May 032009
 
Authors: Madeline Novey

While they were not killers, their family members very well could be. And yet there they were, buzzing, flying and resting in a cage with thin metal netting partially covered by a stained white lab coat on the long, mock-wood conference table.

They were Aedes Aegypti Rex-D White Eaye mosquitoes and members of “Colony B,” as deemed by CSU infectious disease researchers. These little vectors, as they were called, are the species responsible for spreading Dengue and Yellow Fevers, killing millions of people worldwide.

And these potential killers were a part of the show as one U.S. senator toured CSU’s Infectious Disease Annex Saturday afternoon.

Following the recent global outbreak of swine flu, Sen. Mark Udall toured the infectious disease research complex, labeling the facility a necessary investment to combat Mother Nature and the diseases she inflicts upon humanity annually.

In line with that sentiment, researchers and resident experts on the thousands of microbes behind the diseases said the state-of-the-art facility, tucked away up on CSU’s Foothills Campus, will serve as a great resource for government agencies if current swine flu conditions escalate to a pandemic level in Fort Collins.

“A facility like this could be a resource for the Colorado and federal agencies that come in to handle thesituation,” said Bill Farland, CSU senior vice president for Research and Engagement, in the 38,000 square-foot Rocky Mountain Biocontainment Laboratory. As Udall squared himself in front of the cage after the lab coat is removed to reveal a swarm of mosquitoes and about 10,000 eggs within, Barry Beaty, a distinguished professor and self-proclaimed mosquito enthusiast, said, “We have more mosquitoes in the next building than the Everglades.”

“This is how we study them, learn how to kill them,” he said of the center provided $36.4 million in annual funding for the next five years by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“I love mosquitoes. I like to kill them,” he said, as the group of reporters, scientists and one politician was led into the newly completed but not yet operational phase-three of the RMRB lab.

And though no researchers are currently studying the swine flu, a group is focused on the avian flu, a disease one doctor said is still ravaging tropical countries like Indonesia.

While the avian and swine flu strains remain independent of one another, Richard Bowen, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, said the public reaction to both was the same: higher than it should be.

“Every time there is this outbreak, people worry about the worse-case scenario,” Bowen said, adding that the media is notorious for exasperating this mentality by referring to the effects of the 1918 Spanish Influenza in present-day flu reports.

Accessible only by high-security clearance or a personal escort, the Infectious Disease Annex is home to about 50 researchers in the fields of immunology, pathology, biology, cancer research, biochemistry and more who study diseases – and the plants, animals and microbes that spread them – and develop the immunizations therapeutics required to kill them.

It is home to the Rocky Mountain Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, opened in 2008, the first lab in the country to receive certification to study bioterrorism agents, those developed specifically to kill and which can compromise national security according to the Center for Disease Control, like Anthrax, Ebola and Tuberculosis.

The Infectious Disease Annex is one of CSU’s Superclusters, a concept created by former CSU President Larry Penley and then-Provost and Senior Vice President Tony Frank in 2006, as a way to move university research to the private market. Superclusters originally started with a $900,000 donation from the CSU System Board of Governors reserve fund, and were established as a university priority in 2007 when the BOG approved $2 million for further development.

Following the tour, Beaty said funding to aid in research of diseases is imperative, especially because it wasn’t until 9/11 that national support for the study of bioterrorism agents “picked back up.”

Deeming the Infectious Disease complex as one of “the kinds of investments that are crucial for public health” and for “ensuring we have a healthy population,” Udall promised to continue federal support of its programs.

Assistant News Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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