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For Dr. Howard Knapp, research has everything to do with translating knowledge into action.

“My focus is on trying to take what we’re learning now and make a useful therapy out of it,” the executive director of Deaconess Billings Clinic’s research division, said Tuesday.

The work of Knapp and the 18 other employees of the research division will expand with Tuesday’s announcement that Deaconess intends to build a $2.6 million research center in the medical corridor.

The two-story, 14,400-square-foot building will be at the corner of North 30th Street and 11th Avenue North. Groundbreaking for the structure is tentatively set for early September and construction is expected to be completed next spring.

Until now, Deaconess’s research work has been conducted in leased offices at 1500 Poly Drive. In addition to almost doubling the space available, Knapp estimates the number of employees in the research division will double.

“This will also increase the number of patients we will be able to see,” Knapp said.

Dr. Nick Wolter, chief executive of Deaconess Billings Clinic, said the expansion will continue to help bring new drugs and therapies to area patients.

“The type of research Howard Knapp is bringing here focuses on pharmaceuticals and therapies that will provide opportunities for treatments that they might otherwise have to wait a lot longer for,” Wolter said.

The hospital’s research division was founded in 1988. Since then, more than 1,500 people have participated in clinical studies.

During the past year, the division began 27 new trials focusing on a variety of treatments for conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, high cholesterol and chronic pain. New treatments for pneumonia have also been studied at the Same Day Care Department and a study on patients with acute lung/circulatory failure has begun in the intensive care unit.

The location of the new building will provide easier access and communication between the research division and the rest of the hospital campus, Knapp said.

“We have a number of technologists and nurses who now shuttle back and forth between the two facilities,” Knapp said.

Knapp, who has just completed his first year as executive director of the research division, said another advantage will be the addition of an expanded laboratory. For at least the past several years, the Deaconess research division hasn’t used a lab in its work.

“A lab-based research operation allows you to be much more competitive in obtaining national grants,” said Knapp who performed extensive lab work in his previous post at the University of Iowa.

Knapp added that the lab will also expand the types of research the division now conducts to possibly include NASA technology that could benefit patients, or agricultural research that might be tied to improving nutrition.

“We will have more capacity to recruit different kinds of research,” he said. “We will also be able to expand the database of people who have expressed an interest in being involved in studies.”

Eventually two more floors could be added to the new building, said Rod Schaffer, director of facilities services for Deaconess. In the first phase, $1.5 million of the initial $2.6 million cost will be funded by a HUD grant secured with help from Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.

The balance of the funding will be raised through this summer’s Deaconess Billings Clinic Foundation Classic and through a capital campaign the foundation will conduct.

Schaeffer said the lots where the new building will be constructed have become known as the tree farm because of the number of trees that have been planted there. The location of the new building on the vacant lots has been designed to keep those trees on the grounds.

“We wanted to make sure we kept the park element in it,” Schaeffer said.Susan Olp can be reached at 657-1281 or at solp@billingsgazette.com

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