Space for Innovation and Collaboration

How do we continue to make giant leaps in medicine? What new treatment or approach will allow us to make the greatest gains for patients, in the most effective and efficient ways possible? Where will the next breakthrough come from? These are questions that academics, clinicians, hospital CEOs and medical school deans are constantly asking as we seek to meet the challenges of modern healthcare.

People and technology have a clear role in the answer, but there is another critical factor that is often overlooked: space, and the spontaneity and ideas generated when scientists and clinicians have the ability to work side-by-side.

A great example of this came up during a recent panel discussion at our SINAInnovations conference. Eric M. Genden, MD, and Chief of the Division of Head and Neck Oncology, discussed his experience on a recent case in which a patient had distant metastatic disease that he and his team could not get to surgically. While working on the case, he happened to bump into Ross Cagan, PhD and Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Through their conversation, Dr. Cagan suggested getting a biopsy of the tumor, sequencing it, dropping it into fruit flies, and crossing it with 150 different types of chemotherapeutic agents to see what kills the tumor. Over their chance meeting and a cup of coffee, they mapped out a targeted solution to treat the patient.

After years of strategic planning, blueprints, recruitment, blasting and scaffolding, the new Leon and Norma Hess Center for Science and Medicine has opened its doors. With a half-million square feet of space, the Hess Center increases Mount Sinai’s research capacity by nearly 30 percent and is expected to draw more than $350 million in National Institutes of Health funding over its first five years.

At the new Hess Center, scientists and clinicians across disciplines will have access to cutting-edge technologies – including an imaging institute that houses combined MRI and PET technology together with one of the most powerful whole body MRI scanner and Unique Computed Tomography technology, and a new 2,200-square-foot data center that quadruples the capacity of Minerva, Mount Sinai’s high-performance supercomputer, which already ranks among the largest systems in academic medicine in the U.S. But it’s the physical space, itself, that has our world-renown experts most excited.

The new building literally brings Mount Sinai’s great minds in brain, cancer, heart, children’s health, genomics and imaging together in a shared space where they can easily brainstorm and collaborate on new ideas. Six full floors of laboratory space are connected to two floors of outpatient clinical space. This means that basic science done on one floor will be translated into life-saving results for patients on another floor – truly delivering critical therapies from bench to bedside. In addition, an open staircase connects all research floors, with shared white boards spanning the walls of each landing. When scientists leave a meeting they can continue conversations, jot down ideas and plant seeds for further investigation.

Communication and collaboration are so essential to the work we do. At the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, we teach our students that working with their colleagues is more important than scoring more highly than them on any single test. Our goal from day one is to ingrain a culture of cooperation and team building, because the best way to address the needs of patients today is within a team. The same holds true for our research and clinical faculty and staff. World-class faculty comes to Mount Sinai because of our ability to break down silos and truly collaborate across disciplines. It’s not just a goal that we aspire to, it is the reality of the way we work.

New findings can come from unexpected directions and from spontaneous conversations. At Mount Sinai, we have a tremendous amount of creativity in very different places.  The Hess Center for Science and Medicine creates a new space for innovation, where even greater collaboration will expand our ability to understand and treat the most challenging medical problems and begin to crack some of the major illnesses of our time.

Dennis S. Charney, MD, the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, The Mount Sinai Medical Center

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