As work continues at pace on site, members of ION-DRI community have been visiting site to see how the new facility is progressing.
We invited a group of researchers, scientists and clinical staff to Grays Inn Road to see progress on site so far for themselves and capture it on film.
Martin Treacy (UCL Estates) took the group, including NHS staff Sylvia Etabag, outpatients sister and Jessica Marr, Senior MRI Neuro-Radiographer, around to see the outpatients’ areas and MRI suite in the basement.
We then took a trip up see the lab areas in construction with ION and DRI researchers Tatiana Alvarez Giovannucci, Prof Selina Wray, Chiara Panzi, Prof Gipi Schiavo, Sam Crawford and Joe Hamilton. As well as commenting on how big the space is, the team were looking forward to getting out on the third floor roof terrace.
The team at the recently-established Genetic Therapy Accelerator Centre took a hardhat tour around Grays Inn Road in March for an overview of the project and get a feel for the size and space on site.
On a freezing Friday, the rain held off long enough for the group to visit lab floors, as well as basement areas where many of the building’s core shared and central services will be based.
The centre, currently based at Queen Square, is a joint initiative between Queen Square Institute of Neurology and the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. The centre will play a major role in translational neuroscience in UCL and will spearhead activities in this rapidly evolving area of genetic therapies and applying it to a wider group of neurodegenerative disorders.
Paediatric neurologist Professor Francesco Muntoni is the centre’s director and is leading the project into developing a genetic core technology platforms – one of ten state-of-the-art platforms, which will be available at Grays Inn Road, designed to enable a faster, more efficient and scalable translation of scientific discoveries into new therapies for neurological diseases.
Profs Mike Hanna and Alan Thompson were back in high-vis and hardhats again, showing visitors around site this week, including where the main visitor entrance will be from Grays Inn Road - through the Alexandra Wing archway - the garden and public areas, as well as walking up through the lab spaces to the third floor terrace, to see the scale of the project as the campus takes shape
Professor Alan Thompson said: "It’s been two years since I was there for the ground-breaking in 2021 and it was wonderful to see the spaces taking shape. The sense of space was very impressive and it was exciting to start to really imagine researchers, clinical staff, patients and the public populating it."
Kate Swann, the new chair of Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), came to Grays Inn Road in January as part of a first visit to UCL before she starts her new role this month.
Kate, along with chief executive Hilary Evans and Susan Kohlhaas, executive director of research and partnerships, met with researchers from the ARUK Drug Discovery Institute at the Cruciform building, before visiting Queen Square and Grays Inn Road to see first-hand some of the research projects and labs funded by ARUK.
Prof Fiona Ducotterd, Chief Scientific Officer of UCL DDI hosted the group at the Cruciform, before being taken on a tour by Sarah Jolly, Sr. Res. Fellow, Biology. At Queen Square, Prof Selina Wray and Prof Jon Schott gave Kate talked through their research areas, including the Insight 46 study, and the work happening across UCL, as well as taking a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the labs.
Prof Giampietro Schiavo joined to take the group around the new facility at Grays Inn Road, finishing up on the roof, where a break in the rain allowed a clear view of the construction site, where the team are making good progress on the third floor.
Kate Swann, a Trustee of Alzheimer's Research UK and the charity’s newly appointed chair, said: “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet the scientists behind the Alzheimer's Research UK funded research at the UCL DDI. It was incredibly inspiring to hear how their work is helping the search for new treatments for people affected by dementia.
“The new landmark facility at Grays Inn Road, that will bring together expertise from researchers, clinicians, industry and importantly people affected by dementia, will help to accelerate the breakthroughs that we desperately need.
“I’m extremely proud to be part of Alzheimer’s Research UK, which has a vision of a world free from the fear, harm, and heartbreak of dementia. I’m hopeful that the fantastic work that will take place within the new building at UCL will help to make this vision a reality.”
Prof Selina Wray said: “It was great to have the opportunity to showcase ARUK-funded research at the IoN, from pre-clinical research in fundamental disease mechanisms to drug discovery and patient research – all of which will contribute to early and more accurate diagnosis and accelerate new treatments for people living with dementia.
“It was especially exciting to give ARUK a glimpse of the future in the visit to 256 Grays Inn Road, where eventually all of these different research themes will co-exist under one roof.”
In December, staff from UCLH Queen Square outpatients visited 256 Grays Inn Road to learn more about the project and see progress in the building work for themselves.
After walking the short 10-minute journey from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) at Queen Square to Grays Inn Road, the group met with David Howard, ION-DRI programme manager, to learn more about the new neuroscience centre and specifically the clinical space for outpatients.
