Nov 302005
Authors: Amanda Schank

Seven shovels simultaneously bit into the ground Wednesday morning, displacing the first chunk of earth in the construction of the Rocky Mountain Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL), CSU's latest advancement for research.

The new laboratory, located on CSU's Foothills Campus, is destined for biosecurity levels two, a standard research lab, and three, a lab with containment and negative pressure for diseases requiring more precautions. The security levels give researchers the chance to develop new types of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics of potentially life-threatening infectious diseases.

"Our vision is to try and make this the research triangle for containment level research," said Barry Beaty, director of the Rocky Mountain Regional Center of Excellence (RCE). "The RBL is the cornerstone (to this vision). It brings the unique capacity and ability to not only push research, but to push the development of products for the national biodefense effort."

CSU has one of the top ten infectious disease programs in the nation, Beaty said. Funding given by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) to the microbiology department ranks it third among all land-grant institutions and first in institutions without a medical school.

The RBL, a $31.5 million dollar project, makes the Foothills Campus a facility accommodating more than $100 million in technology and equipment. According to a CSU press release, NIAID and CSU combined funding efforts for the RBL, providing a $22.1 million grant and a $9.4 million investment, respectively.

Linking its research with the RCE, the RBL will direct its energies toward the discovery and translation of zoonotic pathogens. Study on the West Nile virus, tularemia and Q fever, among countless others, have been the focus of current research projects with many more in the planning stage, according to the RCE Web site

"(The RBL) means an improved capacity to address the challenges of infectious disease and particularly zoonotic diseases," said CSU president Larry Penley. "This is also another learning opportunity for students, but a learning opportunity that has enormous value in terms of our health."

The proposed 33,850 square foot project boasts state-of-the-art equipment and security and the ability to serve as "surge capacity for state and national agencies" in the event of a biodefense emergency, Beaty said.

At the local level, in addition to the potential of infectious disease breakthroughs, the RBL is estimated to make an economic impact. Beaty said the RBL will be "an economic magnet" for Northern Colorado by opening a multitude of new and different economic opportunities.

The current research conducted at the Foothills Campus, in addition to the proposed research by the new RBL, is not only essential to the health of people across the state and nation, but at the worldwide level as well. Hank Gardner, the interim vice president for research, said CSU already has researchers in Nepal and Central America, expanding CSU's realm and expertise on infectious disease studies.

"There are diseases that we're working on here that are killing millions of people across the globe," Gardner said. "We already have international presence, I would love to see that expanded so that CSU is playing an even bigger role in global public health."

The campus also provides a research opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students to work with professionals in the field. The RBL will further students' opportunities to engage in pragmatic and essential research, furthering CSU's educational value and increasing job opportunities after graduation, Penley said.

Whether interested in the research or economic side to the RBL, everyone involved agreed the new center puts CSU in a leadership position in the world of biodefense research and discoveries. Jeff Wilusz, professor and department head of the department of microbiology, immunology and pathology, said the building should be complete by late 2007.

"This really is the cornerstone of all our departments efforts," Wilusz said. "It just amazes me the quality of researchers we have here and the synergy they have together.

"It's really a beginning of a new era in biodefense research."


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