UND Seeks High-Security Bio Lab

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) _ The University of North Dakota medical school wants to apply for a federal grant to build a high-security biological research lab.

Dr. H. David Wilson, the medical school dean, said the school has until the end of the month to apply for a grant that could fund most of the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory. The cost is estimated at around $30 million.

The grant from the National Institutes of Health comes with a 25 percent match requirement, which would mean about $7.5 in state or local funds, officials said.

The State Board of Higher Education and the Legislature must approve the plan. The higher education board is expected to discuss it Thursday.

``I think it will be a tough sell (for legislators) because of the amount of money involved,'' said state Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, ``but when you look at the project and the possibilities it has for the state, I think it needs to be looked at.''

Wilson said the federal government is planning to build about six new biocontainment labs around the country, bringing the nation's total to around 16. The one proposed for the Grand Forks area would be considered a Level 3 facility, one notch below those that deal with the deadliest human pathogens, such as Ebola and Lassa fever.

A strong selling point for UND as a possible site is its proximity to Winnipeg, the site of Canada's version of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Wilson said.

UND officials are proposing to build a 55,000-square-foot facility, away from the campus and other urban developments. Vehicles would not be allowed to park directly on the site, and it would be surrounded by a security fence.

Wilson said a site has been chosen, and the school is negotiating a lease purchase agreement for the land. He would not name the area being negotiated.

Wilson said the medical school would need local economic development funding to help with the initial years' operational costs once the facility is built. He said the payoff to the city and the region might be recouped with new private sector businesses that would relocate in the area.

``It would spur biotech companies to come here so they could use the laboratories in the facility for testing their vaccines and antibodies,'' he said.

Wilson figures that it would take as many 50 or more scientists and support personnel to run the facility.

UND should learn in April or May if it has been awarded the federal grant, he said.