University of Pittsburgh Receives NIH Funds for Construction of Regional Biosafety Laboratory

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh has been awarded $18 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health, for the construction of a Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL), a biosafety facility dedicated to research on agents that cause naturally occurring and emerging infections, as well as potential agents of bioterrorism. The University of Pittsburgh RBL will be housed in the Biomedical Science Tower 3; construction of the RBL is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2005.

"The construction of a high-level biosafety facility will contribute to the University of Pittsburgh's growing state-of-the-art biodefense program by creating a dedicated site where this essential research can be conducted safely," said Arthur S. Levine, MD, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh as well as principle investigator on this grant. "This facility, in concert with existing resources at the University of Pittsburgh, will enable us to greatly accelerate the development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for viruses and other infectious agents."

In addition to providing matching funds for the RBL, the University of Pittsburgh, which currently ranks eighth in the nation in research support from the NIH, plans on developing a vaccine program focusing on basic and translational research on naturally occurring diseases like SARS, West Nile Virus, dengue, hemorrhagic viruses and encephalitis viruses. These diseases cause great morbidity and mortality in developing countries, and in some cases can cause infection in the United States. Creating vaccines for these diseases is of special interest as they not only affect people naturally, but they also have a great potential to be "weaponized."

Immunology and infectious disease have been and continue to be research priorities at the University of Pittsburgh. Over the years, researchers have built world-class federally funded programs; these programs will both benefit from and contribute to the RBL. The RBL will also benefit from access to the extensive network of urban and rural hospitals of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"We live in an age when it is critical that we use the nation's extraordinary scientific talent in the pursuit of answers to the global security threats posed by infectious diseases," said Tara O'Toole, chief executive officer at the Center for Biosecurity, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "This new laboratory will enable University of Pittsburgh medical researchers to delve further into possible treatments and to develop vaccines against diseases that might result from bioterrorist attack or from natural outbreaks."

The NIAID offered funding for nine RBLs and two National Biocontainment Laboratories (NBLs) based on recommendations from an expert panel that cited the nation's deficit of biosafety laboratories as a significant barrier to progress in biodefense research. The NBL and RBL programs provide funding for the design and construction of comprehensive, state-of-the art biosafety laboratories (BSL) and associated research and administrative support space. The BSL labs will be designed and built using the strictest federal standards, incorporating special engineering and design features to prevent microorganisms from being released into the environment. Numerous safety and decontamination features will provide multiple layers of protection for lab workers and the surrounding environment. The labs will be available and prepared to assist national, state and local public health efforts in the event of a bioterrorism or infectious disease emergency.

Source: University of Pittsburgh

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