Starting date for biosecurity institute’s research pushed back a year to early 2008

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It takes a long time to prepare a top-notch science facility for potentially hazardous research. For K-State’s Biosecurity Research Institute, it takes more than 1 1/2 years.

The institute, which had its ribbon-cutting ceremony in October 2006, will begin scientific research in early 2008, said BRI director James Stack. It originally was scheduled to begin research in January 2007.

“We’re testing again a lot of the systems and making sure that we can predict how they will perform under a wide range of conditions,” Stack said.

Stack also said he is training the staff to ensure proper equipment use and cleaning procedures.

“It’s a complex building,” Stack said. “It has a lot of technology you are not going to find in an ordinary research facility.”

Much of the staff, which includes several undergraduate students, is trained in a built-in training facility. Stack said the facility gives staff plenty of opportunities to work with the building equipment before it actually matters. He said a staff of 30-40 people is needed to ensure the building is ready for the scientists.

“I think it’s important that the community understands that it’s not just sitting out there and nobody’s paying attention,” said Jerry Jaax, associate vice provost for research compliance. “Before you can even acquire the agents, you have to go through exhausting conditioning.”

When it starts research, the institute, which is housed in Pat Roberts Hall, will focus on several biological threats to the environment, as well as biological issues like food safety, animal health, plant health and a variety of biological processes.

“I’m not aware of any other facility in the United States that will address the depth that this facility will,” said Ron Trewyn, vice provost of research.

Stack said the highly skilled staff will study several kinds of pathogens, insects and other organisms to gain knowledge and develop possible treatments.

Jaax said the BRI is special because it allows the scientists to work with actual organisms instead of reviewing research and making a determination through those observations.

“Most of the diseases we are talking about at the BRI, you can’t use,” Jaax said. “You can’t do anything with them can’t do anything with them unless you have a facility like this one.”

Stack said one of the main areas of research at the BRI will be the development of plant-based vaccines, which incorporate disease antigens purified and removed from plants. He said these vaccines are cheap and have few side-effects on people.

From student access to researching to bringing in high-profile scientists, Stack said the BRI will be an asset to the Manhattan and K-State communities.

One advantage of the institute will be the influx of highly regarded professors and researchers. Juergen Richt, lead scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Disease Center, was hired last week as a Regents Distinguished Professor. A renowned veterinary microbiologist, Richt plans to set up a new research program at the BRI.

“The fact that we’re able to attract scientists like him, I would say that’s one of the big benefits,” Jaax said. “It’s a magnet for these kind of people who are looking for special capabilities for programs you couldn’t do in a lot of places.”

Recently, the BRI has been overshadowed by the possibility of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility that might come to K-State. K-State is one of six final site proposals for the NBAF. The Department of Homeland Security will make its final decision in October 2008, and construction would be complete in 2013. Trewyn said the existence of the BRI increases the chances of attracting the NBAF.

Stack said the NBAF would not hurt the BRI. He said he hoped the institute could work closely with the NBAF to do preliminary and follow-up research and testing.

“That facility is going to be almost five times larger than ours, so we’re not going to be competing with them in any sense,” he said.

Stack said he believes the BRI is the largest non-governmental animal-research facility in the United States. Because of the multi-functional nature of the facility, Stack also said it was special to Kansas and the United States.

Stack said the facility would allow for a wide range of research in a world of growing biological threats. The rise of bio-terrorism and the increase of population migration are two of many motivators for research at the BRI, he said.

“I believe we need to do this,” Stack said. “We need this capability nationally, and I think we are going to continue to see threats with the introduction of organisms as consequence of the increase of trade and the increase of people moving around the globe.”

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