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Animal Health

On time, under budget: Laramie’s BSL-3 lab in operation

Laramie – Coming in on time and under budget, on Nov. 19 the new biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) lab in Laramie was formally dedicated.
Governor Dave Freudenthal, UW President Tom Buchanan and other members of state and university leadership attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The addition, like the  Wyoming State Vet Lab itself,” said Frank Galey, UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources dean, “will serve multiple purposes. It will provide the multiple tools necessary for us to help Wyoming’s citizens and state government with animal health issues, and it will provide a safe and legal environment for faculty to conduct research and to do the diagnostic testing expected of a fully accredited and national recognized veterinary laboratory.”

The new $25 million BSL-3 lab space will allow research into select agents, including brucellosis. Since the Department of Homeland Security was established following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, research with live Brucella abortus bacteria can be conducted only in BSL-3 laboratories.

Galey said the addition and remodeled labs in the original building will serve many agencies, including the State Veterinary Lab, the Wyoming Livestock Board, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Department of Veterinary Sciences on the UW campus.

Groundbreaking for the facility was last June. The 20,000-square-foot addition contains a 1,280-square-foot BSL-3 lab and a 2,600-square-foot BSL-2 lab, plus other work rooms. The 5,860-square-foot renovation of the existing Department of Veterinary Sciences building, which houses the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory, includes modifications of the existing BSL-2 lab and conference and administrative offices.

“This laboratory is part of a large vision we have at UW, and the focus we have on diseases and the health of animals, both wildlife and domestic, and the nexus between those groups,” said Galey, who leads the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team, established by Freudenthal in 2004. “Despite the fact we’re not a veterinary school, we’re the only program in the country focused specifically on wildlife diseases in large wild ungulates like elk and deer and large domestic livestock. It’s important not only to this state, but also to the region and nation.”

“Wyoming is one of the key places where free roaming wildlife interact regularly with livestock, and it makes good sense for Wyoming and UW to be one of the few places that focus on diseases that impact the two,” said UW President Buchanan. “It makes sense for Wyoming to take care of its important industries, and this will help.”

“This state will probably have to be a leader among the states and this nation to figure out how we’ll solve the issue of brucellosis and the interaction of livestock and large ungulates, because there are no policy alternatives other than figuring out some scientific way to deal with it,” said Freudenthal.

The Governor added that the new lab space will also allow for more effective conversations with Idaho, Montana and the federal government.

“It has allowed me to advocate aggressively that we end up with a research agenda relating to these diseases, and in particular, brucellosis,” he said. “We can’t advocate that when they look at us and ask where we’re going to do the work. I have an answer now.”

Currently the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has more than six researchers and numerous graduate students working on issues related to prion diseases. That includes Hermann Schatzel, Wyoming Excellence Chair in Prion Biology. Schatzel’s specialty is in the study of prions, the proteins that underlie chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk. The same class of protein also causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

“We have researchers, graduate students and a host of great faculty already in this facility, but it’s not about the facilities, it’s about what happens inside them,” said Buchanan, noting that including Hermann Schatzel is one of the other investments Wyoming has made in the brucellosis eradication effort.
Buchanan said the BSL-3 capabilities will lead to improved modeling, testing, diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development. “All things that should be good for Wyoming,” he said.

“The new laboratory significantly enhances the university’s ability to provide work safety and efficiency for our faculty, our staff and our graduate students,” said UW Trustee Jim Neiman, adding it’s also valuable in recruiting and provides greater opportunity for graduate students to move up in their careers.

“The primary responsibilities of a land grand institution are research and outreach, and they’re extremely important missions to the university, and this lab is the perfect example of that research institution goal,” added Neiman.