cal Tech and MIT, and really every place in the country,” Mrksich said. “For the team here of Northwestern, University of Chicago and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to win the competition is really exciting.”

Pritzker said in a news release the hub will “take medical research to a new level.”

The Chicago scientists’ goal will be to better understand health and disease by embedding tiny sensors — some no bigger than the width of a hair — in samples of human tissue and engineered tissue. They foresee eventually embedding as many as a thousand sensors into a single, small square of tissue. They hope the sensors will allow them to observe, up close, how disease can arise at a molecular and cellular level.

It’s a proposal that is “wildly ambitious but still achievable,” said Northwestern Professor Shana Kelley, who will lead CZ Biohub Chicago.

“What we’ll be doing is obtaining measurements in never-before-seen detail,” Kelley said.

Specifically, scientists hope to better understand connections between the immune system and inflammation.

“We think this is an incredibly important problem to address because diseases that are linked to inflammation have been recognized as the most significant cause of death in the world today,” Kelley said. Those diseases include cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“We can’t study inflammation in a petri dish. We really need the ability to measure cellular responses and communication,” Kelley said. “We need to do that over time in three-dimensional space within living tissues. This is a capacity that does not currently exist.”

The hub will be the second of its kind in the country. The first CZ Biohub was founded in San Francisco in 2016 in collaboration with Stanford University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of California, San Francisco. That hub has focused on mapping and understand cellular physiology.

“To bring the next biohub to Chicago does so much to make us even a stronger destination for people across the world who want to come and experience our research here,” said Mrksich, with Northwestern. “It’s going to attract really brilliant people from all over the world.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015, and has a mission of supporting science and technology in hopes of curing, preventing or managing all disease by the end of this century.

More to come.

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