PITTSBURGH, September 24, 2007 Leaders from the University of Pittsburgh today celebrated the opening of the Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) at the University of Pittsburgh's 330,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Biomedical Science Tower 3 (BST3). The CVR houses both the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory and the Vaccine Research Laboratory and will allow the university to greatly expand research programs in naturally occurring diseases like SARS, West Nile virus, dengue fever and tuberculosis. These diseases are of special interest because the lethal microbes that cause them potentially could be exploited for terrorism.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, initially awarded the University of Pittsburgh $17.5 million in 2003 for the construction of the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL) one of only 13 centers of its kind to receive NIAID funding and the second of this elite group to open nationally. Supplemental funding by NIAID of $4.1 million and university support of $7.2 million increased the total construction budget to $28.8 million. NIAID cited the nation's deficit of biosafety laboratories as a significant barrier to progress in biodefense research when funding the laboratory.
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated that the new center furthers the university's tradition of unlocking secrets that have helped conquer some of the world's most devastating diseases. Just as Jonas Salk and his Pitt team of researchers provided the polio vaccine to the world, the new Center for Vaccine Research will further our university's commitment to developing new interventions to prevent infectious diseases -- interventions that have the potential to significantly improve global health, said Chancellor Nordenberg.
We are gratified by the confidence and support NIAID has shown in us to develop this essential facility, said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. The Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, in concert with existing resources at the University of Pittsburgh, will enable us to greatly accelerate the development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for viruses and other infectious agents.
The CVR, directed by Donald S. Burke, M.D., dean, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Jonas Salk Professor of Global Health, will employ approximately 150 faculty, staff and laboratory personnel and complement other ongoing research at the BST3 in structural biology, computational biology, genomics and proteomics, neurobiology and drug discovery.
With most epidemics, history has shown us that we are not helpless, said Dr. Burke. With the opening of the CVR, we will be better able to create new methods and strategies to keep potential epidemics under control and minimize their impact.
Located within the CVR, the RBL is a 27,300-square-foot biosafety level 3 facility dedicated to research on agents that cause naturally occurring and emerging infections, as well as potential agents of bioterrorism. The labs within the RBL are specially designed and constructed using the strictest federal standards, incorporating special engineering and design features to prevent microorganisms from being released into the environment. The RBL is available to assist national, state and local public health efforts in the event of an infectious disease emergency, including an act of bioterrorism.
In addition to the RBL, the CVR contains the Vaccine Research Laboratory (VRL), which occupies 16,000 square feet and includes dedicated biosafety laboratories, specialized instrumentation rooms, offices and conference rooms. The VRL offers an interactive research environment by providing access to microarray, robotic and mass spectrometry instrumentation. Much of the VRLs work will focus on understanding the variability of viruses and their ability to change over time and learning how to recognize different viral strains.
The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Together, their combined mission is to train tomorrow's health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease, and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care. For fiscal year 2005, Pitt and its institutional affiliates ranked seventh nationally among educational institutions in grant support from the National Institutes of Health.