Addressing Health Disparities: Wayne State University’s IBio Center

Studies have documented disparities in disease occurrence and health outcomes among non-white and economically disadvantaged populations, including higher death rates from cardiovascular disease and greater incidence of diabetes, asthma and obesity. These disparities are often acute in urban areas, and Detroit is no exception.

Wayne State University has been working to address these disparities through its research and community engagement for many years. Researchers such as Dr. Sylvie Naar-King, Dr. Phillip Levy and Dr. Julie Gleason-Comstock have focused much of their work on addressing behavior change, illness management, better patient screening and hospital discharge procedures to address asthma, obesity, hypertension and heart failure rates among Detroit residents.

The university’s most recent investment in addressing health disparities in Detroit is the new Integrative Biosciences Center (IBio).

The $93 million facility, located in Midtown on a previously abandoned 2.7-acre city block, is Wayne State’s largest construction project to date.

The building includes laboratories, faculty offices, common areas, a clinical research center, Henry Ford Health System’s bone and joint research program and biomechanics motion laboratory, and the Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors. The building’s open design fosters collaboration among researchers, and was constructed to minimize environmental impact. It has achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver rating.

IBio houses faculty researchers who are searching for ways to eliminate health disparities in the surrounding community. In addition to the researchers already at work, Wayne State plans to recruit more than 30 new faculty members from around the country for research and community engagement programs at IBio. The university estimates that IBio will bring in nearly $40 million of new earnings annually in Michigan, 98 percent of which will be in metropolitan Detroit.

Wayne State recognizes the importance of locating a research facility of this magnitude within the community it serves. According to Vice President of Research Stephen Lanier, “IBio was designed not only to give researchers world-class lab space but, more importantly, to engage broadly with the communities that we serve through prevention, education and partnering”.

The hope is that the discoveries made at IBio can be applied not only to the surrounding Detroit community, but other urban areas as well.

“Rarely does a university get to live its vision and mission on a scale of this magnitude,” said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson. “The Integrative Biosciences Center embodies what it means to be a public, urban research university — creating and sharing knowledge that contributes immensely to improving the quality of life for its surrounding community. Research conducted in this center will also have important applications in other urban communities around the world.”