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Dr. Colleen Jonsson Secures $11.9 Million Award for Operational Upgrades to Regional Biocontainment Laboratory

Dr. Colleen Jonsson

Colleen Jonsson, PhD, director of the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL) at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been awarded $11.9 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to expand and improve the RBL infrastructure. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, PhD, professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Biochemistry and assistant director of the RBL, is a co-investigator on the award.

The award will fund the creation of three new cores (centralized, shared resources that provide access to advanced instruments and specialized services to scientific and clinical investigators) in the RBL. These cores will enhance RBL management and operations, and facilitate medical countermeasure research for biodefense, emerging infectious diseases, and pandemic preparedness and response. The three new cores are:

  • Facilities Core, which will integrate preventive maintenance of mechanical and vivarium infrastructure and scientific/biosafety equipment necessary for biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) and animal biosafety level 3 (ABSL-3) containment.
  • BSL-3 Practices Core, which will integrate the management of operations and training for BSL-3 pathogens, some of which are select agents. This core will promote communication and harmonize compliance, security, individual competency, and practices across RBL staff and users.
  • Biocontainment Research Support Service Core, which will facilitate and advance research under the umbrella of the “Antiviral & Antimicrobial Countermeasures Discovery and Development Core.” This core is unique in the RBL network in its focus on providing liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry studies for infected, treated animal tissues in BSL-3 and providing drug pharmacodynamics.

“The strategic mission for operation and use of the RBL and the three cores is to provide a seamless and integrated management and operational structure that efficiently serves our clients and users with the appropriate facility controls, biosafety, and select agent compliance,” said Dr. Jonsson, who also directs the Institute for the Study of Host Pathogen Systems. “Our strategic vision in this regard is to provide leadership for the RBL network and scientific community and share best practices and discoveries through lectures and publications.”

The UTHSC RBL is located on the Memphis campus in the heart of the Memphis Medical District. The UTHSC RBL provides leadership and support in the discovery and development of new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics to protect the general population from emerging and reemerging infectious diseases and bioterrorism. The RBL supports and fosters basic research and translational research that leads to the development of countermeasures for biodefense and emerging infectious agents. In addition to regional entities, it supports research for academic, government, and commercial entities, nationally and internationally.