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Ending the drought: Ottawa’s medical research community thrilled to welcome long-awaited wet lab facilities 

A sicientist works at uOttawa's Advanced Medical Research Centre

Most people only think about their metabolism when their pants get too tight.  

Professor Mary-Ellen Harper’s take on metabolism is more of a scientific obsession. “I was just fascinated by how different systems and organs of our body work together,” she says from her office at uOttawa’s Faculty of Medicine.  

Her team investigates how metabolism can become disordered inside cells, causing diabetes and diseases that affect the heart, brain, skeletal muscles and pancreas.   

“We hope our research will lead to better treatment options for diseases such as type-2 diabetes that affect so many Canadian adults,” Harper explains.   

Building space to attract and retain top talent   

Harper leads the Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology, an institute based at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine where 38 experts have been working apart for the past five years due to a chronic shortage of wet labs where researchers can work with chemicals and biological samples.  

“We’ve grown as a team,” says Harper. “Advanced types of equipment often have unique technical requirements and often are fairly big. As we ramp up our research, we need infrastructure and space that can keep up.”   

This shortage of wet lab space has forced researchers and biotech startups to leave Ottawa.  

uOttawa is stepping up to bridge that gap. Sylvain Charbonneau is the vice president, research & innovation at uOttawa. He leads the team that is creating the new Advanced Medical Research Centre (AMRC), currently under construction at uOttawa’s Alta Vista Campus, adjacent to its Faculty of Medicine, CHEO and The Ottawa Hospital.   

“This is the most important investment ever to be put forward by the University of Ottawa. It will bring 350,000 square feet of research facilities dedicated to research and innovation,” he says.   

Slated to open in 2026, the AMRC aims to be a hotbed of interdisciplinary innovation focused on research that will ultimately improve patient care.  

Designed for collaboration and to earn LEED Gold certification, the AMRC will be among the most sustainable new buildings in Ottawa. It will offer state-of-the-art equipment with offices, conference rooms and lab space for rent. The building will also feature a bright atrium where people will gather and make connections across different disciplines.  

Building a biotech sector in Ottawa    

One key feature of the AMRC will be the Health Innovation Hub, where researchers can team up with investors to incubate and support startups and commercialize their discoveries. They will receive mentorship and advice on regulatory compliance, legal issues and business development.   

Given the high cost of lab space and business expertise, Charbonneau says this is the kind of base camp that is needed to launch local companies that feature world-class innovation and discoveries. 

“For the past 15 years, the University has spun off over 35 companies from the Faculty of Medicine. Currently, these entrepreneurs cannot all be absorbed into the local ecosystem. They go to Montreal, they go to Toronto. Even worse, they go to Boston and California. Building a thriving biotech sector in Ottawa starts here,” he says.   

Ottawa is increasingly being recognized as a leading centre of health research and innovation. In mid-April, the federal government announced $115.8 million to fund a new Canadian Pandemic Preparedness Hub. The University of Ottawa, in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and McMaster University will co-lead this galvanizing project. It’s a huge investment in Ontario’s ability to commercialize new biotherapeutics, such as vaccines, antibodies and gene therapies.    

“We’re putting in place an environment that is conducive for this entrepreneurship mindset for researchers,” says Charbonneau. “What you’ll find is that many top-notch professors will want, at some point, to think about their entrepreneurial future.”  The AMRC will provide the space and infrastructure needed to draw them here and keep them in our community. 

For more information on the AMRC and how to support Canadian research, healthcare innovation and patient well-being, please contact uOttawa’s Executive Director of Corporate Development Jonathan Bodden at or call 613-614-3571.