UH Submits Proposal to Build New State-of-the-Art Biocontainment Laboratory

NIH award would enhance university's research capacity and state's bioterrorism preparedness

University of Hawaiʻi
Posted: Dec 21, 2004

HONOLULU — The University of Hawaiʻi, in collaboration with state, federal and private sector partners, announces plans to apply for one of five $25-million grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help fund and build a new state-of-the-art Level 3 Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (BSL-3) in Hawaiʻi. A decision on the university‘s proposal is expected in October 2005, and if accepted, a laboratory could be built and operational by 2010.

"Scientists at the University of Hawaiʻi are already conducting impressive and significant research relating to bioterrorism, environmental health and safety, and infectious diseases," said UH Interim Vice President for Research Jim Gaines. "This award, if granted, will provide the support needed to establish a state-of-the-art laboratory right here in Hawaiʻi that will not only benefit the university‘s students and faculty, but will provide a considerable boost in the state‘s bioterrorism and other health emergency preparedness efforts."

The new laboratory, which would be built adjacent to the current state Department of Health facility in Aiea, would be a key enabling facility for life, health and medical sciences research and development in Hawaiʻi and throughout the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, it would allow the university and the state to increase research capacity and improve preparedness efforts in relation to bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases.

According to a report released this month by the non-profit Trust for America‘s Health, Hawaiʻi is one of 20 states that do not meet standards for preparedness in responding to bioterrorism attacks or other health emergencies.

In addition to enhancing the state‘s bioterrorism preparedness, the proposed laboratory would provide a boost to the state‘s economy and the life, health and medical sciences industries.

"This facility would be a cornerstone in Hawaiʻi‘s infrastructure to serve our existing, expanding industry as well as attract new ventures to Hawaiʻi with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment," said Ted Liu, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "We foresee the Regional Biosafety Laboratory as the first step in developing a new life sciences mini-cluster in Aiea."

The NIH grant will provide the support needed to dramatically expand and improve the space and technology needed to conduct scientific experiments and examinations, eliminating the current practice of sending samples to the mainland for testing. There are currently no Regional Biosafety Laboratories on the West Coast, which places Hawaiʻi in a unique position to serve the West Coast and Pacific region with such a facility.

The university is collaborating on this effort and has received support for the project from various state and federal agencies as well as private sector partners, including the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; Department of Health; Enterprise Honolulu; Tripler Army Medical Center; Hawaiʻi Biotech; U.S. Pacific Command; Economic Development Alliance of Hawaiʻi; and Merrick.

The grant is administered by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). About $125 million in grants have already been awarded to five research institutions across the United States to program, design, construct and commission comprehensive state-of-the-art laboratories that will support research relating to biodefense and emerging infectious diseases. NIAID will award another $125 million in FY 2005 to fund 5 to 8 new awards in response to a new request for applications. Grant recipients will be announced in October 2005.