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Why a Research Park?

Translating science discoveries into game-changing therapeutics and diagnostics

Tom Denison of SmartHealth doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to the importance of scientific research. 

"Beth Stutzmann has the potential to halt the progression of Alzheimer's Disease. If we don't get her discovery out of the lab, what good is it?"

Denison, whose company serves to connect researchers with biotech businesses, is not alone. As Ronald Kaplan, executive vice president for research at Rosalind Franklin University (RFU), pointed out, "Moving science into therapeutics is key to our university mission to improve the health of the population."

It's a hope in this mission that motivates scientists like Beth Stutzmann to stay at the bench for long hours and, ultimately, decades.

Being a researcher takes a certain tenacity — a very strong desire to break something down and understand how it works
Beth Stutzmann

"Being a researcher takes a certain tenacity — a very strong desire to break something down and understand how it works," said Dr. Stutzmann, an associate professor of neuroscience at RFU who has targeted what appears to be an early cause of Alzheimer's Disease. "But ultimately we do what we do because of the enormous impact the discoveries could have on people's lives."

This translation from scientific discoveries to therapeutics and diagnostics is at the heart of why developing a research park is so important, Dr. Kaplan said. Even when scientists reach a breakthrough, they're not capable on their own of translating discoveries into therapeutics or devices to be widely used in clinical settings. The work is a team sport, and the baton has to keep moving smoothly from one expert to the next.

"By funding centers around people like Beth Stutzmann and Michelle Hastings, the research park will make this transfer to market faster and more symbiotic," said Dr. Kaplan.  

Dr. Hastings agrees that partners are key in her work toward a cure for rare genetic diseases, and being in proximity with other experts impacts how she thinks.

"I'm a molecular biologist. I know a lot about specific processes at work in our cells that are critical for normal function, but I don't have a lifetime of experience with specific diseases or physiology," said Dr. Hastings, an associate professor of cell biology and anatomy at RFU. "As a scientist, you have to think about the problems from different vantage points. It's important to have access to experts in a variety of fields in order to drive progress forward in the most efficient path possible." 

Janice Urban, professor and chair of physiology and biophysics, anticipates that her research will also benefit from broader industry "cross-talk." Dr. Urban's work, which investigates what makes some people more resilient to stress, could lead to diagnostics that predict resilience and to therapeutics that bolster resilience.

Having biotech industry people around in the same facility will open us up to different ideas and possibilities
Janice Urban

"Research has become highly integrative. With so many new technologies and techniques available, one person can't do it all," said Dr. Urban. "Having biotech industry people around in the same facility will open us up to different ideas and possibilities. The field is moving so fast — the more cross-talk, the better."

Those in health-related industries in the Lake County area agree. Partnerships not only help scientists see their discoveries become impactful, many pharmaceutical and medical device companies depend on academic-based research.

"Many biotech companies are moving away from internal R&D and instead positioning themselves to collaborate with universities," said Denison. "If you set out to cure type 1 diabetes as a corporation, it's very expensive and you might never find a cure. It's more efficient to partner with researchers who are passionately working toward the same goal — to help commercialize their discovery. A research park offers a co-location to make working together even more productive."

Jeff Sherman, executive vice president for research and development and chief medical officer at Horizon Pharma in Lake Forest, IL, is a 1981 graduate of Chicago Medical School — the first class to graduate from the North Chicago campus. He noted that what had been a "research void" in Lake County was one of the strategic reasons RFU chose its location.

"I look at the research park as opening up more possibilities and bringing additional resources," said Dr. Sherman. "RFU doesn't want to become a drug development company, but if there's an opportunity to develop a drug that can save lives, they want to see that happen. If we can do that together, that's great."