The Galveston National Laboratory (GNL) is a high security National Biocontainment Laboratory housing several Biosafety level 4 research laboratories, run by the University of Texas Medical Branch for exotic disease diagnosis and research. The GNL is one of only two such facilities in the United States and the largest one in the world located on an academic campus. The Laboratory provides much needed research space to develop therapies, vaccines and diagnostic tests for naturally occurring emerging diseases such as SARS, West Nile encephalitis and avian flu, as well as for microbes that might be employed by terrorists.
The Galveston National Laboratory (GNL) opened in November 2008 on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. This unique facility is the largest operational high containment research laboratory located on a U.S. college campus, and it likely has as many scientists trained to work at Biosafety Level 4 (the highest level of biocontainment), as any facility in the world.
The mission of the GNL is to assist the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the nation by conducting basic and applied research designed to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of naturally emerging and purposefully disseminated infectious diseases. Scientists at the
GNL are involved in both basic and translational research and collaborate with universities, government agencies, and pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies around the world to understand highly infectious diseases and to develop, test and evaluate diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
The unique facilities and core services offered at the GNL have attracted a large concentration of faculty and scientists who are considered to be among the best in the world when it comes to global health security, biodefense, and emerging and re-emerging diseases. It’s also the home to the World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses (WRCEVA), a collection of more than 5,000 viruses from around the world. The WRCEVA aids public health and biosecurity by making it possible to promptly analyze disease outbreaks and identify new and emerging viruses. It serves the international research community with basic characterization and distribution of zoonotic viruses and viral reagents.
According to Dr. Jim Le Duc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory and an expert on infectious disease and public health, one of the biggest concerns facing U.S. scientists and their institutions is the potential to become isolated from the rest of the world as the result of increasing U.S. regulations.
“Medical research is a collaborative effort, and it is becoming more difficult to share specimens and develop partnerships with international laboratories. This is occurring at a time when there are growing numbers of high containment labs around the world and there is more need than ever to use science diplomacy to improve relationships and to assist in medical developments,” says Le Duc.
The Galveston National Laboratory is where some of the most important research on exotic diseases and their medical countermeasures is conducted. Scientists at the GNL are among the world’s foremost experts on Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers, and new vaccines to protect people from Ebola have been developed there.
“We’ve known all along, but it became obvious recently that rare, highly infectious diseases are just a plane ride away. That is why it is so critical that we balance the needs of science and security. We can’t shut down the ability for scientists to collaborate internationally because of unfounded security concerns,” Le Duc says.
Le Duc and his team at UTMB know a lot about biosecurity. As part of NIAID’s Biodefense Laboratory Network, the national lab is charged with being prepared to shift gears and assist in response to a bioterrorism act or the advent of an infectious disease epidemic. The GNL also is home to the National Biocontainment Training Center, where scientists from across the nation and around the world train to work safely and securely with the world’s most dangerous pathogens.
Le Duc says the GNL is excited to be a part of Research!America. The lab and the university share the organization’s concerns over research priorities, funding, and global health security.
“We are looking forward to being involved, sharing our expertise, and learning from the experts at Research!America,” says Le Duc.