UTMB is home to the Galveston National Laboratory (GNL), a recently completed maximum containment laboratory with extensive BSL-2, -3 and -4 laboratories totaling approximately 300,000 square feet. When fully staffed it will house about 300 scientific, technical and support staff that will conduct basic discovery research as well as focused product development on emerging infectious diseases and pathogens of concern to our national security. The GNL is the only national laboratory in Texas, and one of only two national biocontainment facilities on an academic campus in the USA.
For the past three years Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has been instrumental in securing funding - $1.75 million in FY2008, $5 million in FY2009, and $5 million in FY2010 (pending) - to support the expansion of the National Biodefense training center on the UTMB campus. The NBTC will enhance UTMB’s existing internationally recognized biosafety training program, and will serve as the hub of instruction for the nation’s emerging infectious disease and biodefense researchers. The expansion will develop an integrated curriculum that includes a consensus BSL-3 and BSL-4 training program appropriate for researchers, management and infrastructure staff working within a biodefense environment.
The funds will expand the physical training facilities already located at UTMB, development of the training staff, creation of a defined curriculum, preparation of a well-equipped training facility, and the identification of senior mentors who can provide advanced, hands-on training within active BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories. The National Biodefense Training Facility will serve to protect and sustain the substantial investment that has been made by the federal government in high containment laboratories since the anthrax attacks of 2002, while ensuring the safe and secure operations of BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories nationwide.
With expanded construction in biocontainment research space over the past decade in the United States, there is a need as never before to increase the number of highly trained researchers and support staff that will be required to operate safely these high-tech facilities.
UTMB’s biosafety experts, research scientists and biocontainment engineers have trained more than 1,000 individuals for work in BSL2, high-containment BSL3 and maximum-containment BSL4 labs across the country - as well as more than 200 graduate and postgraduate students. The NBTC is in the process of developing an integrated curriculum that includes training programs for researchers, safety officers and biocontainment engineering staff working within a research environment. Dr. Thomas G. Ksiazek, a world-renowned expert on viruses, serves as director of the training center.
Construction of new high containment laboratories in the USA and abroad has led to an increased demand for scientists, technicians, facilities engineers and other support personnel trained to work in these highly specialized facilities. The federal government has funded construction of more than 2.6 million gross square feet of biodefense research facilities involving Biological Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) and BSL-4 laboratories at a cost of approximately $2 billion where researchers are now working to develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against the threat of bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases. Several hundred new scientists, technicians and engineering support personnel will be needed to staff these new facilities, and at present few opportunities exist to adequately prepare and train individuals for this important work.
Accidental infections occur among researchers due to lack of appropriate training, use of improper techniques or indifference to applying biological safety practices. Accidental infections can have a devastating affect on the individual scientist, may lead to secondary infections among family, friends and co-workers, increase institutional liability and place the parent institution and surrounding community in jeopardy. There is a major need for a systematic approach to biological safety level -3 and -4 (BSL-3, BSL-4) containment training to prepare personnel in the safe and secure handling of infectious pathogens. To meed this growing demand, UTMB has expanded its National Biocontainment Training Center to become a leader in laboratory safety.