Editorial: Old building may pave way to healthier future

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 09:01 PM

Thirty years ago, moviegoers saw the Elion-Hitchings Building in a science fiction film called “Brainstorm.”

The movie, starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood (in the final role before her death), told the story of scientists exploring the idea of recording human sensory experiences and then truly allowing others to live vicariously through recorded media.

Sometimes, this led to tragic consequences in the movie.

We’re hopeful that the real scientific work planned for the Elion-Hitchings property in the coming years will prove far more beneficial.

On Monday, The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz reported about United Therapeutics’ plan to demolish parts of the iconic building so that the company can build a star-shaped complex where its scientists can raise pigs as they search for a cure to pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Obviously, it’s a noble goal. Natural lungs are in short supply for transplantation. If it proves possible to take tissue or lungs from pigs and put them into humans without rejection, it could be a remarkable breakthrough.

But we can’t help but think that this development plan is bittersweet, because it comes at the cost of significant chunks of the old facility.

Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics, has assured the community that the company will preserve the most iconic portions of the building that face the road in Research Triangle Park.

That’s a relief.

But we certainly feel some sympathy for Sean Khorsandi, co-director of the Paul Randolph Foundation, who wants to see the entire Elion-Hitchings Building preserved.

“This comes back down to the question: If you’re running out of space, do you keep the Picasso painting and [get rid of] the sketches?” he asked.

We understand where he’s coming from. However, if it helps save lives by providing more laboratory space for scientists to conduct their work, maybe the sacrifice of a few older structures of lesser significance isn’t such a bad thing.