In 2019, construction started on a state-of-the-art research facility at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS).
The Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) will be one of the most innovative and advanced biomedical research centres in Africa. This R1 billion-facility will be completed in 2022.
“This facility will help us realise our vision of becoming Africa’s leading research-intensive university, globally recognised as excellent, inclusive and innovative, where we advance knowledge in service of society,” Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said at the official sod-turning ceremony in January 2019.
“The Biomedical Research Institute is set to significantly advance our capacity to undertake world class research on the leading health problems affecting our people. It will also contribute considerably to building research capability in the African region,” said FMHS Dean, Prof Jimmy Volmink.
The Institute’s main aims will be to investigate diseases that have the greatest impact on communities in South Africa and the rest of Africa, and to translate its discoveries into improving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of illnesses such as TB, HIV, diabetes, heart disease and neurological disorders.
“Africa bears the brunt of the global burden of disease, with a number of major epidemics colliding across our continent. With one of the top medical faculties in Africa, Stellenbosch University has a huge responsibility to help lead in the endeavour to ensure healthy lives and wellbeing for all,” said Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, FMHS Vice-Dean: Research, and professor in molecular biology.
Biomedical teaching, training and research at the FMHS has up to now been based in its Physiology and Anatomy building (FISAN), which was built in the 1970s. In the four decades since this building was opened, student numbers have more than tripled and the field of biomedicine has changed dramatically.
The new BMRI will provide additional space and be on a par with the most advanced and sophisticated biomedical research facilities in the world. The new facility will allow for the immediate expansion of current research activities, as well as strengthen research and teaching capacity in fields such as bioinformatics, genomics, anatomy, neurobiology, advanced surgical sciences, biobanking, etcetera.
“When completed, the new Biomedical Research Institute will form a fully integrated, future-focused and superbly organised research complex that matches and, in several ways, exceeds the best the world has to offer in terms of technical sophistication and optimised workflows in a healthy, inspiring and sustainable learning, working and public space,” said Mr Eben Mouton, Senior Director: Business Management at the FMHS.
THE BMRI WILL HOST THE FOLLOWING FACILITIES:
• Research laboratories;
• Bioinformatics hub;
• Electron-microscopy laboratories;
• Proteomics and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) laboratories;
• Morphology museum;
• Sunskill laboratory;
• Clinical research unit; and
• Conference facilities.
UNIQUE ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES OF THE BMRI
Sustainability is fundamental to the design of the building’s energy and water systems, material selection, emissions, waste management, use of natural light, ventilation and acoustics.
Flexibility of the configuration, the deployment of smart technologies, rainwater harvesting and community access to the facility have all been designed to evolve with the building as the way research is done changes in the future.
A smart lighting system will detect areas where natural light is strongest and adjust lighting accordingly, thus drawing less electricity from the grid.
The building will tie into the campus’s greywater masterplan, which allows for rain water harvesting and the use of borehole water. All toilets will be flushed with non-potable water.
A secure bicycle storage area with adjacent shower facilities will be located in the basement to encourage staff and students to cycle.
Workstations and laboratory benches will be inviting and inspiring, with outdoor views and access to fresh air and natural lighting where possible.
A system of negative air pressure will keep hazardous fumes or airborne toxins from flowing out of laboratories and into adjacent areas. A powerful ventilation and filtration plant will continuously draw air out of laboratories and to the top of the building, where it will be filtered and released.
BIOREPOSITORY WITH AUTOMATED SAMPLE STORAGE SYSTEM (BIOS)
A Hamilton BiOS will be housed in the new, state-of-the-art Biorepository Unit in the BMRI. This will be the first fully automated biorepository in Africa, and the second in the Southern Hemisphere. The BiOS will be able to store between 4 and 5 million samples – the equivalent of the store capacity of a few hundred conventional ULT freezers. The small energy footprint of the BiOS versus that of conventional freezers will result in a total energy saving of approximately 85%.
The Hamilton BiOS offers guaranteed sample integrity, security and full traceability throughout the lifetime of a sample. Multiple levels of redundancy ensure that samples will remain at a constant temperature of -80°C, despite the introduction and removal of samples from the system. The temperature of each sample is tracked at all times and a temperature profile is created for each sample as it moves throughout the system. The system is secure, allowing users to request and retrieve samples only with the correct access and permission.
‘When completed, the new Biomedical Research Institute will form a fully integrated, future-focused and superbly organised research complex that matches and, in several ways, exceeds the best the world has to offer.’ – Mr Eben Mouton