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Bio lab earns $5M in funding

GALVESTON — The University of Texas Medical Branch's National Biocontainment Training Center has received a $5 million boost in federal funding support.

The funding, contained in the Department of Defense appropriations bill, was signed into law by the president Monday.

"We're proud that the government recognizes our expertise in training researchers so that they in turn will help our nation remain healthy and secure," Dr. David L. Callender, president of the medical branch, said.

"This commitment validates and reaffirms our safety training efforts."

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison led the effort for the medical branch to secure the funding on the Senate side, while U.S. Rep. Pete Olson did the same on the House side.

"We are grateful for our elected officials’ support," Callender said.

The medical branch is a nationally recognized leader in biocontainment training.

This type of training ensures researchers working to discover new tests, treatments and vaccines to combat emerging and re-emerging diseases, such as influenza, Ebola and West Nile virus, do so safely and within a secure laboratory setting.

Biocontainment measures protect both the safety of the researcher and the integrity of the research they are undertaking, as well as the safety of the surrounding community.

"Well-trained infectious disease researchers can and will advance the public health for the local, state and national community, and UTMB is setting the standard for that training," Dr. Thomas G. Ksiazek, the center's director, said.

Congress previously approved funding for the center in 2008 and 2009. This latest $5 million funding announcement brings the total federal investment in the program to $11.75 million.

In recent years, the federal government has funded construction of more than 2.6 million gross square feet of biodefense research facilities involving Biosafety Level 3 and BSL-4 laboratories at a cost of approximately $2 billion.

The Galveston National Laboratory, the only national laboratory in Texas, is among the new federally funded laboratories constructed.

It is anticipated that several hundred new scientists, technicians and engineering support personnel will be needed to staff these new facilities, and there are few formal programs to prepare and train individuals for this work.

To date, the medical branch's biosafety experts, research scientists and biocontainment engineers have successfully trained about 1,200 individuals to work in national and international BSL–2, –3 and –4 labs.

In addition to training tomorrow's research scientists to work safely in the containment laboratory environment, the medical branch's NBTC is also home to a unique Biocontainment Operations Fellowship Program – a two-year fellowship program designed to train individuals on the commissioning, maintenance, and operation of BSL–2, –3, and –4 laboratories.

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