UW’s BSL-3 lab facility addition moves forwardWritten by Christy Hemken
The primary motivation for the new lab facilities is the expanded Biosecurity Level 3 (BSL-3) lab space, which will enable UW researchers to expand both their research and their funding sources through the multi-state agency project.
WSVL Director Don Montgomery says after construction the lab will be able to handle diagnostics for diseases such as brucellosis, plague and tularemia, diseases with which work has been very limited in the past.
“After working on this for about two years we’ve already got a final set of designs and floor plans that will be used,” says Montgomery. “They hope to begin with dirt work as early as May or June, and start pouring concrete in June sometime.”
Montgomery estimates $16 to $17 million of the $25 million appropriation will be spend on actual construction costs, with the remainder spent on design costs and other fees associated with the addition.
Construction will progress in two phases to minimize the disruption of day-to-day activities in the lab. Two-thirds of the addition will be constructed initially, while finishing the addition and renovation to the existing building will be completed last.
“One of the first things we’re going to do is get a new incinerator and get it commissioned so we can decommission the old one,” says Montgomery. “We hope to have little downtime, although there will obviously be some inconveniences.”
“One of the main advantages of the new lab space will be a better, safer and more secure area for us to work and do our diagnostics when we have cases of chronic wasting disease, brucellosis, plague and tularemia,” says Montgomery. “Dr. Andrews will also be able to continue his research and take it to the next step.”
Gerry Andrews, who’s worked on UW’s brucellosis research for the last four or five years, is on the lab’s user group steering committee to ensure the researchers’ needs and desires are met in regard to architecture and building. “We have the labs laid out the way we want them, and it’s going to be quite a change, and quite an improvement in terms of being able to expand and extend our capabilities,” he says.
“We’ll have multiple biocontainment labs and up to three invitro labs for working on brucella, plague and tularemia,” says Andrews. The new space includes two small animals rooms under BSL-3 containment. “One is a procedure room with a Class 3 glovebox, which is fully filtered, to do procedures on small animals, rodents and rabbits, and we have an animal holding area right next to that procedure room.”
Andrews notes the lab will now have small animal capabilities to work with fully virulent pathogens. “Currently we’re limited in our data to studying how the vaccine strain behaves in a surrogate animal. It’s a model that doesn’t exactly match nature, but it’s as close as we can get right now in terms of safety.”
Andrews says the new facility will also make the program more competitive for large federal grants. “I think we’ve been severely limited because we’ve been competing against folks that have large biocontainment facilities to handle the small animals in numbers that will provide significant data.”
“We’ve had this tiny little BSL-3 lab here, and we can’t do much with it. The addition will make us much more competitive for larger monies,” he adds.
In the future of the lab, Andrews says there’s the potential to expand into other special agent pathogens. “Right now there’s no real good BSL-2 model for plague. There is a model, but it’s not very good and we decided not to even pursue it. Now we can go full biocontainment and use fully virulent strains.”
Wyoming Livestock Board Director Jim Schwartz says he thinks the facility will prove important to both wildlife and livestock in Wyoming. Beyond vaccine research, he hopes to see development of a chute-side test for brucellosis. “We need better testing ability, and I think there are a lot of ways the lab can benefit the state on numerous issues. I think it’s exciting that we’ve had this level of support from the state.”
Montgomery says the addition and renovations will address building security, with some public areas for general clients and delivery but the rest of the building secured. “We do work with diseases potentially contagious to humans and potentially harmful to livestock and wildlife, so we’ll prevent visitors from carrying that back,” he says.
Tours of the facility with remain available, although they will be much more controlled than in the past. The lab will also still have student workers and lab demonstrations in the existing BSL-2 area, as well as a classroom in the public area.