Infectious disease research at Colorado State University is getting ready to take a giant leap forward with the pending completion of the Rocky Mountain Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RMRBL) at the Judson M. Harper Research Complex on the Foothills Campus. Construction is now 99 percent complete, and faculty and staff are expecting to start a 21-day run in late July to test all systems. The building is currently going through commissioning with a system by system analysis.
Construction on the RMRBL is primarily funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and matching funds from Colorado State University. Construction began in December 2005. Once the 21-day test is successfully completed (planned now for Aug. 21 with a few days built in for re-starts), faculty and staff will begin testing and training on facility systems. Open house tours are planned for late September, and a ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 2. Work with infectious agents is planned to start on Nov. 15.
The building is at once innocuous looking from the outside, while state-of-the-art from the inside. Everything from floor structure to ceiling fixtures has been meticulously planned to enhance safety while promoting ease-of-use for multiple research projects all the while incorporating the latest in scientific equipment.
“Just looking at the fire prevention systems gives you a small idea of the planning that went into this facility,” said Dr. Ralph Smith, a Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Pathology and Immunology. “The fire prevention system incorporates high fog technology to suppress fires while causing a minimum amount of water damage. Each system has a series of back-ups to ensure safe operation even under unpredictable situations like power outages. We have an emergency generator capable of supporting the building for 24 hours. The entire system is build around redundancies for air, water and power.”
The RMRBL is built to incorporate BSL3 and BSL2 laboratories with a traffic flow pattern that allows for safe and efficient movement between different parts of the building. Those entering the building but not entering the BSL3 areas can come in and out without undergoing the more intensive biosecurity measures required for BSL3. Air exchange and venting systems, water capture and chilling systems, and electrical systems are all designed to support the needs of the laboratories, as well as be easy to maintain. Air management is particularly important as most BSL3 organisms under investigation at CSU are airborne infectious agents. Though researchers at the facility will be primarily from Colorado State University, space also will be used by faculty at regional universities, private industry and the federal government in collaboration with CSU scientists. The laboratory will support research in everything from basic biology to genetic engineering and vaccine development for diseases ranging from plague to West Nile disease, and look at airborne infectious diseases, targeting vaccines, diagnostics and antibiotics that are effective for these agents.
Emerging infectious diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian influenza, and West Nile virus, graphically illustrate the need for expanded research in emerging as well as established infectious diseases. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, 17 million people die each year from infectious diseases, with about half of those being children. Infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), account for one-third of all deaths globally, more than heart disease, famine and war combined.
“The BSL2 laboratories will support the work that goes on behind the barrier (the BSL3 labs), allowing us to keep support on site,” said Dr. Smith. “It’s been pretty amazing to watch this building go up, and we are very excited to begin our work here.”