This is an architectural rendering of the proposed $167 million Galveston National Laboratory (GNL) now undergoing federal environmental impact review. The six-story, sophisticated biomedical research facility, projected to be completed by mid-2008, would rise on the site of the old Gail Borden Building. Funded largely by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the planned structure is being designed by the Houston architectural firm Perkins & Will/B2HK. Just two such national biocontainment laboratories are planned currently—the other one is in Boston.
Inside the GNL, scientists could safely study infectious agents that pose threats as naturally emerging diseases or those that might be used by bioterrorists. The purpose of the GNL is to house scientific research projects that can rapidly create and evaluate countermeasures to diagnose, prevent, or effectively treat such infections. The aim is to protect people against these dreaded diseases, not to develop biological weapons.
This scientific mission is critically important: In many cases there are no readily available vaccines or therapies to protect against the infections to be studied. In addition to offering a large amount of research space at biosafety levels 2 and 3, the Galveston National Laboratory would contain a full complement of labs operating at biosafety level 4 (BSL4), the highest and most secure level of biological containment. (Last summer UTMB began operating its smaller, 2,000-square-foot BSL4 lab, the Robert E. Shope, M.D., Laboratory inside the John Sealy Pavilion for Infectious Diseases Research. That one is the first such “space suit” facility on a university campus in the United States.)
The GNL is to be owned and operated by UTMB in support of the NIH’s biodefense research agenda. It also could support public health efforts in the event of a public health emergency. All of the research to be done within the facility would be directed or—in the event that research is carried out by guest investigators from other institutions—overseen administratively by UTMB scientists and faculty.