‘Topping out’ ceremony held for new centre of excellence for UCL Neuroscience
11 May 2023
UCL’s new world-class neuroscience building has reached its highest point in construction, which was celebrated with a ‘topping out’ ceremony today.
The landmark facility at 256 Grays Inn Road, London, will bring together research scientists, clinicians and patients with the aim of accelerating the discovery of treatments for neurological conditions, including dementia – for which there is still no known cure.
The state-of-the-art facilities are due to open in 2024 and will be home to three bodies: the world leading UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology; the headquarters of the UK Dementia Research Institute, which is the single biggest investment the UK has ever made in dementia; and the UCLH National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN), which is the UK’s largest dedicated neurological and neurosurgical hospital.
During the ceremony, attendees heard speeches by UCL’s President & Provost Dr Michael Spence, Dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences, Professor Alan Thompson, Chairman of UCL Council, Victor Chu and Director of the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, Professor Michael Hanna. They were then taken 25m above ground to the highest point of the building where early career researcher Dr Micol Falabella tightened the final bolt to conclude the ceremony.
There was also a science fair with seven stands, where early career researchers showcased their work on topics such as neuroimaging, stem cells, bioinformatics and Down syndrome.
And the two on-site artist studios were open for guests to view the works of Annie Cattrell and Freya Gabie – two artists commissioned as part of a public art programme designed especially for the UCL ION-DRI programme*.
UCL is one of the world’s largest, most productive and highest-impact neuroscience centres, with research including: the world’s first trial for patients with progressive MS, developing blood tests that could pick up Alzheimer’s disease years before symptoms; leading global efforts to develop what could be the first disease-modifying treatment for Huntington’s diseases and other world-leading research into conditions including multiple sclerosis, neuromuscular diseases, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, stroke and epilepsy.
The first-of-its-kind centre will bring together clinical work and research, with an on-site outpatient facility, allowing clinicians and researchers to work closely with people with neurological disorders, alongside their families, doctors and researchers.
The £281.6 million facility will house up to 1,000 scientists, clinicians and patients and enable advances to translate from bench to bedside and back again.
As well as seven floors of shared labs, workspaces, consulting rooms and collaboration spaces for scientists and support teams, the building will host an MRI suite with five scanners, a 220-seat lecture theatre and a range of shared core facilities, equipment and core technology platforms including microscopy, transcriptomics and tissue processing to encourage new ways of working, collaboration and knowledge-exchange.
The sustainable design, by architects Hawkins/Brown, also contains a variety of open and green spaces, including areas that the public can access, including a café.
The building is funded by UCL, the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, the Medical Research Council, the UCL Dementia Research Retail Coalition and generous philanthropic partners, including Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, Mr Martin Lee and Mrs Cathy Lee, the National Brain Appeal, Brain Research UK, and more.
The Founding Funders of the UK Dementia Research Institute are the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research.
Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences, said: “The new UCL building at 256 Grays Inn Road has been an ambitious project, long in the making and it is wonderful to see it finally coming to fruition.
“UCL is a global leader in pioneering research into neurological conditions that cause disabling and distressing symptoms such as immobility and dementia, and it can be a challenge to link researchers with clinicians, patients, industry, and students. This new purpose-built centre of excellence will enable that collaboration between these key groups to take place and, as a consequence, new treatments to be developed, tested and made available to our patients.
“Our goal is to translate discoveries into treatments and have a real impact on patients with disabling neurological conditions – one of the great unmet needs of society.”
“I have been privileged to have been part of this journey from the very beginning and seeing how good the building looks already is very exciting. I am sure it will be an inspiring environment where patients, doctors and scientists come together to ultimately translate research into treatments. I am incredibly proud of all the teams who have worked so hard to get us to this stage and I am sure that what we are creating together will be transformational in finding therapies for devastating neurological diseases.”
Dr Adrian Ivinson, Chief Operating Officer and Operations Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, said: “We are on the cusp of some major scientific breakthroughs in dementia research that could accelerate our journey towards treatments for patients. While the bricks and mortar elements of this new building are extraordinary and will significantly advance our work, it is what will be housed within those walls that is truly exciting.
“The collaborations and the partnerships that will be forged across discovery research, translational science and patient care, combined with the cutting-edge technology available, will serve to will help to improve the lives and health of people living with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
“We are immensely grateful for the leadership of UCL, its many donors and supporters, and the army of people who are turning our dream building into reality.”
David Probert, Chief Executive, University College London Hospitals, NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are thrilled to be working with UCL on this exciting new centre for neuroscience, which will provide exceptional research and NHS patient treatment facilities to support patients with neurological conditions. As we celebrate reaching the highest point of the new building, we also celebrate the collaboration between science and medicine. It is through this collaboration that we will see increased patient participation in clinical trials and the delivery of life-saving, and life-changing, treatments.”
- * https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ion-dri-programme/our-arts-programme
- UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
- UK Dementia Research Institute
- IoN-DRI programme
- UCL’s President & Provost Dr Michael Spence gives a speech at the topping out ceremony. Credit: UCL / Kirsten Holst