Georgia State to house one of 14 biosafety level four labs in the nation


Atlanta has long been home to the leader in biomedical research, the Center for Disease Control, which received $8.25 billion in funding in fiscal year 2018. Joining the CDC in biomedical research is Georgia’s largest public research university, Georgia State. 

The Institute for Biomedical Research at Georgia State received the fourth largest amount of funding of all university college’s, nearly tied with second and third place, with $18.96 million in grant money for fiscal year 2018. 

Despite the potential for discovery and economic gain, research funding has dropped in recent years, nationally and at the university level, as seen with the National Institute of Health. The NIH, a heavy contributor to biomedical research and provider of 380,000 jobs and $65 billion in economic activity across the U.S., is also experiencing a decline.

Recent research led by Georgia State in the field of health and medicine include new insights on how to fight the Ebola virus and prevent it from reproducing and the discovery of a promising RSV vaccine and delivery method.

“As Georgia State continues to recruit new scientists and grow its research portfolio, it’s vital that we develop advanced spaces for our faculty to conduct their work,” Jennifer Marquez, associate communications director for university research, said. “With eight floors of biosafety-commissioned labs, the third phase of our Science Park will allow Georgia State to greatly expand its biomedical research, particularly in the infectious disease space.”



In the future, more discoveries can be made as the ever-growing downtown campus is receiving yet another addition — the Science Complex. Designated to house advanced labs for a biomedical research center, the center will be 84,000 square feet in total. 

The structure will contain several highly specialized laboratories including biosafety level (BSL) two, three and four labs. 

Level two labs traditionally work with human diseases that provide moderate health risks, such as HIV and staph infections. Level three labs prioritize microbes that can pose serious danger when inhaled including West Nile virus and tuberculosis.

Georgia State has operated a BSL-4 lab for nearly 20 years, which is reopening soon from its renovation. These laboratories are extremely limited in quantity, according to the most recent data from the Federation of American scientists, there were only 13 of these labs across the U.S.

By providing a second lab of this type on campus, extremely rare and life-threatening microbes for which cures do not exist can be studied, including the Ebola virus.

Kimberly Bauer, senior director of facilities design and construction services, expects construction to begin late December 2019 and construction completion is tentatively set for October 2021, while the project received approval from the Board of Regents in December 2017.

“We are currently starting schematic design and the drawings will progress to final construction documents that can be used to solicit bids from contractors,” Bauer said.

The building will have nine floors in total, with approximately two and a half set aside for the mechanical equipment necessary to support the building.



With this advanced center, Georgia State research on these highly infectious diseases can expand, providing information on prevention, treatment and the development of future drugs and vaccines. 

To make make these discoveries, biomedical research often employs the use of animals for testing research, commonly done with mice. The animals experimentally contract a disease or infection and then researchers attempt to cure the malady, simulating a human case. 

At Georgia State, this is no exemption, as this was the case in the RSV vaccine discovery mentioned earlier. 

“Animal research is critical in advancing medicine, and the use of animals not only improves our understanding of diseases, it allows us to develop vaccines and treatments with the potential to save untold lives,” Marquez said. “Like all research universities, Georgia State labs comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for animal research established under the Animal Welfare Act.”

One organization at Georgia State, the People for the End of Animal Cruelty and Exploitation Club, has taken the stance of clear opposition to the use as animal testing.

“I’ve always been passionate about being against vivisection. Animals are not on this earth for human use,” Gina Kim, founder of the PEACE club at Georgia State, said.

Kim identified this as an example of where she calls speciesism, the result of the human species superiority over all other beings.

“I think all researchers should follow the IRB rule that says that they should not test on any subject who does not or cannot give ‘informed consent.’ Because nonhuman animals cannot give informed consent, they should not be subjected to experimentation practices by humans, no matter what the results may yield,” Carrie Freeman, the faculty advisor for the PEACE club, said.

“If GSU is innovative as it preaches, animal testing should be banned,” Kim said.

Freeman included that she hopes to see Georgia State set a standard in pioneering ethical non-animal research methods.

“If we think other animal species are like us enough to be used as models, then they are like us enough to be respected as sentient beings who don’t want to be sacrificed,” Freeman said.