Though Gov. Janet Napolitano and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon had some trouble wielding the extra-large scissors, by all accounts the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the headquarters of the Translational Genomics Research Institute and International Genomics Consortium was a momentous day for Arizona.
Attended by nearly 500 people, the dedication was preceded by the TGen Health and Technology Fair at 7 a.m. on the first windy day of spring. Two tents flanking the stage held 40 exhibitor booths where local health care companies and bioscience organizations passed out information and scrambled to find makeshift paperweights. In what looked much like an early morning cocktail party, government officials milled between the tents with the press corps and TGen scientists in long white lab coats, the day’s requisite uniform, all clutching single-gulp cups of coffee and waiting for the dedication to begin.
Phoenix City Council Member Greg Stanton, a major advocate of the city’s biosciences development efforts, kicked off the morning, saying that the TGen building behind the stage was “a statement by this community about the future we all want and the future we demand.” Joined by a host of dignitaries on stage, Stanton then began a chain of introductions that culminated with TGen president and scientific director Dr. Jeffrey Trent and Dr. Francis Collins, whose decoding wizardry headed the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health.
Sen. Jon Kyl summoned the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, calling TGen’s research into major diseases like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s “work worth doing.” Rep. J.D. Hayworth, standing in for Sen. John McCain, cracked a football joke or two before talking about the real-life impact that TGen scientists hope their research will have in dealing with “dread disease.”
Then Hayworth handed off the baton to Gov. Napolitano, who called the ceremony an “I was there” day for the people assembled in the shadow of the six-story research lab.
“The future of Arizona required us to harness the power of water,” Napolitano said, recalling historical photos of the dedication of Hoover Dam nearly a century before. “And today, the future requires us to harness the power of science and knowledge.”
Mayor Phil Gordon alluded to the historical use of the land where the TGen building now stands as the former campus of Phoenix Union High School. “It’s coming back as education,” Gordon said, and then issued a characteristically sunny call: “Get on board, because we’re all moving forward.” Dr. Trent talked about TGen’s job creation and central role in the construction of a biosciences cluster in downtown Phoenix.
In his keynote address, Dr. Collins spoke movingly about his helpless encounter with a professor cancer patient on his first day as a medical intern, and dedicated the TGen headquarters to all deceased patients that have suffered from incurable diseases. Referencing the human genome as “our own instruction book,” Collins talked about the medical possibilities of pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine that will allow clinicians to treat patients according to their individual genetic profile.
“We’ve been feeling around the edges, and we’ve just turned on the lights,” Collins said of genomic technology. But he concluded with a somber Albert Schweitzer quote: “Our technology must not exceed our humanity.”
“At TGen, humanity,” Collins said, “will always be the focus.”
Then the stage presenters were ushered to the actual ribbon that stood before TGen’s doors. Even as the flashbulbs popped, Napolitano and Gordon couldn’t cut the synthetic ceremonial ribbon with scissors that looked like they’d been borrowed from Paul Bunyan’s toolbelt. So the Mayor simply moved the barricade aside, uncut, and the throngs cheered and swarmed inside to get a closer look at Arizona’s future.
For more information:
“High hopes for TGen,” Arizona Republic, 03/23/2005
“Lab launch: TGen institute running well ahead of today’s ‘grand opening,'” Arizona Republic, 03/22/3005
“Genomics facility dedicated with hopes for industry, health innovation,” East Valley Tribune, 03/23/2005