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Introducing Wistar’s New Teaching and Training Laboratory

The effects of COVID-19 have dramatically changed the way we live, learn and work. While many things have come to a standstill, Wistar research has never stopped and even new educational projects have managed to come to fruition. One shining addition to the Institute this summer is the newly constructed, state-of-the-art educational biomedical training suite.

The teaching and training laboratory has been a priority of the Institute to expand and enhance all of Wistar’s educational programs, including the High School Summer Fellowship in Biomedical Research, the Biomedical Technician Training ("BTT") Program and the Biomedical Research Technician Apprenticeship, as well as exciting new programs with biotechnology and academic collaborators on the horizon.

"Over many years, Wistar’s educational programs for high school and community college students have inspired and trained hundreds of Philadelphia residents for successful careers in the life sciences. Wistar’s new flagship training lab will enable these young and talented scientists to begin their journey in a dedicated, state-of-the-art facility," said Dr. Brian Keith, Wistar dean of Biomedical Studies. "We could not be more thrilled at how this new space, coupled with a supportive and rigorous teaching environment, will allow Wistar to further enhance and expand its educational mission."

Step back to less than a year ago, when design plans were approved, and construction bids were in place. Wistar Facilities director Peter Scarpati and his exceptional team were mobilized and integral to moving the vision into a reality and bringing the project over the goal line to completion.

"With less people in the Institute, we were able to get work done that would have normally disrupted activities in the lab," said Scarpati. "Our team has worked together throughout the pandemic, leaning on each other for help, and has been extremely successful in getting this and other projects accomplished. I am extremely proud of my entire Facilities team for how they have performed during this unprecedented time."

The successful expansion of dedicated BTT training space was the result of a truly collaborative effort across the entire Institute, with so many players and departments involved in fundraising, planning, building, and equipping the suite. 

This brand-new 1500-square-foot education suite is part of president and CEO Dr. Dario Altieri’s long-term plan for Wistar to play an even larger role training future scientific leadership and making STEM education more accessible and equitable for everyone, especially Wistar’s community in West Philadelphia.

The training laboratory features long, open bench space alongside an instruction area equipped with a white board and smart TV access. Across the hall is a 300-square-foot tissue culture room with three biosafety cabinets, two incubators and one -80°C freezer. This lab was built with full functionality and practicality.

"Even as our lives are in flux, we have been looking at how we can contribute," said Dario Altieri, Wistar president and CEO. "How do we contribute scientific advancements for the betterment of humankind in the face of a pandemic; how do we keep the Institute and our staff safe; how do we keep training our future workforce to be uniquely educated, highly skilled and sought after; how do we keep rethinking innovative science?"

This ability to contribute creatively and meaningfully under ever-changing circumstances is what our region needs and what those joining the workforce now demand. It’s a role those of us here couldn’t be more excited for Wistar to fill.

The Institute is deeply grateful to the organizations and individual donors that provided critical support to expand Wistar’s on-site training facility. This included grants provided by The McLean Contributionship, the Gray Charitable Trusts, and Office Depot; gifts given in memory of Harold M. Davis, an extraordinary Wistar supporter; and funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, which approved and registered the Biomedical Research Training (BRT) Apprenticeship Program in 2017, the first in the country, and recognized it as the 2019 Outstanding Non-traditional Apprenticeship Program.

"The support received from our philanthropic partners is an investment not just in our Institute but also the region," said Altieri. "Wistar has been a leader in the education and training of the biomedical workforce for more than twenty years, and now with nearly $1M invested in this brand new training facility, our programs will be able to serve far more students who are seeking rewarding careers in biomedical research and the life sciences. I am very humbled by the generosity received from these organizations that will allow us to further enhance and expand our educational mission going forward."