Adrian Capp, head of therapy at the NHNN, was particularly impressed with how the building has been designed with patients with neurological conditions in mind. Adrian said, “It is really noticeable that a lot of care and attention has gone into designing the building and clinic areas with patients at the centre. I am really excited by the opportunity to work in this state-of-the-art, modern outpatient facility.”
For another member of the group, Rachel Bambi, the visit brought back lots of memories and emotions. Rachel worked at the Eastman Dental Hospital for 18 years, before changing to a new role at Queen Square. “I have so many happy memories of working at the Eastman Dental Hospital and it was wonderful, and quite emotional, to visit again,” Rachel said. “It is good to see the building turning into something really positive for patients, scientists and the local community. I can really see the beauty of the new building and it will be nice to come back to work here.”
Dr Fergus Rugg-Gunn, consultant neurologist, was interested to hear from David Howard about the outpatient clinic area, and to see for himself the progress of the building work. “I hadn’t fully appreciated the scale of the site and the rapid building progress is very impressive. There is still some work for us all to do to ensure that the new facilities meet the needs of Queen Square staff and patients, but this is undoubtedly an exciting opportunity for all of us.”
UCLH is looking forward to hosting further visits for Queen Square staff to 256 Grays Inn Road.
Institute Manager Dr Hélène Crutzen hosted a site visit for her team of departmental administrators, professional services staff team managers and technical support staff, followed by a well-earned trip to the pub!
While some of the team had been on site previously and have been integral to the project so far, many of the team hadn’t yet visited and this was a first opportunity for many to see how the building was shaping up.
Looking forward to 2024, while not everyone would be based there, people were most looking forward to working with a wider team of colleagues, new equipment, technologies and facilities and of course – a new coffee shop.
The team went up on to the roof, just as it started to get dark and the construction floodlights went on, offering a new perspective - lots of people were surprised at the size and scale of the building as well as being impressed by huge overhead cranes!
Asked what the biggest challenges would be about moving to the new building, lots of people felt the trickiest element in the project would be to packing up all the equipment and chemicals and moving sensitive equipment across, as well as getting used to new ways of working and using some shared facilities.
Hélène said ‘As we progress our planning for new ways of working both at Queen Square and then at Grays Inn Road in 2024, as part of the dual hub, all of our professional and technical staff, lab managers and DAs, will play a vital role in helping us implement these new systems and review and refine them on an ongoing basis. While Grays Inn Road is still very much a construction site, it’s great to see it turning into a real building so that we can start to visualise what life at GIR will look like”.
The National Brain Appeal
This month the fundraising team from The National Brain Appeal visited site to catch up on progress and help them in their campaign work.
The National Brain Appeal has committed to raise £7 million towards the project, which will go towards funding three key facilities and services: a patient research hub, which will play a key role in boosting the level of enrolment to trials, a pioneering stem-cell facility and funding two of the MRI scanners in the cutting-edge MRI suite.
The team viewed the site from the rooftop to get an aerial view, as well as taking in a look at the artists’ studios and hearing more about the public arts programme.
Theresa Dauncey, chief executive of The National Brain Appeal, said: “Looking out over the site from the rooftop really helped us to visualise how the various areas of this wonderful new hospital and research centre will piece together and where the key areas we are fundraising for - the patient research hub, stem-cell facility and MRI scanning suite - will be located.”
“We are particularly excited to make the patient research hub a reality. Our recent survey of people with neurological conditions demonstrated fantastic enthusiasm to be involved in research, with 91 per cent saying they would welcome the opportunity. Our hope is to bring more research projects quickly to fruition by making it an easier process to recruit patients to studies, with the ultimate goal of discovering breakthroughs for a variety of neurological and neuromuscular conditions.”
“The National Brain Appeal wants to transform the lives of millions of people living with a neurological condition and this is why we have committed to raise £7m for the new neuroscience centre at 256 Grays Inn Road.”
Faculty Leadership Meeting
Project sponsor, Professor Alan Thompson hosted his faculty leadership meeting at 256 Grays Inn Road - a fitting location for the first in-person meeting since March 2020 - a place where collaboration, innovation and partnership will be at its heart.
Major progress has been made on site recently. We've reached ground level, in line with the existing Alexandra Wing - with three basement floors below, including our joint UCL and UCLH MRI suite.
Queen Square Institute of Neurology Heads of Research and Executive Meetings
Prof Michael Hanna hosted two meetings on site in September, with both teams visiting the rooftop afterwards to view progress on site.
UK DRI HQ
The team held one of their regular meetings on site. A good opportunity to see the site where the team will be based when completed.