Vet school begins construction on long-awaited bio complex
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 13:08
Tufts' Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has begun construction on the first building in its new Grafton Science Park.
The building, which will be the New England Regional Biosafety Laboratory (NERBL), will be used to further the study of infectious diseases affecting public health.
The lab is funded in part by a $19.35 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is an increase from the $15.6 million originally planned. An additional $6.4 million came directly from Tufts.
The NERBL will also serve as a regional resource for New England scientists who do not belong to the Tufts faculty but are conducting similar research.
"The presence of this lab will allow us to support the work of colleagues from other institutions," Cummings School Dean Deborah Kochevar said in an e-mail.
Tom Keppeler, associate director of communications at the Cummings School, said that the laboratory is the first of what he hopes will be many commercial enterprises within the Science Park.
"It is our hope that not only will the facility be able to further the research that our faculty here does in terms of looking at food- and water-borne illnesses, but also that it will serve as a magnet for businesses that are interested in developing products and solutions to those types of agents," Keppeler said.
Keppeler said that the Cummings School has yet to sign a developer when asked to identify these additional businesses. He is confident, though, that the Park will be appealing to biomedical companies looking into the research for and creation of new pharmaceutical products.
The laboratory is expected to span about 38,000 square feet, 23,290 of which will be reserved for ventilation and mechanical space that will help keep the institute running safely.
Keppeler hopes this ventilation space will ease the concerns of Grafton citizens who have expressed unease about potential public health risks caused by the use of pathogens in the facility. Pathogens are infectious biological agents that can cause disease or illness.
"I think that the school has worked very well and very closely with not only the officials in the town but also the townspeople themselves to allay any unsubstantiated fears about the nature of the work that is going to be done at the facility," Keppeler said.
Kochevar also said that educational programs have been held to explain why the lab is important.
Specifically, she said there have been a number of public forums during which Cummings School Division of Infectious Diseases (DID) Professor Saul Tzipori and a team of scientists presented information to the Grafton community regarding their work in the areas of E. coli contamination of food and Cryptosporidia contamination of water.
"The more others understand the need for treatment of these and other infectious diseases, the easier it is to understand the need for biocontainment laboratories," Kochevar said.
She also said that the town has been interested in the economic development associated with the Science Park.
"The NERBL is the anchor tenant in [the] Grafton Science Park and is expected to help generate interest from other [businesses]," she said.
Facilities working with infectious microorganisms are classified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) according to the nature and risk level of their research procedures and materials.
Grafton's lab will be classified as a Biosafety Level 3 facility, which, according to the CDC's Web site, is as any facility in which work is done with indigenous or exotic agents with a potential for respiratory transmission. These agents may cause serious and potentially lethal infection.
The NERBL is one of 13 of its kind that the NIH has committed to building across the country.
"We are very proud that the record of achievement of our scientists enabled the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University to receive NIH funding to construct the New England Regional Biosafety Laboratory," Kochevar said.
On-site work began late last month and workers are currently clearing and grubbing the land before beginning to pour the foundation, Keppeler said.
Assuming there are no complications with certification procedures, he said that based on current projections, construction should be completed in January or February 2009.