Infectious disease research at Colorado State University marked a new age with the completion of the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL) at the Judson M. Harper Research Complex on the Foothills Campus. On October 2, the University celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a research symposium and a formal dinner.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was the culmination of a sophisticated building project that began in 2003 when the National Institutes of Health awarded $17 million to the University. Two years later, the University won a $5 million supplemental grant. An additional $8 million in University funding rounded out the $30 million project, with construction getting underway in 2005.
“While this is a multi-college and multi-institutional laboratory operation, infectious disease research specialists from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are playing a leadership role in the activities of this outstanding facility,” said Dr. Lance Perryman, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “With the completion of the RBL, Colorado State University has set the bar high as one of the most comprehensive infectious disease research programs in the nation, as well as in the world, with the necessary infrastructure in place to conduct cutting edge research on some of the most important diseases of our time.”
Testing on the building has been successfully completed, faculty and staff trained, and the building is ready to being research operations with fully functioning Biosecurity Level 2 and 3 laboratories (BSL2 and BSL3). The laboratory will support research in everything from basic biology to genetic engineering and vaccine development for diseases ranging from tuberculosis to West Nile disease, and look at arthropods that carry many infectious diseases, targeting primarily mosquitoes. Colorado State is particularly well known for its research programs in arthropod-borne diseases such as Dengue fever and equine encephalitis, and diseases caused by mycobacteria, including tuberculosis and leprosy.
The RBL is structured to incorporate BSL3 and BSL2 laboratories with a traffic flow pattern that allows for safe and efficient movement between different parts of the building. 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 private industry and the federal government, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with CSU.
“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. Ralph Smith, a Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Pathology and Immunology. “It’s been pretty amazing to watch this building go up, and we are very excited to begin our work here.”
Emerging infectious diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian influenza, and West Nile disease, graphically illustrate the need for expanded research in emerging as well as established infectious diseases. According to statistics from the CDC, 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.