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Editorial: Grant boon for UMass, Valley

State Rep. Ellen Story called it a “glorious, glorious day” for the University of Massachusetts, and she was right. Gov. Deval Patrick stopped by the Amherst campus earlier this month to announce that the Massachusetts Life Science Center was awarding $95 million dollars to UMass to advance its importance in biomedical research and its industrial applications.

The money will be used to furnish the new $167 million Life Sciences Laboratories building that opens on campus this summer with equipment to further work on issues such as improving the efficiency of medicines and monitoring a individuals health.

The grant to UMass is the largest one made so far under the $1 billion life sciences initiative Patrick set into motion six years ago, a move he says makes Massachusetts the world’s “leading supercluster in the life sciences.” It will help complete the interior of the 310,000 square-foot building, paid for with money raised through state and university bonds, and thrust the university into the forefront of the developing biomedical industry in this part of the state.

On top of the $95 million, another $5.5 million was granted to the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a joint venture of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and UMass to support a new Center of Innovation in Health Informatics and Technology next door to Baystate’s campus.

The new UMass building will house three research centers focused on monitoring health, targeting drugs and translating the basic protein research going on at UMass into therapies for devastating diseases.

Companies that make devices such as wearable monitors that gauge illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease will be able to work with researchers on campus to test them and determine how to get them marketed.

The new laboratories will provide a place where university professors doing ground-breaking research to develop drug treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alz­heimer’s and cystic fibrosis, for example, can work with one another and industrial partners to make gains in their work to the benefit of patients.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy noted that the new building will advance the university’s effort toward world-class status by attracting the best and brightest in the field.

Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the state life sciences center, pointed out that academic institutions play leading roles as innovators and that often companies grow out of their labs. She called UMass an important catalyst for economic development in western Massachusetts — and that role is, if anything, more crucial now than ever. In today’s economy, and going forward, analysts say that small, innovative start-ups in emerging fields will be a key source of growth.

The hope for economic progress that will result in jobs and increased prestige for the university was a strong theme at the meeting with the governor at UMass.

As is usually the case, the superlatives were gushing, but we think they were fitting. Congressman Richard E. Neal called the grants “gamechangers” for the life sciences and biotechnology communities in western Massachusetts. It was a proud moment for the Amherst campus.

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