Less May Mean More For Federal Animal Disease Lab | KCUR

Less May Mean More For Federal Animal Disease Lab

Jul 13, 2012

The National Academies of Sciences issued a set of 10 conclusions today on the future of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas

The report says while there is a critical need for a so-called BSL4 lab to research the most dangerous emerging diseases that affect particularly livestock, it said the current NBAF proposal would be better... smaller.

In a teleconference with reporters this afternoon, committee chair Terry McElwain of the University of Washington, outlined the 3 options  his group was charged with looking at: moving forward with NBAF as proposed, scaling it back and collaborating with other labs, or utilizing the facility on Plum Island in cooperation with foreign labs.

The committee concluded the second option was the most practical.

“The committee did find it was possible to scale back NBAF as currently proposed,” Terry McElwain of the University of Washington said. 

McElwain said the committee investigated the number of research labs around the country and found it would be inefficient not to utilize the intellectual and capital investment those labs make available.

The committee discounted the option of using the existing top security lab on Plum Island.  The half-century old lab, the only place the most contagious and incurable large animal diseases are studied today,—is "outdated, inefficient…and (even with) investments , can’t meet bio safety standards.” At the same time, the report finds the U.S. should not rely on foreign labs for support.  Those labs, the committee found, might not have the same research priorities as we do.  Furthermore, dealing with a lab overseas is not a practical way to deal with a disease outbreak.

Senators Roberts and Moran issued a joint statement today with Governor Sam Brownback urging the White House to release funds for the construction of the lab in Manhattan.  Congress has allocated $165 million for the project to date.

Ground has been broken at the NBAF site on the campus of Kansas State University, where an enormous hole awaits the release of more  federal funds.

Meanwhile, Governor Brownback indicated in an interview earlier this spring that the state might be willing to add some funds for the project.

The committee ended it's  list of conclusions saying more study is needed; “to most appropriately fill critical laboratory needs ……..(DHS) will need …..a more comprehensive assessment.”  Committee member Terry McElwain said  he felt the committee added little to existing studies or literature.