UCLA opens world's first infectious disease lab

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UCLA today opened a new Global Bio Lab that will train researchers how to test and analyze infectious diseases and respond to pandemics.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, told reporters that the facility represents a critical step forward for public health and for homeland security.

“This lab will significantly improve our ability to respond quickly, immediately and effectively to a bio-terrorist attack or a flu pandemic," Pelosi said. "God willing we will never be subjected to those - but we must be prepared.”

The $32 million lab - including $21 million from the federal defense budget – will dramatically increase the speed of receiving, testing and analyzing samples by automating much of the process, akin to the way pharmaceutical companies test drugs, according to the university. Pelosi and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, were instrumental in securing about $23 million of federal funding for the project, which is still being deployed. The state gave the university about $9 million of additional funding.

"This has been a project long in the making, six years for identifying what it might look like, to finding funding sources," according to Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of the UCLA School of Public Health. "This is a celebration of people's big ideas. A lot of people were invested in thinking how best to do it. People are feeling very congratulatory about it."

Rosenstock said the 6,000-square-foot "Global Bio Lab" will be a go-to testing facility for federal, state and local governments during "surge modes," when quick detection of diseases is critical to halting their spread.

"This lab uses a lot of tailoring to work in sequence, to get samples in, take out sections, analyze it and store some of the sample," Rosenstock said.

She said the lab will initially be used as a standard academic research facility to analyze influenza symptoms. About three to four researchers will use it during low demand times. During emergencies, the lab might be staffed by as many as 12 people.