George Mason Receives $25 Million Federal Award for Construction of a Regional Biocontainment Laboratory

Posted: September 8, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Patty Snellings

George Mason has been awarded $25 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, for construction of a Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at the Prince William Campus in Manassas. The successful application, proposed by George Mason’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, has resulted in the largest research award in the university’s history.

The 83,154-square-foot facility will contain a biosafety level-3 laboratory for the development of techniques and products for detection, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases that either result from biological terrorism or arise naturally. Research will focus on diseases considered by the U.S. government to be potential bioterror threats, such as anthrax, tularemia and plague, as well as emerging infectious diseases, such as SARS, West Nile virus and influenza.

“It is truly an honor for George Mason to be a recipient of this highly competitive award. I am confident that we will fulfill the trust placed in us by the federal government to meet this critical national defense need,” says university President Alan Merten. “This winning proposal is a product of a highly competent and dedicated team of scientists and administrators. The biomedical research produced in this facility will result from the same model.”

“This award to George Mason not only recognizes its stature as a research center, but it also places the university among the elite institutions in the United States conducting this level of biodefense research,” says Sean Connaughton, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “The county’s partnership with the university has led to many new investments and jobs in Prince William County, and this facility is part of the continued growth of the county as a biotech community.”

The total cost of the project is approximately $42 million. In addition to the $25 million NIAID award, the university will provide an estimated $15.3 million in matching funds, and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has committed $2.5 million on behalf of the commonwealth for land acquisition.

“I have challenged our public colleges and universities to take bold steps in the area of research and development, and I am extremely pleased that George Mason has landed this significant NIH grant,” Warner says. “I see an almost unlimited potential for George Mason in leveraging this region’s concentration of agencies and companies involved in military and homeland security issues.”

In addition to Warner, other state politicians have favorable responses to the announcement. “I’m extremely pleased that George Mason University has been awarded $25 million in federal funds to build a regional biocontainment laboratory for biological terror research,” comments Sen. George Allen, R-Va. “This substantial research award will help America meet its national defense needs, and I’m thrilled that the work will be done in Manassas, Va., by the good intelligent folks at George Mason.”

Congressman Tom Davis, R-Va., adds, “The ability to detect and prevent infectious diseases is a key component of our federal efforts to combat terrorism. As we sadly learned during the anthrax crisis in 2001, bioterrorism is a real threat. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases made the right call in tapping into the brainpower of George Mason University to conduct this vital research.”

George Mason successfully competed for this award in response to NIAID’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratories Construction Program Initiative. In 2002, a panel of experts commissioned by NIAID cited a lack of biosafety level-3 and biosafety level-4 laboratories in the United States as a significant barrier to progress in biodefense research.

Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, says, “Biodefense remains one of our most critical priorities in national security. This facility, which will perform unique and important research to address bioterror threats, continues a long tradition of Virginians contributing to America’s security.”

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