CU-Boulder Professor Marvin Caruthers Gives $20 Million To Boost Biotech Building, Bolstering Collaborative Research

September 11, 2007

A $20 million gift from University of Colorado at Boulder Distinguished Professor Marvin Caruthers will be the linchpin for construction of a new interdisciplinary biotechnology building on the CU-Boulder campus, a facility expected to revolutionize biotechnology and biomedical research and teaching, CU-Boulder Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson announced Tuesday.

The gift is one of the largest in the history of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the largest ever by a faculty member.

The gift, which Peterson announced Tuesday morning at his annual Campus Address to the CU-Boulder community, will allow the campus to move more quickly to develop the planned $115 million research and teaching facility, to be built in the CU-Boulder Research Park near 30th Street and Colorado Avenue, east of the main campus.

As part of CU's Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology, or CIMB, the 260,000-square-foot building will host 60 faculty and more than 600 researchers from a wide variety of science, engineering and medical disciplines to collaborate on high-tech solutions to biomedical problems, Peterson said.

"This gift, in the name of the late Jennie Smoly Caruthers, is more than just an act of supreme generosity," said Peterson. "It is an investment in CU-Boulder's future, and it heralds a new era of collaborative research and discovery that will transform our campus, the field of biotechnology and, we hope, the collective health of humanity itself."

The facility also will contain classrooms, teaching labs and seminar rooms for more than 1,000 students annually from science and engineering disciplines across campus, said CU Professor Leslie Leinwand, director of CIMB. The students will participate in classes and labs, as well as work with faculty and research staff on cutting-edge biomedicine efforts.

"The importance of this gift from Marvin Caruthers, who has revolutionized biotechnology in the U.S. with his research and inventions, cannot be overstated," said Leinwand, former chair of CU-Boulder's molecular, cellular and developmental biology department. "It is a powerful catalyst for additional fundraising for the new facility which, when completed, will position the University of Colorado and the Front Range as a national powerhouse in genomics and biotechnology research."

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said such a facility would have enormous economic implications for the state of Colorado. "It will help to solidify biotech research as a mainstay of Colorado's economy, fueled by the important work being done at CU-Boulder and University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center," Ritter said. "I want to congratulate Dr. Caruthers both for his recent National Medal of Science of Award from the White House, and for the vision and public mindedness embodied by this gift to CU. It is truly a gift to the people of Colorado and the world."

In honor of the Caruthers gift to CU, the building will be named the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building, pending approval of the Board of Regents, in honor of Caruthers' late wife. Remaining funds for the building will be provided by additional private support, CU, the state of Colorado and through indirect cost recovery funds. The building is expected to open in 2010, said Leinwand.

The interdisciplinary facility will house CU system faculty from several departments including but not limited to chemistry and biochemistry, MCD biology, physics, applied math, computer science and chemical and biological engineering, said Leinwand.

"People from diverse disciplines need to work side-by-side on a daily basis in order to make new biomedical discoveries, and this next-generation facility will allow this to happen on a large scale," she said.

"We expect this facility to be a magnet for outstanding new students and faculty," said Leinwand, also a professor in the cardiology division at the Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center. "We will use it to develop tools for teaching science in new ways and to educate future generations of inventors, researchers and doctors."

Caruthers said, "We can mend broken bones but we can't cure cancer. It's gratifying to see the university invest in an initiative that encourages collaboration and the kind of exciting research that can result in breakthrough discoveries."

Examples of research slated for the facility include tissue engineering to restore aging and ailing joints in the human body, a field that requires biologists, engineers, mathematicians, chemists and surgeons working in concert, said Leinwand. CU-Boulder researchers are refining a novel technique involving injectable, biodegradable "scaffolds" filled with specialized cells to regenerate cartilage in joints using light-activated chemistry, for example. Another focus is bioengineering of human heart valves.

Other research groups will be looking for new biomarkers -- biochemical traits like molecules that can be used as indicators of the progression of diseases or the effects of medical treatments, said Leinwand. Biomarker discovery teams, which will include chemists, computer scientists, biologists and physicians, will develop new screening and diagnostic tools for disease and testing drug responsiveness, including treatments like chemotherapy, she said.

"Biomarkers can be used in the discovery and treatment of many conditions, from detecting early signs of cancer to helping to determine how particular individuals might respond to different types of chemotherapy," said Leinwand.

The facility also will host interdisciplinary teams working to help eradicate the ill effects of Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder often associated with impaired cognitive ability and physical growth, said Leinwand. The Down Syndrome work at the facility will build on research now underway at CU as a result of a recent $600,000 grant from the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation of Denver to explore innovative approaches to enhance cognitive ability in Down syndrome sufferers.

CIMB was created at CU in 2003 to foster new research, teaching and technology by pulling together experts in life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and computational sciences. CIMB is co-directed by chemistry and biochemistry Professor Natalie Ahn and chemical and biological engineering Professor Kristi Anseth, both of whom are Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. In 2006 Leinwand was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor.

CIMB researchers are currently working to understand and manipulate living cells and to control cellular behavior using both basic and applied research in genomics, proteomics (the structure and function of proteins) molecular and cellular imaging, biophysics, mathematical analysis, materials engineering and chemical synthesis, said Leinwand. The building will contain lab space for visiting scientists, as well as the latest biotechnology instruments ranging from electron microscopes to sophisticated DNA sequencers and mass spectrometers.

"The inventions of Marvin Caruthers have changed the way science is done in this country," said Leinwand. "It is particularly fitting that his generous contribution will foster biotechnology research and education in Colorado for decades to come."

The Caruthers gift, facilitated by the CU Foundation, builds upon previous support from Professor Caruthers and his late wife, Jennie. In the 1990s, the Caruthers donated funding for two endowed chairs in biochemistry, one of which will be named in honor of Jennie.

