Science Rising on the Waterfront

The OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine will cover 25,280 gross square feet over part of three floors in the Collaborative Life Sciences Building. The space includes a low-vibration underground microscopy suite, wet labs, offices and more. Designed to encourage collaboration, connectivity and outreach, the center’s floor plan is open with lounges and other opportunities for the unplanned “corridor conversations” from which scientific history is sometimes made.

The careful attention to building architecture mirrors the scientific goals of the center as well. The center will support a coordinated measurement science research program, providing quantitative, systems-level information about the architecture of molecules, cells and tissues and their function in both normal and disease states – with a focus on cancer, neurological disease, cardiovascular disease and infectious diseases. The OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine will bring together technology and expertise necessary for OHSU to become a leader – nationally and internationally – in the transition from relying on two dimensional cell “parts lists” to creating “assembly manuals” of four-dimensional, multiscale functional cell structures.


“The center brings together the people, the technology and an intentionally-designed space for both groundbreaking science and to help sustain the collaborative culture essential to translate knowledge into new treatments,” said Joe Gray, Ph.D., Director of the OCSSB, and Associate Director of Translational Research in the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Dr. Gray is also Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, holding the Gordon Moore Endowed Chair in Biomedical Engineering.

An early scientific emphasis of the center will be on multiscale imaging of the molecular assemblies that regulate information flow in signaling networks, emphasizing those that are associated with a number of acute and chronic diseases.

The center is committed to collaboration not only across disciplines but also departments, institutions and missions, and with industry. Dr. Gray is already discussing new graduate studies programs in partnership with Portland State University, and recently inked a deal with FEI – a private company and international leader in advanced microscopy – to create a Living Lab within the center. The lab will be equipped with some of the most powerful imaging equipment available in any Northwest life sciences research lab.


The center is busily recruiting faculty. While these new investigators will be integral to the success of the center, their faculty appointments will be spread throughout the basic science departments – to support the goal of nurturing the collaborative culture at OHSU.

Summer Gibbs, Ph.D., is the most recent recruit. She will join OHSU in June 2012, as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, with membership in the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Dr. Gibbs is currently an Instructor in Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and conducts research in the Center for Molecular Imaging.

“Dr. Gibbs is one of what will be several new faculty recruits to support the scientific goals of the center,” said Dr. Gray. “Her expertise in developing a new generation of fluorescent dyes to enable extremely high resolution, multicolor fluorescence microscopy , will be a key piece of putting together the puzzle that will allow us to visualize cells in four dimensions.”

“I am very excited about this move. It’s a great time to come to OHSU,” said Dr. Gibbs. “Both the science and institution are flourishing, and I want to be part of the collaborative environment being fostered there.”

Dr. Gibbs is currently conducting research focused on the development of near-infrared fluorescent nerve-specific contrast agents for image-guided surgery. This research is currently supported by a K01 Award from the National Institutes of Health. She earned her PhD from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College.

Last year, Paul Spellman, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics and a member of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, also was recruited to provide expertise to the center. Working at the intersection of computational biology, genomics and cancer biology, Dr. Spellman is an internationally renowned scientist and one of 30 principal investigators on the high-profile, NIH-led Cancer Genome Atlas Project. Prior to OHSU, Dr. Spellman spent more than seven years at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. as a staff scientist with a focus on cancer biology. Now at an academic health center, Dr. Spellman has found natural synergies with clinical faculty, a supportive research environment, and with construction of the center underway, plenty to get excited about.

“One of the things that attracted me to OHSU was the new building for the Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine,” said Dr. Spellman. “The opportunity for that center is really amazing. Between that and the new faculty hires coming on, I’m really looking forward to being here for the development and growth of the center.”

For more information about the center – and information about open faculty positions – please visit the OCSSB website.