Animal disease research facility NBAF approaches completion in Manhattan after 10 years

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The animal diseases studied in the Biosecurity Research Institute are similar to what will be studied in the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. This training room prepares researchers for work in BRI. (Peter Loganbill | Collegian Media Group)

Ten years after the announcement of its planned construction in Manhattan, work on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, is marching along.

The $1.25 billion project, which was selected for construction north of Kansas State’s campus in January 2009, is on schedule to finish construction in 2020 and be fully operational by 2022.

Ron Trewyn, NBAF liaison for K-State, said delays in construction were caused by enhancements to the building’s security and infrastructure that raised both the initial cost and the time it took to gather the required funding.

“This facility, as currently designed, exceeds the requirements for a nuclear power plant,” Trewyn said. “[If a] tornado picks up a 4,000 pound automobile and hurls it into the building at 100 mph, it’s not going to penetrate.”

Manhattan was chosen as the facility’s location after a three-year selection process. Once the facility is finished, it will be operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“With our vet school and our College of Agriculture, we have a lot of similar expertise and proximity to animal health research, particularly with livestock,” Trewyn said. “They recognized [that] the more scientists you have working on similar things, the faster you get to solutions.”

Fifty-six percent of the total worldwide animal health, diagnostics and pet food sales are by companies in what is known as the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, which stretches from Manhattan to Columbia, Missouri. When there are new developments at NBAF, such as vaccines and treatments, these commercial entities can help distribute the new products.

NBAF is currently planned to be used for researching eight harmful animal diseases, which is why security and safety precautions at NBAF were enhanced to be state-of-the-art. It will be a biosafety level 4 laboratory, the highest level of security for hazardous organic materials — and the level of security needed for pathogens with no cure or treatment.

“The facilities are designed to protect the people working in there and to keep things isolated in the building,” Trewyn said. “The technology is amazing in these facilities.”

Currently, four of the eight diseases NBAF will focus on are being studied at the Biosecurity Research Institute in Pat Roberts Hall, including African swine fever virus and classical swine fever virus. Owned by K-State, BRI is the first and only non-governmental facility in the U.S. approved to work with these pathogens.

While BRI only has five research rooms and sees a greater variety of pathogens than NBAF will, including plant and poultry diseases, NBAF will have 46 research rooms focusing on livestock diseases.

Once NBAF is completed, it will collaborate with BRI on research projects. Both facilities specialize in preventing the spread of deadly diseases.

“We do quite a lot of research on animals,” said Stephen Higgs, associate vice president of research at BRI. “The purpose of that is to ultimately save the lives of animals, which is something that we take very seriously. They get the best of veterinary care. There’s a lot of scrutiny and oversight and protocol development.”

Another animal disease that will be studied at NBAF is foot-and-mouth disease. Research is currently being conducted on this disease at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.

The Plum Island facility has served the Department of Homeland Security for over 50 years, but because of its small size and insufficient security, NBAF was conceived as a replacement. As such, the Plum Island facility will close down when construction on NBAF is completed.

“What’s significant about NBAF is it will be the first time the federal government has had a laboratory at this containment level and of this size that will allow for livestock research,” Marty Vanier, director of partnership development for NBAF, said. “The current laboratory on Plum Island, New York is really quite small.”

The ongoing partial government shutdown has had no effect on the construction of NBAF because the Department of Homeland Security contracted private construction companies to build the facility.

“We’re in the construction phase and the contractors are on site working every day,” Trewyn said.

The hiring process has already begun for NBAF, and it is estimated that it will bring in 350 to 400 employees.

“It will have a positive impact on the economy,” Trewyn said. “Jobs. High paying jobs.”

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I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm one of the assistant news editors at the Collegian. After transferring from Johnson County Community College last semester, I am now a junior in Public Relations. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@collegianmedia.com.