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UNC-Chapel Hill Eyes More Genomic Research in $14.5M Facility Expansion

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says the planned expansion of its Bingham Facility — for which UNC was awarded $14.5 million in stimulus funding this week — will allow the school to expand ongoing genomic and proteomic research as well as consolidate several older facilities into a single site.

UNC-Chapel Hill won $14.5 million from the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act toward construction of 30,000 square feet of new space in two buildings for Bingham. The facility carries out research on pigs and dogs in order to study bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia and von Willebrand disease, as well as thrombotic disorders related to atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.

Timothy Nichols, director of the Francis Owen Blood Research Laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Medicine, told GenomeWeb Daily News that the expanded facility will help the lab build on existing collaborations that use genomics and proteomics technologies.

One such collaboration involves activity-based protein profiling of platelets from pigs with and without atherosclerosis, in which the blood lab is collaborating with a team of investigators led by Leslie Parise, UNC chair of biochemistry and biophysics. The team hopes to learn more about the mechanisms of platelet activation in disease states, as well as find targets for new blood thinning anti-coagulant medicines and other therapies.

The blood lab will vacate its current building in Carrboro, NC, and move to part of the expansion space at Bingham, which dates back to the 1970s. “They’ve been in a facility that’s 50 years old and frankly, at the end of its useful life,” Robert Lowman, UNC’s associate vice chancellor for research, told GWDN.

Said Nichols: "We will be both expanding existing areas and accommodating research we're not getting to because we needed more room.”

In addition to the blood lab, the Bingham facility will also incorporate animal research facilities now leased by the university in a Hillsborough, NC, building once used by what is now GlaxoSmithKline. “It’s far away from campus, and [the three-site arrangement] means that we have our dogs and swine at three different places instead of one. And that’s a logistical difficulty, particularly for the veterinary staff, because they’re back and forth all the time.”

As for the post-expansion future of the blood lab and Hillsborough facilities, “I think we’re going to shut them down,” he added.

The expanded Bingham will house about 100 dogs, compared with the approximately 85 dogs now there; as well as 125 pigs, more than double the current swine population. The facility was originally built to quarantine animals before their transfer to vivaria on campus, not to house them permanently.

Lowman said the two buildings to be funded through the stimulus program are in design stages, with schematic drawings due to NIH on July 31.

As a result, Lowman said, construction of the buildings isn't expected to begin until “early 2012, and we would anticipate completion about mid-2013,” two years ahead of the deadline year set by the grant.

The expansion is not intended to specifically allow hiring of additional staff since it is a construction grant and has no funding for personnel.

The two planned buildings to be funded by ARRA are among four new facilities taking shape there.

Construction is in progress on a separate building for golden retrievers and other dogs whose muscular dystrophy is similar to Duchenne MD in humans. That facility will be designed to accommodate about 125 dogs, and be ready for occupancy this summer, Lowman said.

UNC-Chapel Hill also plans to construct an additional laboratory operations center building at about the same time as the two stimulus-funded structures. The university plans to spend between $5 million and $8 million to build the operations center, which will include suites for the division of lab animal medicine’s veterinary, necropsy and pathology suites, plus surgical suites and procedure rooms for investigators.

That building must be constructed at the same time as the two stimulus-funded buildings in order for the blood lab to relocate, Lowman added.

Two-thirds of the cost of the operations center is expected to come from the school of medicine, the remaining third from the Provost’s office. A more precise cost estimate will be possible once the school decides on the building's size, Lowman said.

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