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Fab Lab

Thomas Connors | May 3, 2017 | Feature Features National

A visionary physician moves one of the city's most treasured medical institutions into a grand new facility.

No matter how much you love your job, there usually comes a time when the thrill is gone. Physician Joanne C. Smith arrived at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in 1992 and became its president and CEO in 2006—plenty of time for career fatigue to set in. But as she speaks about the RIC’s rebirth as the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (she’s pictured here in the Pediatric area), it’s clear she’s as engaged as she ever was. And no wonder. The $550 million, 1.2 million-square-foot research hospital—named after Shirley Ryan, who with her husband, AON founder Patrick Ryan, donated millions to the project—is the first facility of its kind in the world.

“Currently, 86 percent of scientific discoveries never make it out of the lab,” Smith says. “That’s countless approaches, treatments and even potential cures that could speed recovery or save lives, but they are never fully or effectively developed. The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is integrating science with intention to close this gap.”

An ambitious expression of translational research, in which clinicians and scientists work under one roof surrounded by patients to discover and directly apply new approaches in care, the AbilityLab is poised to accelerate advances in the treatment of brain and spinal cord injuries, limb loss and impairment, and stroke.

“Translational medicine works because gathering brilliant and passionate experts—in medicine, science and technology—in the same physical space means that exploratory and innovative discussions increase by intention,” says Smith. “When science and medicine sit in separate silos, brainstorming happens by chance, not choice. We have invested big-time in a facility that will cause these discussions and brainstorms to happen infinitely—daily, weekly, monthly. It will radically alter the process of scientific inquiry and discovery.”


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