Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Opens Doors

Press Release

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, First-Ever “Translational” Research Hospital, Opens Doors

Posted By Megan Washburn


CHICAGO — March 25, 2017 — Currently, 86% of scientific discoveries never make it out of the lab. These discoveries constitute countless approaches, treatments and even potential cures that could save lives, but are never fully or effectively developed.

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) — a specialty, non-profit hospital serving patients with the most severe, complex conditions — is setting out to change this statistic in a profound way. Today, RIC will officially become known as the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab as it opens the doors to its cutting-edge research hospital of the same name.

“Science is now at a boiling point, with the convergence of disciplines and discovery — in computer capability, sensor technology, microbiology, pharmacology, material science, brain imaging and tissue engineering,” said Joanne C. Smith, MD, president and CEO of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. “With the design of our new hospital, we’re literally taking down walls to harness this moment and facilitate guided ‘collisions.’ With direct, ongoing exposure to a clinical environment, scientists will conduct research with greater intention, based on the needs of patients that they themselves observe. This model of translational research will change the way people work and the way patients get better, increasing the likelihood that promising research ideas will be converted into viable medical treatments.”

Radically Shifting Paradigm


Located at 355 E. Erie Street in Chicago, the $550 million, 1.2-million-square-foot Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the first-ever “translational” research hospital in which clinicians, scientists, innovators and technologists work together in the same space, 24/7, surrounding patients, discovering new approaches and applying (or “translating”) research real time.

“The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the only hospital in the world where doctors focused on solving patient challenges now work side-by-side with scientists focused on finding cures,” said Jude Reyes, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. “The result is focused discovery and innovation on behalf of patients, who will be poised to achieve their best possible recoveries here.”

This model of translational research will change the way people work and the way patients get better.

Joanne C. Smith, MD


The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab introduces its revolutionary model of care through five Innovation Centers focused on areas of biomedical science with extraordinary promise:

  • Brain Innovation Center
  • Spinal Cord Innovation Center
  • Nerve, Muscle & Bone Innovation Center
  • Pediatric Innovation Center
  • Cancer Rehabilitation Innovation Center


Central to applying research during care are working labs in which interdisciplinary teams develop new research and insights to help patients gain more function, achieve better outcomes and enjoy greater ability and independence. Each lab has a unique configuration based on a targeted function and the type of experimentation taking place therein:

  • Think + Speak Lab: Treatment for fundamental brain functions — arousal, lucidity, awareness, thinking, communication, perception, memory and learning.
  • Legs + Walking Lab: Improvement of locomotion, gait and walking via trunk and pelvis stability; positioning and control of the hips, knees and ankles; as well as stepping and propulsion.
  • Arms + Hands Lab: Improvement of hand function and movement, body and upper-limb coordination, strength, reaching, and hand/finger control.
  • Strength + Endurance Lab: Improvement of stamina and resilience, complex motor and endurance activities, coordination, and higher-level activities of daily living (e.g., cooking, housekeeping, exercise, sports).
  • Pediatric Lab: Treatment for all of the above, with a customized approach for the developing brains, bodies and conditions unique to children (infants to teens).

State-of-the-Art Space


As the largest freestanding rehabilitation hospital in the United States, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab touts:

  • 1.2 million square feet, of which 800,000 are dedicated to clinical/research
  • 242 private patient rooms, with opportunity for future expansion
  • Comprehensive outpatient offerings with four times greater space
  • MRI and CT services in-house (avoiding external referrals)

Several leading firms collaborated on the new hospital’s construction, design and experience:

