University to Break Ground for Biomedical Research Lab

Posted: September 4, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

artist's rendering of BRL
The new Biomedical Research Laboratory at the Prince William Campus will be one of 13 regional biocontainment laboratories to be built nationwide with NIH funding. Groundbreaking will be Sept. 27.
Image by RMJM Hillier

By Jennifer Halpin

The ability to detect and prevent infectious diseases has become a cornerstone of the federal government’s national defense efforts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the anthrax attacks that followed. Shortly after the sixth anniversary of those devastating events, Mason will break ground for a biomedical research lab that will catapult the university into the ranks of leading facilities working to combat bioterrorism.

Mason’s Biomedical Research Laboratory (BRL), to be built adjacent to the Prince William Campus, will contain laboratories where Mason researchers will develop and test the next generation of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics to protect citizens against biological terrorism and infectious diseases. Research will focus on newly emerging diseases such as SARS, avian influenza and West Nile virus, as well as anthrax, plague and tularemia.

Research on Medical Countermeasures to Bioterrorism

The new biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) facility will be one of 13 regional biocontainment laboratories to be built nationwide with funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To construct the laboratory, Mason was awarded a $25 million grant in 2005. The university is providing an estimated $15.3 million in matching funds. Under then-Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, the commonwealth committed $2.5 million for land acquisition.

Charles Bailey
Charles Bailey

“The work Mason researchers will be conducting in the BRL is important not just to our region, but to the country as a whole,” says Charles Bailey, executive director of Mason’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases (NCBID).

“As long as the United States is threatened by terrorists who might use infectious agents against our population, there will be a need to develop medical countermeasures such as vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat these infectious, highly lethal diseases.”

The groundbreaking ceremony for the BRL will be held on Sept. 27 at the construction site. Two scientists from NIAID will attend and speak at the ceremony: Peter Jahrling, chief scientist of the Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick; and Michael Kurilla, director of the Office of Biodefense Research Affairs and associate director for biodefense product development. Mason speakers will include Vikas Chandhoke, dean of the College of Science; Bailey; and Thomas Hennessey, chief of staff.

Modular Facility to Allow Important Work to Begin

The BRL is expected to be completed in the summer of 2009. In the meantime, a modular research laboratory is in the process of being commissioned exclusively with university funds to allow research to begin prior to the BRL’s opening. This 1,000-square-foot modular laboratory will eventually become part of the permanent BRL.

The facility will allow the Mason research team to begin the process of getting government approval for testing and evaluating biological agents, providing a seamless transition to the BRL as soon as construction is complete and the building is commissioned.

The modular facility, which should be completed in early 2008, is being designed in compliance with the regulatory and accreditation requirements of the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NIH and the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International.

The BRL and modular facility will be constructed with the safety and security of the surrounding community as the highest priority. BSL-3 laboratories are explicitly designed to protect the research scientists, the public and the environment from the biological agents used in research.

The BRL will be one of the subjects of a public forum to be held on Sept. 17 at the Prince William Campus. Other Mason projects on the agenda are the new Community Performing Arts Center, as well as traffic and access patterns at the campus.

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