Making Discoveries that Make a Difference

Facilities

The Biomedical Research Laboratory is situated in the National Capital Region. The Washington, D.C. area boasts universities, research opportunities, and resources that attract the leading biotechnology, biodefense, and life science companies. The area benefits from a wide array of research institutions and federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases. In addition to the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, other high-profile biomedical research initiatives are located at the Prince William Campus, which houses Mason’s growing life sciences departments. Strategic planning has brought together world-renowned scientists in newly designed laboratories equipped with 21st-century instrumentation who engage in collaborative research in infectious diseases, proteomics, and genomics.

Safety and Security by Design

Community and laboratory safety and security are critical to our mission. The safety of researchers, personnel, and the surrounding community are the highest priority of the BRL team, which comprises some of the world’s leading experts in designing, building, and operating BSL-3 laboratory facilities. The BRL is compliant with all state and federal laws, regulations, and policies that govern the construction, use, security, inspection, and certification of BSL-3 laboratories. Mason works in close cooperation with the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure the proper containment and disposal of all infectious agents. The BRL is protected by a secured perimeter. Access-controlled building entrances have security checkpoints that include a physical barrier and security personnel on duty.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a BSL-3 laboratory?

A Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory is a specialized laboratory that facilitates the development of techniques that detect, diagnose, prevent, and treat infectious diseases that result from biological terrorism or arise naturally. Biodefense experts believe the greatest biological threat comes from bacteria, viruses or toxins that can be spread through the air and inhaled by victims. For this reason, the primary use of the Biomedical Research Laboratory (BRL) is to develop and test treatments to improve the ability to save the lives of people exposed to airborne biological agents.

Why did George Mason University build this laboratory?

Mason competed for and was awarded a $27.7 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to build the BRL because of the university’s highly regarded team of infectious disease experts and proven track record of biodefense research success. Through the BRL, Mason becomes an even more important partner with the federal government in the biodefense research arena. The BRL provides Mason’s experts with a highly specialized facility and cutting-edge equipment needed to take their critical research to the next level in the search for lifesaving vaccines and therapies.

Infectious diseases, whether a result of bioterrorism or natural causes, pose a major threat to the health and security of people in every part of the world including the U.S. Mason’s ideal location in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and the mid-Atlantic region gives the university the ability to assist national, state and local public health efforts in the event of a public health emergency.

Mason has made a long-term commitment to biodefense research and education that reflects the ideals of the university’s Mission Statement and Vision Statement. In support of this commitment, Mason established the Center for Biodefense in December 2001. In 2005, the name was changed to the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases to more accurately reflect the mission of the center.Infectious diseases, whether a result of bioterrorism or natural causes, pose a major threat to the health and security of people in every part of the world including the U.S. The BRL provides the university’s team of infectious diseases experts with the highly specialized facility and cutting-edge equipment needed to take this critical research to the next level in the search for lifesaving vaccines and therapies.

By having this laboratory at Mason, the university has unique opportunities to receive additional federal research funding, attract top scientists and promote its reputation as a leading institution for biomedical research. New diagnostic tools, therapies or vaccines developed at the laboratory also could promote regional economic development through the creation of neighboring biotechnology companies.

Where is George Mason University’s BRL located?

The facility is located on a 10-acre site adjacent to the university’s Prince William Campus in Manassas, Virginia.

How much did the project cost?

The estimated project cost is $50.5 million. In addition to the $27.7 million NIAID award, the university provided an estimated $20.3 million in matching funds, and the Commonwealth of Virginia committed $2.5 million for land acquisition.

Who operates the BRL facility?

The BRL is owned and operated by George Mason University and is managed by Mason’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases. Only personnel trained in biocontainment procedures and authorized to work with biological agents are allowed in the BSL containment areas. Agencies involved in regulatory oversight for the BRL include the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Is there any danger of a biological agent being released from the BRL?

The probability of the release of a biological agent from the BRL is extremely low. The interior and exterior design and construction of the facility, stringent operating requirements, intensive training of personnel, and state-of-the-art equipment monitoring and security systems are designed to prevent a release from occurring. Multiple levels of physical and regulatory barriers protect against potential errors.

In the unlikely event of an accidental release, the amount of material would be limited because only minute quantities (measured in milligrams) of biological agents are stored and handled in the BRL. In addition, ultraviolet light, temperature, humidity and other environmental factors are destructive to these agents.

What are the dangers to the community if the structural integrity of the facility is compromised by fire or other types of disasters?

The BRL is a safe and secure building, strong enough to withstand natural and man-made disasters. In the unlikely event that the BRL were to sustain both external and internal damage from a disaster, the risk of disease spreading in the environment would be extremely minimal. Biological agents are stored in well-secured units and are handled only in minute quantities. Most of these agents would be killed if exposed to light, temperature, humidity or other environmental factors.

What if a researcher is accidentally exposed to a biological agent and becomes infected?

The design of the BRL and stringent safety procedures greatly reduce any risk of accidental infection. Researchers wear personal protective equipment (e.g. scrubs, shoe covers, face protection, and gloves), and work inside biological safety cabinets. Comprehensive safety training on the signs and symptoms of infection by each agent is provided, and researchers receive vaccinations against agents with which they work, when available. Although unlikely, if a researcher is exposed to an agent, he/she will be put under medical surveillance, quarantined (if necessary) and treated.

Is any research conducted in the BRL kept secret?

No. The ultimate goal of this research program is to provide information to guide the development of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to protect citizens against agents of bioterrorism. Although safety and security regulations limit access to certain kinds of information, the results of all research carried out in the BRL will be published and communicated in the same manner as other federally funded research results.

What kinds of animals are used in the research, where do they come from, and how are they treated?

Research animals will be obtained from commercial vendors that are licensed and inspected by the federal government and or accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. They will be housed and cared for in a modern facility designed under the same guidelines as the BRL. Fully trained and certified animal caretakers, under the direction of a staff veterinarian, will administer humane care and medical treatment to the animals.

How are biological agents transported to and from the BRL?

The shipment of biological agents is governed by stringent 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 shipped according to Federal Regulation Title 49 to ensure all agents arrive safely.

Is there an emergency response/evacuation plan in place, and how will the public be alerted in the event of an emergency?

George Mason University currently has emergency plans for fires, floods and various other natural disasters. The plans have been updated to include evacuation procedures relating to the BRL. The university continually coordinates with local emergency response agencies in order to provide an effective process for public notification. Periodic drills take place to ensure efficient performance.

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

Following the terrorist activities of September 11 and the subsequent anthrax events, emergency personnel regularly receive response training for biohazard emergencies.

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