State, local and national dignitaries gathered in Galveston today to ceremonially break ground for the nation’s first National Bio-Containment Laboratory, which is to be built at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
A bevy of Texas scientific and political leaders stood together to turn the ceremonial shovels, to mark the beginning of construction for what will be named the Galveston National Lab. UTMB officials say researchers will use this laboratory to study viruses and bacteria that cause a variety of highly contagious and deadly diseases, and, it is hoped, speed up development of treatments and cures. Dr. Robert Webster of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis Tennessee believes a facility like this is an absolute necessity in today’s world.
Webster says viruses have always mutated, but for a variety of reasons, they’re mutating faster in today’s world, and he believes the large scale industrialization of food production gets some of the blame. In the past, meat and poultry came from animals grown on small farms and ranches. Today much of the world’s meat and poultry comes from animals grown by the millions in huge commercial feed lots, which he says are perfect for breeding viruses, and science is constantly playing catch up.
Webster says keeping up with deadly viruses and bacteria is highly specialized work that must be done behind locked airtight doors in a sealed and secure environment, which can only be created in a biocontainment lab like the one that’s going up in Galveston. He also believes this lab and others like it will play a role in protecting the public from bioterrorism.
The Galveston National Lab will cost $167 million. 110 million from the National Institutes of Health, and 57 million from state funds and private foundations. They hope to have it completed by June of 2008.