University of Wyoming funding requests continue for BSL3 labWritten by Christy Hemken
“This is important work,” said UW President Tom Buchanan in a recent presentation to the Wyoming ag community. “The problem is growing and is compounded by increasingly complicated, and often capricious, federal regulations and by the well-justified concern by the public about how we treat and contain bacteria and viruses that produce the diseases with which you are all too familiar.”
Because the facilities in Laramie that contain the research were constructed well before many of today’s diseases were recognized, Buchanan said the bottom line is that the facilities are insufficient for what needs to be done as the state and university move into the future.
Three years ago funding was requested from the state to build the new lab facility. “The result was a study with the State Building Commission that considered facility costs in Cheyenne for public health and in Laramie for agriculture and livestock, which produced a cost estimate that’s far more than we seem to be able to afford this year, but the problem is still there,” said Buchanan.
“We met with some private individuals and companies to do a conceptual design that would include a BSL3 laboratory,” says Wyoming State Vet Lab Director Don Montgomery. “It was a conceptual design process to address several of the problems we perceive for the future for our laboratory. Unfortunately that went way over the budget that was projected for us.”
Instead, Montgomery says a proposal for a temporary modular BSL3 lab was forwarded to the Joint Appropriations Committee a few weeks ago, which has since requested additional information from university officials.
“The modular lab doesn’t address all of our pressing needs, but it would provide us with some valuable additional lab space in the meantime,” he explains.
Montgomery points out that in addition to a better and larger BSL3 facility – the current facility consists of a small room as part of a larger building – the lab needs an area large enough for postmortem examinations on animals with high-impact diseases.
“We have a very small room we call our ‘Closet’ that is the current BSL3 lab, and it’s 125 square feet,” he says. The current proposal for a modular lab would not allow any postmortem work, either.
“There are also additional concerns, because BSL3 labs don’t operate alone,” he adds. “They require the support of less secure lab facilities so researchers don’t have to shower in and shower out every time they come and go. The BSL3 lab does require the support of BSL2 labs and that’s where a lot of the work is.”
Until a high-impact pathogen is isolated it’s not considered at BSL3 level. “Once it’s isolated it has to be handled in a BSL3 lab and if we want to do additional work we have to do that in the secure lab,” explains Montgomery.
There are several pathogens in Wyoming that are a part of the list of organisms at BSL3 level, including plague, tularemia, and Q fever, which is caused by an organism inducing abortions in small ruminants.
Brucellosis is also classified as a BSL3 level organism. “There are some requests to remove brucellosis from the list, but the problem with brucella bacteria is that it’s on the ‘Select Agent’ list meaning it’s an agent that biowarfare people might use,” says Wyoming State Veterinarian Walt Cook. “We don’t think that’s very plausible, but because it’s on the list it’s got to be in the secure lab.”
Along with the request to remove brucellosis from the list, another request asks for exemption so the state can do some research on it in the current lab facilities.
“I want you to hear loud and clear from UW that the lab facility will remain a priority for the University of Wyoming. This isn’t because we need another building - it’s because we have a commitment to work with you as partners in preventing, diagnosing and eradicating the diseases that plague your livelihood,” said Buchanan in his address.
“It’s part of a long-term concentrated effort on the part of UW to make sure that we provide the support that your industry deserves,” he continued. “If you have the opportunity, join us in supporting this budget request until we get the job done.”
“Right now our needs are for BSL3 space and additional and more secure lab space,” says Montgomery. “A modular would be a major improvement, but it’s important the Legislature realizes the limitations of the building.”