(Left to Right:) Drs. Paul Brett , David Wood, Jonathon Audia, Mary Burtnick, and Herbert Winkler are all smiles at a news conference held announcing a construction grant to build a new BSL-3 lab on USA's campus.
The University of South Alabama College of Medicine has received a $14.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support ongoing research projects dedicated to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.
Funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the award is the largest competitive grant in the University’s history. It will fund construction of a new state-of-the-art infectious disease research laboratory to be located on USA’s main campus.
“The University of South Alabama College of Medicine has long been dedicated to improving the health of citizens through education and research toward the prevention and treatment of disease,” said USA President Gordon Moulton. “This competitive grant from the National Institutes of Health reflects the quality of our faculty and the medical research at USA, as well as the institution’s ability to stimulate the regional economy through its teaching, research and health care programs.”
The new facility will house multi-use laboratory research space designed to study infectious diseases and facilitate expansion of USA’s Select Agent Program. Dr. David Wood, Distinguished University Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, will serve as lead researcher for the grant.
“I am proud of our scientists and the quality of their research on infectious organisms,” said Dr. Samuel Strada, dean of the USA College of Medicine. “The insight provided by the work of Dr. David Wood and his colleagues has led to a clear understanding of rickettsial genetics, offering new insights and strategies on preventing and treating epidemic typhus. This facility will have a significant positive impact on the current and future development of our research programs in molecular medicine.”
Dr. Wood, who also serves as chair of the department of microbiology and immunology at USA, stressed the significance of the new grant.
“This award will enhance our research capabilities that are currently focused on select agent pathogens, Rickettsia and Burkholderia, which pose significant threats to human health and security, underscoring the need to further investigate these organisms,” said Dr. Wood. “This facility will also expand the opportunity for young researchers to develop successful, academic and scientific careers at USA.”
According to Dr. Wood, Rickettsia prowazekii is a species of bacteria responsible for epidemic typhus, an infectious disease transmitted to humans by lice. Epidemic typhus is a highly communicable disease that can cause high fever, rash, muscle pain, severe headache, delirium and even death. During World War I and World War II, epidemic typhus killed millions of people.
In research initiated by Dr. Herbert Winkler over 30 years ago, USA scientists have worked to establish a productive Select Agent Program centered on Rickettsia. Within the last six years, the Select Agent Program at USA has expanded to include the study of Burkholderia. Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found in soil and water, is a causative agent of melioidosis, an infectious disease. It can cause lung problems in humans, ranging from mild bronchitis to severe pneumonia and even death.
The new, 25,800-square-foot Laboratory of Infectious Diseases building (LID) will be constructed in the USA Technology and Research Park located at the north side of campus. It will replace the current Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory building, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. The new facility will more than double the current Biosafety Level 3 research capability at USA.
The LID building will include Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) labs and Biosafety Level 3 labs, as well as office and support space. BSL-2 lab space will be used to study standard disease-causing bacteria, while the BSL-3 lab space will be used to study agents of bioterrorism that seriously threaten human health.
Having separate BSL-2 and BSL-3 lab areas under one roof will simplify and accelerate the pace of research while allowing researchers to work in close proximity and foster collaborative efforts.
The new facility will incorporate state-of-the-art safety and security standards. Energy-efficient “green” principles will also be implemented into the building’s design. The project will provide safer working conditions, a more comfortable environment, natural daylighting, and will include sensors and software to maximize energy efficiency.
The construction of the research laboratory will stimulate the economy of the Gulf Coast region by providing both short-term engineering and construction jobs as well as long-term research positions, including faculty, research technology positions and opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.
Estimated completion for the facility is March 2013.