UW biosafety lab provides crucial research opportunities
The long-awaited biosafety laboratory at the University of Wyoming (UW) was certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October 2021 and began serving as a functional lab in March of this year.
The lab provides a safe environment for scientists to investigate deadly biological agents, including the bacteria causing brucellosis.
Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal and former UW President Tom Buchanan broke ground on the lab in June of 2009.
“We had some structural problems when we turned on the air handling, so we had to renovate the facility to bring it up to specifications so we could work in there safely,” says Dr. Elizabeth Case, director of the facility. “The whole process of getting the building ready to go and certified for work wasn’t finished until about 2020, then we applied for certification.”
BSL-3 lab specifications
The infrastructure of a biosafety level three (BSL-3) laboratory is what makes it unique to normal research labs.
“We have special air handling,” says Case. “Before air is exhausted from the space, it’s filtered through high efficiency filters for decontamination. So, if we have any infectious particulates in the air, they never leave the facility.”
Air is always “flowing into the lab” due to the way the air handling is set up, says Case.
“The lab is negatively pressurized progressively,” she says. “Every time a door opens, air flows in. That’s different from most labs.”
She says the BSL-3 lab has built-in decontamination systems and high levels of security.
“We also have very specific training protocols everyone has to follow in order to be admitted to work inside,” she says.
Unique research opportunities
The lab offers UW and the state of Wyoming several benefits, says Case. Scientists now have the ability to work with infectious agents threatening both animal and human health which are endemic to the state.
“One of the main reasons we built the lab was so we had a safe place to do research with Brucella abortus – the agent causing brucellosis,” says Case. “It’s a major concern for cattle producers across the state, and it is a threat to human health as well.”
Other endemic diseases in Wyoming such as plague, Tularemia and Q fever can also be studied at the lab.
“These are all very serious, highly infectious diseases requiring high levels of security and containment to work with,” Case says. “Scientists can now do research with these agents and others like them in a safe and secure manner and find practical solutions to these problems in the state and region. The Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory can also use the facility to safely diagnose suspected animal cases for these agents.”
The lab has the capacity to assist in response to large foreign animal disease outbreaks.
“We are part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network which is mobilized when there’s some severe animal health emergencies with infectious diseases such as African swine fever or foot and mouth disease,” she says.
Case says UW is excited to have the lab up and running.
“We’ve already done our first research project in the lab on brucellosis – looking at strains circulating among elk in the state,” says Case. “We hope to have the results of the study processed and available soon.”
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.