A grand opening

Thursday marked a new day for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s research mission as Marsico Hall – a glassy, nine-story, state-of-the-art research building – officially opened for business at a dedication ceremony.

“This building will house faculty, students and staff who are going to push the boundaries of human knowledge and change people’s lives forever,” said UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt, who presided over the dedication. “Thanks to the commitment of the N.C. General Assembly and the people of North Carolina, talented researchers from the School of Medicine and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy will develop new therapies to treat diseases and new vaccines to prevent them entirely.”

More than 150 faculty, administrators, students and friends packed the first-floor lobby of the sparkling Marsico Hall, the third largest building on Carolina’s campus.

Among the speakers Thursday were Thomas W. Ross, president of the UNC System, and Lowry Caudill, chair of the UNC Board of Trustees.

“I want to underscore that we have not gathered here to celebrate the additional square footage,” Ross said. “What will emanate from here is what really counts. The boundless potential of interdisciplinary research that will take place in these fabulous new labs brings renewed hope for better treatments and eventually cures for cystic fibrosis, cancers, autoimmune disorders and a multitude of other diseases.”

He added, “This world-class facility will provide a showcase for what the world’s best scientists can accomplish.”

Outside view of Marsico HallThe building will house the Marsico Lung Institute and the Biomedical Research Imaging Center. It will also house researchers from the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and researchers from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the School of Medicine who are doing work in nanomedicine, microbiology and immunology, and pharmaco-engineering.

The 340,000-square-foot building will be home to world-class imaging equipment, including a hybrid MRI/PET whole body scanner, a 7 Tesla MRI whole body scanner, and a cyclotron – a machine used to create the isotopes that researchers and clinicians use in their cutting-edge imaging techniques.

UNC and Massachusetts General Hospital, in affiliation with Harvard, are the only two academic medical institutions in the United States that will house all three pieces of technology at one site. The synergy between these machines, as well as the top-notch researchers working with them, makes Marsico Hall arguably one of the most powerful imaging centers in the world.

“Leading researchers will use this facility to continue advancing medical breakthroughs in fields such as cancer research, lung disease, infectious disease and new drug delivery systems, including nano-medicine and pharmaco-engineering,’’ said William L. Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine.

Added Robert Blouin, dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy: “The secret formula for success on this campus is not its buildings or even the specificity of faculty research; it’s the way that our faculty blend their research with that of other scientists to create a collaborative environment that helps this university solve the most complex problems facing us.”

Formerly referred to as the Imaging Research Building, Marsico Hall was named to honor Thomas Marsico, a Denver-based philanthropist who has made substantial contributions to the university. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of Marsico Capital Management, LLC, and father of two UNC alumni.

“This is an overwhelming experience,” Marsico said at the dedication. “[A naming ceremony] is something I never aspired to.”

For years, Marsico’s philanthropy has been anonymous. University administrators convinced him to accept this honor. “My wife and I and my family wanted to make an investment in an area that could some day really make a difference,” he said, “and that is in lung and pulmonary disease.”

Marsico Hall was paid for by the people of North Carolina through state appropriations in 2009. The N.C. General Assembly – then led by senator Marc Basnight and senator Tony Rand – allocated $243.5 million for construction. UNC provided the remaining $1.5 million. Rand was in attendance Thursday, as well as Rep. Verla Insko, Sen. J. Michael Woodard and Sen. Valerie Foushee.

Representing several U.S. congressional offices, they came to acknowledge the importance of this new research facility for the citizens of North Carolina. It was the only building to receive public funding in 2009.

Jeffrey Houpt, former dean of the School of Medicine, was also part of the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Aldona Wos, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, represented the state. At the dedication, she said: “On behalf of Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina, I offer congratulations to the UNC School of Medicine and the entire university system on completion of this absolutely phenomenal and impressive and important research facility, one that holds promise for the future of medical research. This building is both a testament to the robust health of research efforts at UNC and an indicator to your dedication to improving medical care for the people of North Carolina.”

See video of the dedication ceremony.

By Mark Derewicz, UNC School of Medicine

Published March 28, 2014