MU has won almost $17 million in federal grants to build and operate a one-of-a-kind center for swine genetics research and a regional biosafety lab, the university announced Tuesday.
The grants — about $10 million for the swine research center and almost $6.8 million for the biosafety lab — come from the National Institutes of Health. Last year, the NIH was the single biggest contributor of federal dollars for MU research: $44 million out of $106 million in federal funding, said MU spokesman Christian Basi.
The new National Swine Research and Resource Center was awarded $2.84 million for construction and $7.1 million for operations. The new facility, to be built southeast of the Animal Science Research Center on the southeast edge of campus, will serve as a “clearing house” for genetic strains of swine used in biomedical research by investigators worldwide, said Lela Riley, associate dean of research for the College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, the center will be used to develop genetically modified swine.
“We’ll bring animals in that are unique models that are being used by investigators,” Riley said. “We’ll then remove any infectious pathogens. We will cryopreserve them — or freeze the embryos — so those models are never lost, and then we will disseminate those models to investigators anywhere in the world that would be interested in using those models.”
Because swine share genetic and physiological traits with humans, they are often used in medical and genetic research. Although the new facility is expected to open in February 2006, swine research has been under way for many years at MU. The operations of the new swine center recently began running out of existing veterinary medicine facilities at MU.
MU also announced a $6.77 million grant Tuesday from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH, to build a regional biocontainment laboratory on campus. When completed in October 2007, it will be one of nine regional facilities nationwide. Two additional universities, Boston University and University of Texas at Galveston, received grants for high-level national facilities.
Regional biocontainment labs provide scientists with an environment to research “microorganisms that can cause major human diseases,” which can include pathogens used in bioterrorism but also include such diseases as West Nile Virus that affect both animals and humans, said Gayle Johnson, associate director of MU’s Veterinary Medicine Diagnostic Laboratory.
MU was chosen to house the facility because of its access to both medical and veterinary schools on campus, Johnson said.
“The entire project is trying to be able to respond to new disease emergencies in this whole system as they affect the human population, and our particular expertise is those environments that can affect both animals and man,” Johnson said.
Because of the sensitive nature of the research, the facility will be kept secure. Building access will be limited and security cameras will be in place, Riley said.
In addition, due to the toxins in place, special air, water and disposal systems will be required to keep pathogens out of the surrounding environment, Johnson said.
U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., had petitioned for federal funding for state research and was excited that MU was chosen to receive the grants, said Shana Stribling, a spokeswoman for Bond.
The new biocontainment lab will make Missouri better prepared for bioterrorist attacks as well as other types of “medical attack” including SARS and West Nile, Stribling said.
— Missourian reporter Brooke Pearle contributed to this report.