The Rochester Genome

In February 2012, we celebrate the unveiling of a 7½ foot by 44 foot mural, entitled: “The Rochester Genome” in the entrance of the Saunders Research Building. This artwork by Mark Chen is made possible by a generous and thoughtful gift from Dr. David Guzick (the Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry during the planning and early phases of the construction of the Saunders Research Building) and his wife, Dr. Donna Giles. This CTSI story recounts the conceptualization and development of the Rochester Genome Project, and its illustration of Rochester’s philosophical approach to science and medicine, the Biopsychosocial Model.

The story begins with the initial funding of the Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Award Program in 2006 and the initiation of planning for a new Clinical and Translational Science Building in 2007. Competitive architectural proposals were solicited from architects nationwide, and after considerable discussions Francis Cauffman Architects was selected. However, an aspect of one of the competing proposals caught David Guzick’s eye. This was a lighted art wall placed just inside the main entrance. Placed on the facade of the second floor, it could be visualized from Crittenden Boulevard through the glass walls of the entrance. The original idea consisted of horizontal lighted bars which were reminiscent of the multicolored bands from an assay used to identify genome variations, the gene array. . Each color bar would be back-lit to provide the backdrop for the artwork and visualization of the array even during evening hours. David then asked Francis Cauffman if we could go back to Mark Chen and borrow that part of his proposal for integration into the project. Francis Caufmann agreed and we approached Mark Chen for his involvement in this artwork.

Mark Chen is a tremendously talented and creative designer; a tireless fountain of ideas. For example, innumerable renderings of the gene array were provided before the current design was selected. David and Donna were enthusiastic about this and proposed that this be their gift to the new Clinical and Translational Science Building.

Many ideas dealt with images behind the gene array. The Biopsychosocial (BPS) Model served as the guide, depicting the hierarchy of systems from cells to organs to persons to community. The BPS Model, developed by Dr. George Engel, U of R Professor of Psychiatry, has been the blueprint for educational and research programs at the University of Rochester since the 1970s. The fundamental belief is that a patient’s clinical problem cannot be truly understood and addressed without understanding of and attention to all levels of the hierarchy affecting him/her. This serves clinical and translational science very well. Engel warned against reliance solely on molecular biology to explain all: “…. The reductionism of the biomedical model is largely responsible for the physician’s preoccupation with the body and disease and corresponding neglect of the patient as a person.” (G. Engel, J Med Philos 6: 101, 1981). A white blood cell, an MRI cross-section of the brain, and a cluster of faces forming a face were then chosen to illustrate the cell to organ to community hierarchies.

Finally, an idea was proposed that the community of faces include faces recognizable to the Rochester community. A collage of photographs from the Medical Center archives were selected to depict health care at the Medical Center over its many years of operation. These then merge into photographs of current activities in the current CTSI, University leadership, and colleagues from the School of Medicine and Dentistry and of Nursing. The artist selected these from current public relations archives to finalize the mosaic of images.

The work has been entitled: “The Rochester Genome,” as it depicts what has served as our “genetic code” for science and medicine at the University of Rochester: the dedication to basic science, the focus on the patient and the commitment to the community, by diverse teams of physicians, nurses, and scientists. We hope this art wall, like any piece of art, has different messages for each viewer. Nonetheless, everyone entering the Saunders Research Building hopefully will feel that they have entered a place dedicated to science and learning.

We are grateful to David Guzick and Donna Giles for their donation that made the Rochester Genome a reality, to the artist, Mark Chen, for his energy and flexibility in the creative process, and those who assisted in collection and critiques of materials for the project.


T.A. Pearson, MD, MPH, PhD

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