Mason Dedicates New Biomedical Research Laboratory

Posted: June 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm, Last Updated: June 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

By Marjorie Musick

The new Biomedical Research Laboratory on the Prince William Campus. Creative Services photo

George Mason University administrators, faculty, staff and students, as well as elected officials and members of the community, celebrated on June 10 the formal dedication of the university’s new Biomedical Research Laboratory (BRL).

This facility provides Mason researchers with tremendous new opportunities to advance their groundbreaking work on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases and contribute even more to the national effort to fight bioterrorism.

Mason’s BRL is one of only 13 regional biocontainment laboratories that have been or are being built nationwide through competitive grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Representing the U.S. mid-Atlantic region for NIAID, the $50 million, 52,000-square-foot stand-alone facility is located on a secure, 10-acre site adjacent to Mason’s Prince William Campus in Manassas, Va., and features more than 20,000 square feet of lab space.

The dedication of the lab was the culmination of a five-year building project that began in 2005 when Mason was awarded a $27.7 million grant from NIAID. The university provided approximately $20.3 million in matching funds, and the Commonwealth of Virginia committed $2.5 million for land acquisition under former Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner.

“I was pleased to support this effort when I was governor to construct this nationally important laboratory here in Virginia,” says Warner, who now serves as a U.S. senator.

“The dedication of Mason’s BRL is another giant step forward in growing our biotech industry and revving-up Virginia’s economic engine.”

Charles Bailey, executive director of Mason’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, agrees that this facility is quickly becoming an economic driver for Mason and the Prince William region.

“The laboratory and campus have already served as magnets for the biotech industry and for out-of-state biotechnology companies interested in moving to Northern Virginia,” says Bailey.

“By bringing new research jobs to Prince William County – such as infectious disease scientists and technical support personnel – as well as attracting new grants and funding, we hope that the facility will lead to significant economic growth.”

The BRL is managed by Mason’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases in the College of Science. It contains highly sought-after biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) laboratories where Mason researchers will develop and test the next generation of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics to protect individuals against bioterrorism and infectious diseases.

Research will focus on newly emerging diseases such as Rift Valley Fever and influenza viruses, as well as on pathogens such as anthrax, plague and tularemia, which the U.S. government considers to be potential bioterror threats.

Vikas Chandhoke, dean of Mason’s College of Science, notes that the work Mason researchers will be conducting in the BRL is important not only to the region, but to the country as a whole.

“The national and international significance of the Biomedical Research Laboratory will afford the College of Science and George Mason University a higher level of visibility among the nation’s research institutions that will present new opportunities to compete for federal and private funding,” says Chandhoke.

“The complexity and significance of the research programs to be implemented in the new facility will attract to Mason some of the most acclaimed scientists in the country, who will in turn develop next-generation vaccines and therapies that will benefit people around the globe.”

Mason is already a respected research university — with more than $100 million in external research funding in 2009 — and the BRL provides Mason’s scientists with the highly specialized facility and cutting-edge equipment they need to take their critical investigations to the next level.

While conducting life-saving research is the laboratory’s ultimate goal, one of the top priorities for the university is the safety and security of the new facility. BSL-3 laboratories have been constructed under the most stringent federal guidelines and are explicitly designed to protect scientists, the public and the environment from the small amounts of biological agents used in research.

Extensive operating procedures and protocols have been established to further ensure the safety and security of the facility and its staff. For example, personnel undergo specialized training before working with infectious agents, including everything from wearing special protective clothing to showering after leaving lab spaces to undergoing rigorous federal background checks prior to being employed by Mason.

“Mason is honored to have been awarded this competitive NIAID grant to build the BRL, which is a tribute to our highly regarded team of infectious disease experts and proven track record of biodefense research success,” says Bailey.

“This is groundbreaking work we will be doing, and we feel certain that our BRL-based research will lead to medical breakthroughs that will ultimately help protect the nation from bioterrorism and outbreaks of infectious disease.”

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