Hospitals aren’t the only ones adapting their environments to support a more team-based approach to cancer care. “Probably every academic institution is looking at their cancer service line in the clinical world as well as the research,” says Jon Crane, senior vice president, director, translational health sciences at HDR (Atlanta).

While many academic centers are set up in silos, with outpatient care in one location, inpatient within the hospital, and research in another building, Crane says today he’s seeing some comprehensive programs move toward a more integrated approach to research and direct care support.

One example is The Zayed Building for Personalized Cancer Care, which opened earlier this year on the campus of the University of Texas MD Anderson, in Houston. The freestanding 625,000-square-foot building houses the Institute for Personalized Medicine and the Pancreatic Cancer Center and provides direct care support to molecular diagnostics as well as research integration, education, and healthcare.

Crane says the goal of the project was to create “a higher level of collaboration between clinicians and scientists to push therapies forward faster.” The answer was to design the 12-story building into four wings—two laboratory and two office— with either office neighborhoods or open laboratories. Clinical and research spaces are designed around specific cancer types but there are common themes that run through each floor, such as immunotherapy or genomics, Crane says.

A collaborative core is at the center of the wings and houses destination functions that would naturally bring people together, such as a kitchen area and lounge areas with comfortable furniture. These core spaces are integrated vertically via a central staircase to foster interaction among staff on different floors and from different backgrounds or practice areas.

“It’s designed to help integrate people in the building, so even if you’re  working on pancreatic cancer care you can bump into people doing molecular diagnostics or another specialty, so you’re getting outside your group and you can import and export knowledge better,” he says. “It’s designed to generate a high degree of knowledge transfer.”

In addition, the four segments are also designed to flex with changing research and care practices, so an office wing could be converted to dry research space while lab spaces, which feature modular layouts and support systems, are also designed for adaptability and reconfiguration.

Overall, Crane says the shift to a team-based setting fosters greater care and therapy advancements as well as gives a competitive advantage to an institution over the ones that are still working in silos. “People need to talk together, whether researchers or clinicians, clinical research or laboratory research, surgical oncology or medical oncology, because it’s a problem they all need to get together to solve,” he says.

Photo courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2015 Mark Herboth