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Tufts University Awarded $15-Million NIH Grant

Tufts University Awarded $15-Million NIH GrantTufts' Cummings Veterinary School recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health to build a biosafety laboratory to study naturally occurring diseases of public health importance.

No. Grafton, Mass. [09.07.05] The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University has received a $15-million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to build a state-of-the-art, regional biosafety laboratory in which to advance research into food and water-borne diseases of public health importance.

The new laboratory will serve as a substantial research resource to serve the growing life sciences cluster in Central Massachusetts, currently home to the second largest number of biotechnology, medical device and pharmaceutical companies in the Commonwealth. The NIH grant will provide 75 percent of the funding to build the 30,000-square-foot research building in Grafton Science Park on the western portion of Tufts' Grafton campus. Tufts will contribute $5 million toward the cost of the building. The research building will house biosafety level-2 and level-3 labs, and is designed to provide state-of-the-art safety protections for those working in the labs as well as the surrounding community. It is tentatively scheduled for operation in 2008.

"This research building will provide the safest possible environment for our scientists to continue their work to improve human and animal health," said Sawkat Anwer, PhD, DMVH, interim dean of Tufts' Cummings Veterinary School. "Tufts' Division of Infectious Diseases will use the new laboratory facility to safely continue its internationally esteemed research into preventing, detecting, and treating food and waterborne diseases that are frequently transmitted by animals. Tufts' Cummings Veterinary School researchers have been successfully studying these diseases since 1990."

More than 75 percent of all infectious diseases that have emerged in the last 50 years have come from animals. Research into these diseases is not only important to the public health but also bolsters the nation's biodefense. Because veterinary medical researchers have experience with these diseases from their work with animals, they are in a unique position to understand the links between the diseases in humans and animals. It is Tufts' mission, as well as the mission of other veterinary schools, to help meet such current and future public health challenges.

Once in operation, the new laboratories will support NIH-funded biodefense and emerging infectious disease research. They will also support the development and testing of childhood vaccines for the developing world, through an award made recently to Tufts scientists by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative.

This new facility will also serve as a research and educational resource for the region's veterinarians and scientists who are working to combat current and emerging infectious diseases. Scientists at Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts-New England Medical Center as well as UMASS Medical School and other area academic institutions will use the labs. Tufts expects the research building to attract businesses to Grafton Science Park, thereby increasing tax revenues for the town of Grafton.

"This is an exciting development for Tufts University as well as for the greater Worcester area," said Kevin O'Sullivan, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives. "The new biosafety laboratory will allow Tufts' world-class researchers to do critical work to advance public health in a safe environment. At the same time, the facility will serve as a catalyst for economic development in Grafton and throughout Central Massachusetts."

"This new laboratory at Tufts is not only important to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from an economic perspective, but also as we forge an identity as a place where extraordinary innovation and discovery occurs," said Thomas M. Finneran, President of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. "Innovation and discoveries in infectious disease research will benefit all mankind. It is great to have Tufts and Massachusetts associated with such important work."

Tufts applied for the funding to build the new research facility on Dec. 28, 2004, in response to a request for applications from NIAID. Since then, Tufts has worked with Grafton town officials to provide them as well as area residents with information about the grant application and the proposed laboratory. Tufts is providing special training for police and firefighters in Grafton and surrounding towns to ensure the safety of the school's employees and neighbors. The school will continue to work with neighboring communities to ensure informed communication with residents and to maximize the facility's benefit to the region and community.

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