Jennie Caruthers, a former Adjunct Professor in CU-Boulder's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, published significant research in mitochondria electron transport while at the University of Wisconsin, and on neurobiochemistry while at Harvard Medical School. Her career at CU-Boulder also included research in the MCD biology department and for many years she also worked as a Patent Agent in biotechnology for Greenlee, Winner and Sullivan. She earned her doctorate in biochemistry from McGill University.

Founded in 1967, the CU Foundation is the non-profit partner of the University of Colorado whose mission is to raise, manage and invest private support for the benefit of the University of Colorado. Donors enable CU to reach its full potential to transform lives through education, research, clinical care and community service. For more information, visit

For more information on CIMB, visit the Web site at


Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology (CIMB)

And Gift By CU-Boulder Distinguished Professor Marvin Caruthers

University of Colorado at Boulder

Sept. 11, 2007

o Distinguished Professor Marvin Caruthers of the CU-Boulder chemistry and biochemistry department has given a $20 million gift to support the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology (CIMB), providing a critical infusion of the private funding needed to construct a state-of-the-art research laboratory to house CIMB. The new building will be named the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Center in honor of Caruthers' late wife, pending approval by the CU Board of Regents. The building will be located in the CU-Boulder Research Park, near 30th Street and Colorado Avenue, east of the main campus.

o The CIMB is a collaborative venture bringing together stellar talent in the fields of biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, computer science and medicine. It will create a world-class community of scientists, engineers and researchers who will work together to solve challenging biomedical problems, fuel the growth of the bioscience industry in Colorado and provide unsurpassed biomedical education for students.

o The gift, the largest ever contributed by a CU-Boulder faculty member, will accelerate construction of the biotechnology center, a central component of the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology (CIMB).

o CIMB will build on CU's tremendous success creating biotech companies, a driving economic development force in Colorado. There are currently 380 biotech companies in Colorado representing 16,000 highly skilled jobs and $416 million in tax revenue, including CU start-ups Myogen and Sirna. Colorado is fast becoming a powerhouse in the emerging field of molecular biotechnology, bringing in $40 million in new federal research funding annually.

o Caruthers' gift, facilitated by the CU Foundation, builds upon previous support from Professor Caruthers and his late wife, Jennie. In the 1990s, the Caruthers' donated funding for two endowed chairs in biochemistry, one of which will be named in honor of Jennie.

o Caruthers has been a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder for 34 years. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Iowa State University and his doctorate in biochemistry from Northwestern University. Caruthers spent several years as a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) before becoming a CU-Boulder professor in 1973.

o Caruthers is a biotechnology pioneer who co-founded Amgen, a human therapeutics firm headquartered in Thousand Oaks, Calif., that operates drug-manufacturing plants in Boulder and Longmont, Colo., and has more than 10,000 employees worldwide. Based on discoveries that include those made in Caruthers' CU-Boulder laboratory, Amgen developed blockbuster medicines to treat anemia and rheumatoid arthritis as well as neutropenia, a serious side effect some patients experience when they undergo chemotherapy.

o Caruthers also co-founded Applied Biosystems, a biotechnology firm that marketed "gene machines" based on the DNA synthesis methods developed in his laboratory. The technology has enabled biochemists, molecular biologists and biologists to rapidly advance research in many areas of science, and is credited with revolutionizing research in the pharmaceutical industry.

o Caruthers holds dozens of patents pertaining to biotechnology research and processes.

o Professor Caruthers' major scientific achievement is his pioneering research in nucleic acid chemistry. His lab uses nucleic acid chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology to study the regulation and control of gene expression.

o About 25 years ago, his lab developed the methods needed to speed up the chemical synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the genetic material that makes up the building blocks of life. Caruthers' method is known as solid-phase phosphoramidite chemistry, a process that replicates strings of DNA patterns so scientists can get a big-picture view of the human gene map. So-called "gene machines" have enabled researchers to automate the process.

o Caruthers' research has enabled other scientists to speed up investigations that yield important genetic clues about the human body. The rapid chemical synthesis of DNA and ribonucleic acid, or RNA (which delivers important genetic information to DNA), are making it possible for scientists to develop better drugs and for doctors to diagnose diseases more rapidly and precisely.

o Synthetic DNA was essential for mapping and sequencing the human genome. Researchers are using the human genome to study diseases and other medical conditions and to develop better medical treatments.

o Most recently, Caruthers' research led to the creation of DNA fingerprinting, which enables law-enforcement agencies to study evidence that can help identify individuals and/or victims involved in crimes. The technology also enables authorities to identify human remains and to carry out various genealogical and anthropological studies.

o Caruthers' current research focuses on modifying DNA and RNA chemistries to spur development of cheap, reliable DNA chips that scientists can use to study medical questions that have arisen with advances in human genome sequencing. He also is trying to develop a new, more rapid way of analyzing single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, in the human genome. If readily accessible, scientists could use these SNPs to diagnose diseases and develop new drugs.

o In July, Caruthers was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest accolade for scientific achievement. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

o Professor Caruthers has received the following awards:

National Medal of Science, 2007; Promega Biotechnology Research Award, 2006; National Academy of Sciences Award for Chemistry in Service to Society, 2005; Prelog Medal in Recognition of Pioneering Work on the Chemical Synthesis of DNA, ETH, Zurich Switzerland, 2004; Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado, 1999; Member, National Academy of Sciences, 1994; Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1994; Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute, 1994; Biotechnology National Ventures Award, 1992; Council on Research and Creative Work Faculty Research Lectureship, 1984; Guggenheim Fellow, 1981; USPHS Career Development Award, 1975-1980.