Officials from K-State, the Department of Homeland Security and the Kansas Bioscience Authority were in Manhattan on Tuesday meeting with approximately two dozen scientists from across the country to plan out which research projects will be conducted at the BRI.
As part of those discussions, they announced that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Select Agents and Toxins has approved one laboratory wing of the BRI for use in experiments involving the Rift Valley fever virus. Those studies are expected to begin next summer.
The disease is one of eight planned for eventual study at the NBAF. It isn't likely to be the last such NBAF-related study initiated at the BRI.
"We are actively discussing how we can initiate the (National Bio and AgroDefense Facility) research mission at the Biosecurity Institute," said KBA president Tom Thornton.
Thornton said the BRI "crossed a critical hurdle in getting a permit for a select agent research project."
To become approved to study select agents, Pat Roberts Hall — home to the BRI — is scrutinized from top to bottom. Federal inspectors must have an intimate understanding of how the building's infrastructure works and review the laboratory's safety, security, medical surveillance and the facility's standard operating procedures.
"This is a critical mission," Thornton said. "The NBAF won't be finished until 2016 and so the extent of which we can initiate some of that research now to protect American agriculture."
The BRI is a biosafety level-3 facility. That means it can house research on indigenous or exotic agents that can cause severe or fatal diseases to animals and humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist.
When DHS officials prepared plans for the NBAF in 2008, Rift Valley fever virus was one of eight pathogens identified for eventual study there. The Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was prepared by DHS, the virus is transmitted to animals and humans by infected mosquitoes and possibly other biting flies.
Contact with, or consumption of meat from infected domestic animals is also a source of infection and can potentially lead to severe hemorrhagic fever or encephalitis, both of which may be fatal.
More common problems are minor symptoms of neck stiffness, sensitivity to light and loss of appetite.
"This research gives us the opportunity to react as quickly as possible to any new threat that arises," said Jamie Johnson, director for the NBAF project. "There is no capability in the country that can do this work for large animals.
There are emerging diseases that we do not have the capability to research and diagnose here in the United States.
NBAF will put in a better position to understand and respond to those diseases. Along with the roughly 30,000 square feet of research space, the BRI also has 10,000 square feet dedicated to training and education.
"People will come from around the world to be trained in the diagnostic and treatment of animals that are subjected to foreign animal diseases," said Ron Trewyn, vice president for research at K-State. "We see this as a great opportunity to train the next generation of workers for NBAF and those similar facilities."
The research capabilities of K-State's Biosecurity Institute were a significant reason the Department of Homeland Security chose Manhattan as the future home of the NBAF, Trewyn said.
The city and university are expected to complete site preparation work by September, when the 45-acre site will be deeded over to DHS. Construction on the NBAF lab is set to begin in early 2011.