Research Institutes and Centers
The Institute for Human Infections and Immunity (IHII) was established in October 2004 to facilitate and enhance program development and coordinate research activities in existing centers and programs at UTMB Health that focus on human infection and immunity. These include the Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, the Center for Tropical Diseases, and the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Arboviruses and Hemorrhagic Fever Viruses. This institute also is the university’s locus for administration of the Galveston National Laboratory (GNL), a $172-million, state-of-the-art, high-containment biomedical research facility. IHII is led by director, Scott Weaver, PhD. The IHII currently manages campus BSL3 and BSL4 biocontainment laboratory resources, oversees programs such as the select agent program, and oversees the McLaughlin Endowment, which supports research training in the fields of infection and immunity.
The Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CBEID), like the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity of which it is a part, is a multi-disciplinary organization that builds on the strengths and work of more than 60 researchers in UTMB’s Department of Pathology, Center for Tropical Diseases, and various other departments on campus. Administered by an executive director (David H. Walker, MD), three directors and an administrative officer, the center aims to reduce vulnerability of the U.S. and other nations to the use of biological weapons for warfare and terrorism and to alleviate suffering from emerging and tropical infectious diseases through application of basic, applied, and field research, and through education. Fields of research include basic molecular and structural biology, animal models of infectious disease pathogenesis, and aspects of vaccine and anti-viral drug development and evaluation.
BSL4 Laboratory (John Sealy Pavilion). The Robert E. Shope, MD, Laboratory in the John Sealy Pavilion for Infectious Disease Research was until recently the only full-sized biosafety level 4 facility on a university campus in the United States. The 2,000 sq ft laboratory accommodates research on highly infectious, potentially lethal agents, such as the highly pathogenic hemorrhagic fever viruses. The suited laboratory requires entrance and egress of personnel through a chemical shower. Equipment and samples move through double-door autoclaves, an air lock, and an immersion tank. A high intensity Cobalt-60 irradiator inactivates infectious samples for study at lower containment levels on certain types of assays, such as antibody testing and proteomics. All operating and safety protocols are in place and approved by the Institutional Biological Safety Committee, as is a training program. The laboratory, housed in a limited-access support building, is divided into two approximately equal parts. One half is equipped as a classical and molecular virology laboratory. This area has all the equipment needed for virological studies, including incubators, biosafety cabinets, centrifuges, balances, microscopes, and freezers. A small section houses centrifuges and a reference collection of BSL4 virus strains. The other half is an area for animal holding, mostly rodents. Laminar flow isolators for each cage separate the animals, allowing for study of multiple agents. The animal space can be re-configured for use as a separate BSL4 module or an augmented BSL3 laboratory.
The National Biocontainment Laboratory at Galveston (The Galveston National Laboratory; GNL) provides laboratory space for research on new therapies, vaccines and diagnostic tests for naturally occurring emerging diseases such as influenza and West Nile encephalitis, as well as protective measures against viral and bacterial agents that could potentially be spread as a result of bioterrorism. The new $172 million structure has approximately 174,000 gross sq ft, 63,000 of which is dedicated to laboratory space for BSL2, BSL3, and BSL4 laboratories. The seven-story research building has 12,362 sq ft of BSL4 laboratory space, 18,223 sq ft of BSL3 laboratory space, 13,368 sq ft of BSL-2 laboratory space, and 8,733 sq ft of animal support space.
The Sealy Center for Vaccine Development (SCVD), inaugurated in December 2001, has 69 faculty members and incorporates the expertise of more than 100 cutting edge research programs currently underway at UTMB. The center fosters the highest quality collaborative and programmatic research and facilitates the translation of laboratory findings to prevention of infectious diseases in the community. Members of the center also examine influences on vaccine acceptance and uptake, and address issues relevant to the development of public policies governing health care. In addition, the center facilitates education and training in vaccinology for graduate students and physicians. The facility has dedicated sections for performing state-of-the-art techniques including: cell culture, cell sorting, and molecular biology. Shared equipment rooms, cold rooms, and a darkroom are adjacent to laboratories. Specific examples of diseases and pathogens for which vaccine development research and/or clinical trials are being conducted include malaria, respiratory viruses (including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus), flaviviruses (including Hepatitis C), sexually transmitted diseases (including genital herpes, papillomavirus, and gonorrhea), rickettsial organisms (including Rickettsia and Ehrlichia spp.), Rift Valley Fever, and enteric bacteria such as H. pylori. Its community outreach program develops and implements model programs which foster increased rates of vaccination in the local community and can be exported to other communities.
The World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses (WRCEVA) at UTMB, directed by Dr. Robert Tesh, Professor of Pathology, is a virus reference center for the world. Any zoonotic virus suspected of being biologically transmitted by arthropods or vertebrates is accepted for identification and characterization. A collection of more than 640 already characterized type viruses is maintained with complementary sera and diagnostic antigens. In addition to arthropod-transmitted viruses, a number of other vertebrate viruses (i.e. poxviruses, paramyxoviruses, orthomyxoviruses, herpesviruses, coronaviruses, hantaviruses, arenaviruses, picornaviruses, and rhabdoviruses) together with their respective antigens and antisera are included in the reference collection. Many of the latter viruses were initially isolated and characterized by arbovirologists, as these agents have occasionally been isolated from clinical samples taken from wild animals or people during arbovirus field studies. Training is another important part of the Reference Center’s activities. In addition to graduate students and fellows, a number of visiting scientists each year spend time in the Reference Center, learning classical virologic and serologic techniques, as well as newer molecular methods for arbovirus assay and identification. Members of the Reference Center staff also participate in workshops and conferences on arbovirus techniques and arboviral diseases.
The Western Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (WRCE) responds to NIAID’s call for creating strong infrastructure, multifaceted research, and product development activities applying the best basic, translational, and clinical science. UTMB leads more than 30 institutions in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana who combine their energy, creativity, and resources to develop new diagnostic, therapeutic, and vaccine countermeasures for Category A, B, and C pathogens posing threats as agents of bioterrorism. Five scientific cores provide access to standardized small animal and nonhuman primate models of infectious diseases, BSL4 laboratory facilities, computational biology resources, and small molecule screening.
UTMB’s Animal Resources Center (ARC) encompasses 98,126 sq ft in 9 facilities across campus and is AAALAC (Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory and Care International) accredited. UTMB operates to comply with the USDA Animal Welfare Act (Public Law 89-544) as amended by PL91-579 (1970), PL94-279 (1976), and 45 CFR37618 (6-30-80); Health Research Extension Act of 1985 (Public Law 99-158); follows the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (revised September 1986); and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals DHEW (NIH) 85-23 revised 1985. UTMB is a registered Research Facility under the Animal Welfare Act. It has a current assurance on file with the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), in compliance with NIH Policy. The ARC follows all standards for AAALAC and institutional IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) compliance and is staffed by full-time veterinarians and professional staff overseeing all program aspects. The ARC provides animal care and holding space to support a wide range of animal models, surgery, and research. Rooms are available to provide barrier- and virus antibody free- (VAF-) housing for rodents. Facilities up to animal biosafety level 4 (ABSL4) are available. New facilities for a rodent barrier and for large animal holding were added in 2007. Trained animal care staff members serve the BSL3 and BSL4 facilities. They have access to the experimental rooms, are approved by the Department of Justice, and all of the experiments with select agents are planned and coordinated along with the animal care staff.