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RBL Frequently Asked Questions

Why are RBL laboratories needed?

The anthrax scare in the fall of 2001 made it clear that the United States was not appropriately prepared to deal with the potential misuse of biological agents by terrorists or with newly emerging infectious diseases such as SARS or avian influenza. As part of the federal response to these major human health problems, the Department of Health and Human Service's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) devised a multi-faceted research program to address the issues.

This program is known as the NIH/NIAID National Biodefense Program. The first component of the program involved establishing the intellectual infrastructure, consisting of teams of scientists who will do the work. These are known as Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases or simply RCE's. Each of ten regions in the country has, or will have, its own RCE. The second component of the program was the development of state of the art facilities for safely working with potential human pathogens. This included two large Biosafety Level 4 Laboratories (BSL-4) known as National Biocontainment Laboratories and 13 Regional Biocontainment Laboratories referred to as RBL's.

Tulane University, through its Tulane National Primate Research Center, participates in two of the RCE's: one is led by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, and the other is led by Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. In addition, Tulane University was successful in obtaining one of the Regional Biocontainment Laboratories that will be used by Tulane scientists as well as by collaborative scientists within the RCE's to develop new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to protect the nation's population. The Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases and the National and Regional Biocontainment Laboratories (also referred to as Biosafety Laboratories) form the core of the National Institutes of Health's efforts to protect the population against biological threats.

Has there ever been an accident at this type of research facility in the United States that caused release of pathogens into the environment?

No.

How much will the project cost?

The estimated cost of the project is $25 million.

Who is paying for the project?

The cost of the RBL is being shared by the federal government and Tulane University. The federal government's share of $17.6 million comes from the Department of Health and Human Services through its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, (NIAID) which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Tulane University's share, which is a required match, is $5.9 million.

When will construction of the RBL begin and be completed?

Many factors influence the starting and final completion dates. However, construction will be completed approximately two years after ground breaking which is scheduled in the Winter of 2009.

What kinds of animals will be used in the research, where will they come from, and how will they be cared for?

Rodents and nonhuman primates will be used in the research and are obtained from vendors that are incensed and inspected by federal government agencies. Fully licensed and trained veterinarians and animal caretakers under their direct supervision will administer humane care and medical treatment to the animals.

Will the results of the federally funded research carried out in the RBL be shared with the public?

Yes, it will. The goal of this national research program is to provide information that will guide the development of diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines to protect citizens against emerging infectious diseases and agents of bioterrorism. The results of all research carried out in the RBL will be published in the same manner as other NIH funded research results.

What will happen to the animals when they are no longer needed?

They will be humanely euthanized and disposed of through a federally approved process that renders all agents inert. No animal will leave the facility, and no incineration is needed.

How will biological agents be transported to and from the RBL?

The shipment of biological agents is governed by national and international regulations as well as those of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infectious agents are shipped in sealed capsules that are packed in highly durable, watertight containers. These containers are then packed in dry ice inside STYROFOAM boxes that fit into larger shipping boxes.

Willlocal police, fire and rescue personnel need additional training to be able to respond to any emergencies that may result from the RBL?

Following the terrorist activities of past years, such as anthrax being released into the mail system, emergency personnel regularly receive emergency response training for biohazard emergencies.

What will be studied in the RBL?

Tulane University scientists and collaborating scientists from other institutions will study a variety of pathogens including bacteria, viruses, and biotoxins. The goal of these studies is to develop drugs, treatments, vaccines and new diagnostic tests to combat these microorganisms and biotoxins so that they no longer pose a threat to public health.

Who will provide oversight of the RBL?

The RBL will be owned and operated by Tulane University. Only personnel trained in biocontainment procedures and authorized for work with these agents will be allowed into the RBL. Agencies involved in regulatory oversight for the RBL include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health.

What security plans will be in place to keep the building safe?

The RBL building will be constructed in accordance with federal standards. A variety of security measures will be in place to keep the building and its contents safe.

What type of security clearance will the workers in the laboratory need?

Clearance for all employees in the building will be determined by the Tulane National Primate Research Center and will also be consistent with institutional and federal government mandated regulations and standards. For example, all employees working with select agents in the RBL are required to undergo a federal background check.

What are your evacuation plans if something leaks from the building?

The Tulane National Primate Research Center has an emergency response plan currently used for various disasters, including hurricanes, fire, floods and other natural disasters. Evacuation procedures associated with the new RBL have been incorporated into our current emergency response plan. It is worth noting that our existing BSL-3 laboratory remained operational and secure during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Why was Tulane University's Tulane National Primate Research Center chosen as one of the sites for a RBL?

The Tulane National Primate Research Center has a long history of infectious disease research using nonhuman primates. In addition, the Tulane National Primate Research Center has an existing BSL-3 facility that has been in operation, without incident, for over 15 years. Our scientific expertise along with our experience with infectious disease research using nonhuman primates was a major reason we were selected.

What is the Tulane National Primate Research Center's experience in working with a BSL-3?

The Tulane National Primate Research Center has operated a BSL-3 laboratory for over 15 years. Among other currently planned RBL sites in the country, we are uniquely qualified to operate this new BSL-3 laboratory because of our past experience.

Where is the RBL building going to be located?

The RBL will be located on the grounds of the Tulane National Primate Research Center which is located in Covington, Louisiana.

Are there plans for other buildings near the RBL?

The Tulane National Primate Research Center has a complete Master Plan that includes the new RBL and a variety of other buildings in the same area. At present, the TNPRC has funded construction and renovation projects involving three other buildings in the same area.

What will be the benefits to the community from the laboratory?

The research will benefit the community as new treatments and preventive vaccines against emerging and reemerging infectious diseases will be developed. The actual building of the RBL will have a significant economic and community impact as well. In addition to the construction jobs that will be generated, permanent jobs at all levels, including lab technicians, scientists and administrative staff, will be created to operate the RBL.

Can anyone visit the RBL building?

Once the RBL is operational, access is restricted to those specifically trained and authorized to enter the facility.

The TNPRC is a division of Tulane University (985) 871-6201 tnprc@tulane.edu