  • HDR, Inc. planned the organization of the building, conceived the operational framework for clinical and research programs, and designed the Biologics Lab and clinical areas such as inpatient units, patient rooms, outpatient spaces, exam rooms, the pharmacy and the radiology department.
  • Gensler designed the 27-floor building, interior environments for public and staff use, hybrid administrative office spaces, the chapel and complex mechanical systems.
  • Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWa) developed the design language for the five ability labs, custom furniture and equipment, the Ground and Sky Lobby, patient hubs, vistas, café lounge and entrance and exit wayfinding strategies.
  • EGG Office worked closely with CWa to design the graphics that adorn the hospital’s entrance, Sky Lobby, ability labs, ambulance bay and café. It also designed all signage inside and outside of the facility, including donor and room signage.
  • Power Construction managed the hospital’s construction.
  • Arcadis served as the owner’s representative in overseeing the project.
  • Art Agency, Partners, led by Allan Schwartzman, helped to identify artists and select or procure commissioned art for public spaces and patient areas within the hospital.
  • Code and Theory designed the hospital’s new website.

New Brand


Effective today, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago will embrace a new brand and name: Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. Comprehensive research and extensive conversations with internal and external stakeholders drove this change.

Most importantly, it shifts the focus from disability to ability, and from the process of rehabilitation to the outcome.

Betsy Owens


“Our new brand reflects our vision and strategy, is differentiating and memorable, and underscores the important relationship between humanity and science,” said Betsy Owens, chief marketing and innovation officer for the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. “Most importantly, it shifts the focus from disability to ability, and from the process of rehabilitation to the outcome.”

New branding will be reflected at the Erie Street flagship hospital immediately and, shortly thereafter, at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s 40+ sites of care across Illinois and Indiana.

Record-Breaking Campaign


The AbilityLab capital campaign, launched in 2013, had an initial fundraising goal of $300 million. Following the gift by Shirley W. and Patrick G. Ryan, the largest charitable investment in the organization’s 64-year history, RIC increased its campaign goal from $300 million to $350 million. With this monumental gift,, the entrepreneurial organization founded by the Ryans more than 30 years ago, has joined the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab., with its clinic and web organization, is the leading resource in early detection and intervention tools that maximize children’s motor, sensory and communication development. 

“My husband and I have been completely captivated by the AbilityLab vision since we learned about the new hospital project in 2010,” said Shirley Ryan. “The innovative concept focuses not on rehabilitating patients, but on fostering their ability and potential. We’re honored to be part of the institution’s transformation and incredibly bright future, and thrilled that will continue to grow with the AbilityLab.”

In addition to her work as Chair of and RIC Director, Shirley Ryan has been appointed by two presidents to the National Council on Disability, which advises Congress on disability issues. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and on the Board of Directors of the University of Notre Dame, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Alain Locke Charter Academy, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She has also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Notre Dame. 

Beyond the naming gift from the Ryans, many others made significant gifts — among them, Mike and Lindy Keiser, the Harris Family Foundation, the Regenstein Foundation, Nancy Knowles, Timothy and Sharon Ubben, and multiple anonymous donors. With the campaign expected to close in December 2017, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is poised to meet, if not exceed, its $350 million goal.  

The remaining costs of the new hospital have been financed through the combination of cash flow, existing funds, new debt and the sale of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago flagship hospital at 345 E. Superior Street in Chicago. 


Photo courtesy of HDR | Gensler © 2016 Dave Burk

About the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab


The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), is the global leader in physical medicine and rehabilitation for adults and children with the most severe, complex conditions — from traumatic brain and spinal cord injury to stroke, amputation and cancer-related impairment. The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab expands and accelerates leadership in the field that began at RIC in 1953 — its care and research designated the “No. 1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America” by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1991. Upon opening in March 2017, the $550 million, 1.2-million-square-foot Shirley Ryan AbilityLab became the first-ever “translational” research hospital in which clinicians, scientists, innovators and technologists work together in the same space, surrounding patients, discovering new approaches and applying (or “translating”) research real time. Applied research focuses particularly in the areas of neuroscience, bionic medicine, musculoskeletal medicine and technology transfer. This unique model enables patients to have 24/7 access to the brightest minds, the latest research and the best opportunity for recovery.

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