AR-News: Primate center is awarded big grant

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Wed Oct 1 19:56:23 EDT 2003


From: Primfocus 
Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2003 5:21 PM
Subject: primfocus: Primate center is awarded big grant


http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1064989530107320.xml
Primate center is awarded big grant 

New Covington lab will be one of nine


Wednesday October 01, 2003


By John Pope 
Staff writer 

Tulane University received a $13.6 million federal research grant Tuesday that catapults its primate center into an elite group specializing in newly discovered infectious diseases and illness caused by bioterrorism. 

"This will help us address human illness by treatment, by development of vaccines, and strengthen our capacity to fend off bioterrorism. We'll play an important role in both of these contexts," Dr. Paul Whelton, Tulane's senior vice president for health sciences, said at a news conference Tuesday. 

The award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, plus a required match of about $5 million from Tulane, will pay for construction of a 40,000-square-foot laboratory at the Tulane National Primate Research Center near Covington, where treatments and vaccines will be developed, said Andrew A. Lackner, the center's director. 

The new building at the primate center will be one of nine regional biocontainment laboratories that the NIH will underwrite. 

Tuesday's announcement marks the start of a 20-year agreement between Tulane University and the eight other universities that received the federal grants, Lackner said. 

The diseases that scientists are likely to study first represent a mixture of naturally occurring infections and those that could be used in bioterrorism, such as West Nile virus, tuberculosis, botulism, plague, tularemia, brucellosis and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, Lackner said. 

The new lab was touted Tuesday as an economic boon for the north shore, supplying construction jobs and positions for researchers and lab support staff. 

The center, home to about 5,000 primates, already has about 220 employees. Although Whelton declined to estimate how many jobs the new lab will create, he cited a National Science Foundation estimate that every $1 million brought into a community will generate about 35 jobs. 

"These are good jobs that are not going away," Whelton said. 

Construction at the primate center's 500-acre campus is scheduled to start next year and be complete by 2006, Lackner said. 

Standards for biocontainment structures are strict, to ensure that microorganisms stay in the lab, said Mike W. Aertker, an associate director of the primate center. 

Because of these regulations, construction costs are about $450 per square foot, he said. The architecture firm for the project is CUH2A of Atlanta. 

Among the building's features will be a biosafety lab rated at high-security level 3, where scientists clad in protective clothing will deal with potentially lethal organisms. The proximity of the organisms should not alarm the primate center's neighbors, Lackner said, because the primate center has had a biosafety level 3 lab for the past decade and has operated it without an incident. 

Other lab sites announced Tuesday are Colorado State University in Fort Collins; Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.; the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine; the University of Chicago; the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark; the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia; the University of Pittsburgh; and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. 

The establishment of the network of labs represents an acknowledgment that bioterrorism has become a fact of life, Whelton said in an interview. 

"One of the greatest accomplishments for any researcher is that his or her area disappears," he said. "I'd love to think that we'd be able to make this area disappear, but at this moment, I'm afraid I can't say that." 

Among the politicians who joined Tulane officials Tuesday in announcing the grant was state Sen. Tom Schedler, R-Slidell, who is facing re-election Saturday. 

"I wish those 5,000 monkeys could vote for me," Schedler said. After a pause, he added, "Since this is Louisiana, we probably could arrange that." 
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