A cancer research center in Austin, Minn., has doubled in size, making room for a 250-seat auditorium, 20 more labs and a massive microscope that takes up an entire room.

Celebrated with a grand opening last week, the expansion of the Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota comes less than a decade after another major addition, which tripled the center's size.

The growth will accelerate research into the prevention and treatment of cancer, said Dr. Zigang Dong, executive director of the Hormel Institute.

"The Hormel Foundation, as well as the state of Minnesota, want to play a major role in this," he said, "to make history on the war against cancer."

For years, the research center has partnered with others at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic to conduct clinical trials. But this expansion, which adds patient rooms, will allow the institute to do first-stage clinical trials on its own, Dong said.

The high-resolution electron microscope, which captures both 2-D and 3-D images, is the "most modern, advanced technology in biomedical research," Dong said. Its detailed readings will help scientists design new, more effective drugs with fewer side effects, among other things, he said.

The state put $13.5 million toward the $40 million project via a bonding bill passed in 2012. In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton called the expansion "one of the best investments the state of Minnesota can make." The charitable Hormel Foundation matched the state's contribution and added $8 million to recruit new researchers to fill the new labs.

Over the next five years, the institute, which employs about 140 people, expects to add 100 to 130 faculty and staff, said Dong, a McKnight Presidential Professor in Cancer Prevention.

The Hormel Foundation, a large shareholder of Hormel Foods Corp., has donated more than $80 million to the Hormel Institute over the past decade, said Gary Ray, the foundation's chairman. That total includes annual gifts for operational expenses.

"As a foundation board, we just feel we are carrying out the mission of Jay Hormel, who established the institute," Ray said by phone Friday. "He was an astute businessman and he cared about people."

Gary Ray and his wife, Pat, personally contributed to the new auditorium — which has been named the Ray Live Learning Center after them. They also donated a big, bright sculpture that nods to the structure of silybin, a compound that can prevent melanoma, a kind of skin cancer.

"With all the scientific work that's going on, we felt that sculpture represented what we're trying to do inside," he said.

While the center's work is global, its expansion also boosts Austin, Ray said, attracting a highly educated workforce to the southern Minnesota city with a population of 25,000. Austin's young people can apply for internships at the institute — a summer that could lead to a career in science, he added.

The center is inviting residents to check out the addition during a pair of open houses July 20 and 30.

To help house new employees, the Hormel Foundation is building a 42-unit, $6.5 million apartment complex, set to open this summer.

This expansion won't be the last. The foundation has been buying up property near the institute — about 70 homes over the past five or six years, Ray said. The plan is far from set, but Ray envisions a bioscience business incubator across the street.

"We're setting up plans for the future," Ray said. "We're looking at how we can continue to build the institute."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168