LAS CRUCES – A major grant from the National Institutes of Health will complement the current planned biomedical facilities under construction at New Mexico State University to include wild animal research facilities.
“This is outstanding news for our researchers as well as our students,” said NMSU System Chancellor Dan Arvizu. “This funding will help to create a state-of-the-art facility to enhance our biomedical research and strengthen the training we provide for our diverse student populations. This is a game changer when it comes to addressing the health of border communities and minority populations in New Mexico and the region.”
Biology Professor Timothy Wright led the effort to secure the $7.1 million infrastructure grant from the NIH called C06, which refers to a large construction of biomedical relevance. Due to increases in construction costs, some of the biomedical facilities planned under previous general obligation bonds for facilities that are now under construction had to be scaled back.
“Since the definition of the GO Bond 2018, the College of ACES envisioned the biomedical lab as a facility where the agricultural sciences in ACES will interact with other colleges and departments in NMSU in the advancement of human health and well-being of animals,” said Rolando A. Flores Galarza, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences: “This vision has been characterized by the collaborative efforts of ACES and College of Arts and Sciences faculty. Funding from NIH will bring the efforts of these goals into a reality and will benefit New Mexico’s stakeholders and taxpayers.”
The NIH grant will allow the biomedical facilities currently under construction to be expanded to support additional resources originally envisioned for a wild animal research facility.
“We have a lot of people on campus who do work with disease emergence, ie how wild animals and insects may be vectoring diseases and causing new outbreaks in human populations,” Wright said. “This facility will really benefit that very active aspect of research on campus.It will include more animal holding space for animals being brought in from the wild.We can keep the wild animals separate from animals that are bred in the lab birds and bats.”
Wright points out that while he and Shanna Ivey, professor and department head in animal and range sciences, are scientific leaders of the endeavor, a number of staff from NMSU’s Office of Facilities and Services as well as University Architect Heather Watenpaugh’s office collaborated on the application for this competitive grant. Luis Cifuentes, NMSU’s vice president of research, is the principal investigator on the project and a critical partner in the collaboration.
“This award will have significant impact on our research capability. This facility will support NMSU’s biomedical research strengths in emerging infectious diseases, cancer and health disparities in underserved populations; enhance training of students from underrepresented populations; and promote research addressing the health of border communities and minority populations in New Mexico,” Cifuentes said.
Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says the expanded biomedical facility will also help in recruiting researchers in biology, animal sciences and other disciplines.
“Right now, our faculty have to depend on outside resources to be able to do their research,” Pontelli said. “Once the new biomedical facility is completed, they will have access to those facilities here on campus. This is very important as we think about recruiting faculty members because faculty will come to an institution where they see infrastructure in place that will allow them to conduct their research.”
“This new building will allow me to expand my research on emerging viruses like dengue, West Nile and vesicular stomatitis virus,” said Kathryn Hanley, NMSU Regents Professor of Biology. “In particular, it will allow me to integrate studies of virus replication in insect vectors, like mosquitoes and black flies, with studies of virus replication in animal models, particularly mouse models. It will also open the door to testing antiviral drugs in mouse models , work that I have previously had to conduct at other universities because NMSU lacked the necessary facilities.”
Biology Professor Immo Hansen explained the enhanced facilities will not only support NMSU’s strength in emerging infectious diseases, but also the training of a diverse cadre of students in the use of animal models in biomedical research to contribute to the strengthening of the national biomedical workforce.
“The insectary part of the biomedical research facility will be used to raise arthropods that are human disease vectors,” Hansen said. “Mosquitoes, ticks and kissing bugs may very well be the vectors of the next global pandemic, so studying them is of utmost importance. In these new facilities, we will be able to research and educate the next generation of vector biologists on the biology, surveillance and control of these disease vectors.”
Biology Professor Teri Orr’s lab studies bat physiology.
“Perhaps most timely, our studies of bat immunology will inform us of the risk to bats of infections by pathogens,” Orr said. “As such we will be better able to predict what species and demographics of wild bats may be of greatest risk for virus spillover events.”
For Entomology Professor Alvaro Romero, the expanded biomedical facility will enhance his ability to study various insects that impact public health. “Since there is not enough space in my current lab, the insectary will benefit my laboratory by maintaining various arthropods, including scorpions, cockroaches, bed bugs and kissing bugs. All these arthropods have public health relevance for the Southwest.”
In order to dovetail with construction underground on NMSU’s new biomedical facilities, the wild animal research expansion is expected to be completed in 2024.
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Minerva Baumann writes for New Mexico State University Marketing and Communications and can be reached at 575-646-7566, [email protected]