Skip to main content

News & Media

News & Media Front Page

Duke Takes Local Approach to Global Biological Threats

Contact

Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- Scientists at Duke University Medical Center
are not waiting for avian flu, SARS or West Nile virus to wreak
havoc on the local community, nor are they waiting, unprepared,
for terrorists to attack with biological agents such as anthrax
or smallpox.

Instead, they are leading a national effort to develop the
next generation of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests to
protect citizens against such emerging threats to public
health.

At the heart of this effort, Duke is the first institution
in the nation to open a Regional Biocontainment Laboratory,
funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"Our goal is to protect the public from biological threats,
whether they occur naturally or are propagated by a terrorist
act," said the building's director, Richard Frothingham,
M.D.

"Because we live in a global society, infections that arise
anywhere in the world can quickly become relevant to us,"
Frothingham added. "We may think of them as far away, but they
do affect us locally."

Dedication ceremonies will be held at the new building on
Friday, Feb. 16, 2007, from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. The festivities,
which will include tours of the facility, will begin with a
breakfast and welcoming remarks by Frothingham.

The new laboratory is the first of 13 Regional
Biocontainment Laboratories to be constructed nationwide with
NIH funds. The 33,145-square-foot laboratory, which Duke has
named the Global Health Research Building, is located on Duke's
campus at the corner of Research Drive and Erwin Road. The
building's $22.4 million construction cost was underwritten by
$16.3 million from NIH and $6.1 million from Duke
University.

In addition to housing specialized research equipment, the
facility will provide additional resources during public health
crises, such as a flu pandemic, when local diagnostic
laboratories may be overwhelmed. The building also will serve
as a venue for educational programs in community safety,
infectious disease, immunology and public health.

"It is a certainty that new and changing pathogens will
continue to challenge our ability to rapidly and effectively
respond to protect our residents," said Brian Letourneau,
Durham county public health director. "This important new
regional facility gives Durham access to the most sophisticated
tools necessary to quickly identify agents and emerging
pathogens that will threaten our community."

Constructed under the most stringent interpretation of
federal guidelines, the Global Health Research Building employs
a variety of security and safety measures to protect the
surrounding community. The building is surrounded by a fence,
monitored by security guards, and supported by pillars capable
of withstanding hurricanes and tornadoes. Inside, the building
is divided into security zones, with access granted only to
authorized personnel.

Other measures include shower facilities that workers will
use to remove potential contamination before they leave the
building and epoxy-coated walls and floors that prevent
absorption of biological materials on surfaces. Work is carried
out within biological cabinets whose air is individually
filtered.

An emergency generator provides 100 percent back-up power to
the entire building to ensure that a power outage will not
compromise the measures in place.

Before any new research is undertaken, a careful ethical and
safety review is conducted by a panel of experts in biomedical
ethics, policy and law drawn from universities in the
Southeast, led by Robert Cook-Deegan, M.D. director of the
Center for Genome Ethics, Law and Policy at the Duke University
Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy.

Building personnel will undergo federal background checks
and will be trained in handling dangerous pathogens. Workers
will wear personal protective equipment, including seamless
gowns, gloves, foot covers and respirators, to guard
themselves, and others, from contamination.

"We have devised multiple, overlapping layers of safety and
security measures in order to provide the highest level of
assurance," Frothingham said.

The new building will be available not only to Duke
researchers but also to NIH-funded researchers at North
Carolina Central University, the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and other
research facilities throughout the Southeast.

Researchers will use the facility to conduct Biosafety
Levels 2 and 3 research. Among their efforts, they will study
pox viruses, which are relatives of the deadly smallpox virus,
plague, influenza and tuberculosis. No research will be
conducted on more dangerous and exotic microbes, such as Ebola
virus, as such research is restricted to Biosafety Level 4
facilities.

"New viruses like SARS emerge every few years, so it is
imperative that we improve our understanding of how viruses
work, replicate, and infect people so we are ready to protect
people when a new virus does arise," Frothingham said.

Other speakers at the building dedication will include
Richard Brodhead, Ph.D., president of Duke University; Victor
Dzau, M.D., chancellor for health affairs at Duke University
Medical Center; R. Sanders Williams, M.D., dean of the Duke
University School of Medicine; Barton Haynes, M.D., director of
the Duke Human Vaccine Institute; William Bell, mayor of
Durham; Brian Letourneau, M.P.H., director of the Durham County
Health Department; P. Frederick Sparling, M.D., director of the
Southeast Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections
and Biodefense; and Michael Kurilla, M.D., Ph.D., director of
the Office of Biodefense Research Affairs at the National
Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease.

News & Media Front Page