George Mason to Build Biodefense Research Facility

Posted: November 9, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Patty Snellings

As part of the university’s commitment to the biosciences, George Mason plans to build a biodefense research facility near the Prince William Campus and to seek $25 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to fund construction of the facility.

The facility will be part of the National Center for Biodefense (NCBD) at Prince William, and will house a biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) laboratory. BSL-3 labs are designed for research on biological agents that cause fatal diseases or have serious consequences, with the goal of developing and testing vaccines and other drug therapies that can protect people against bioterrorist weapons. Research will include nonhuman primate and aerobiology studies and focus on biological agents such as anthrax, tularemia, and plague.

“This facility addresses a critical national security need,” says President Alan Merten, “It will give our scientists a chance to work collaboratively with government partners and help find solutions to protect citizens nationwide.”

The new facility was included in the university’s Six-Year Capital Plan approved by the Board of Visitors and submitted to the appropriate state agencies in 2003. It was also included in the governor’s Executive Budget Bill approved by the General Assembly in 2004.

Safety of the facility is governed by stringent laws, regulations, and policies imposed by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other accrediting agencies, and state and federal governments.

George Mason’s funding application is in response to a new $125 million initiative of NIAID’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratories (RBL) Construction Program. Last year, NIAID funded nine RBLs and two National Biocontainment Laboratories, a result of recommendations from its Blue Ribbon Panel on Bioterrorism and Its Implications for Biomedical Research. The expert panel named a lack of biosafety laboratories in the United States as a significant barrier to progress in biodefense research.

NCBD was established at the Prince William Campus in late 2001. More than 200 students, many already employed by federal agencies or defense contractors involved in homeland security, are enrolled in master’s, PhD, and certificate programs related to biodefense.

“This new facility will enable us to advance the quality and scope of the center’s research activities and allow access to opportunities for higher levels of federal research funding,” says Daniele Struppa, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “A biodefense research facility is the decisive next step toward realizing maximum benefits from our research efforts.”

Open meetings are planned with Provost Peter Stearns and Chief of Staff Thomas Hennessey for members of the university community interested in learning more about the project:

  • Monday, Nov. 15, 3 to 4 p.m.—Fairfax Campus, Johnson Center’s Dewberry Hall

  • Monday, Nov. 22, 1 to 2 p.m.—Prince William Campus, Verizon Auditorium

  • Monday, Dec. 13, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.—Arlington Campus, Arlington I, Room 251

Write to at