With bio-terrorism a stark reality in today’s world, understanding and combating this threat is essential for the nation’s security. Today, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Northern Arizona University (NAU) and a host of elected officials celebrated the formal opening of TGen North, the new pathogen genomics and biodefense research facility in Flagstaff. The facility joins the ranks of a number of facilities across the country today whose research centers on the detection and prevention of biological threats. Although operational for the past year, today’s event marked the move to TGen North’s permanent facility that contains more than 4,500 square feet of state-of-the-art research laboratories and office space. “Opening the doors of TGen North is a concrete step toward bringing new bioscience jobs and opportunities to the people of northern Arizona and furthers the State’s efforts toward building out the bioscience corridor,” said Congressman Renzi, whose support was key to planning and launching TGen North. “The unique work done at TGen North is dedicated to improving public health and biosecurity for our nation.”
TGen North researchers use the latest in genomic technology to develop smarter and faster diagnostics for infectious diseases, including the use of new analytical tools to create better therapies and new vaccines.
Dr. Bert Weinstein, Former Associate Director of Biology and Biotechnology Research Programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said, “This new TGen North facility builds upon a decade of critical biodefense and forensic work by the scientific team in Northern Arizona and will help our country in the battle against terrorists and naturally emerging diseases.”
TGen North is comprised of three research centers: (1) Center for Public Health and Clinical Pathogens, (2) Center for Dangerous Pathogens, and (3) Center for Pathogen Bioinformatics. “The advances being developed at TGen North will help doctors-from our local hospitals to the battlefield-to not only quickly identify dangerous pathogens, but to better characterize the nature of those pathogens by identifying genetic markers that cause antibiotic resistance or increased virulence,” said nationally recognized biosafety expert Dr. Paul Keim, Director of TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division and Professor of Biology and Cowden Endowed Chair in Microbiology at NAU.
TGen North’s initial research activities are focused on common infectious diseases like influenza and valley fever, important hospital infections like drug-resistant staphylococcus, and a number of bioterrorism agents, including tularemia and plague. “TGen North represents our ongoing commitment to all of Arizona,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, President and Scientific Director of TGen. “The biodefense and public health research we are doing at TGen North is a direct expansion of our mission to provide earlier diagnostics, in this case to dangerous pathogens.”
TGen North is a collaborative effort between TGen and NAU. As such, several joint and adjunct TGen-NAU faculty members staff the facility. Furthermore, TGen North has access to the advanced Biosafety Level 3 facilities on the NAU campus as well as the comprehensive genomic research capabilities of TGen Headquarters in Phoenix. “The partnership continues to strengthen the ties between TGen and NAU. It is my hope that TGen North will further establish Northern Arizona as a premier site for pathogen research,” said Dr. John Haeger, President of NAU.
David Engelthaler, the former Arizona State Epidemiologist, will provide the day-to-day management of TGen North. In addition to NAU, TGen North has many local national and international research partners, including universities, biotech companies, security agencies, health care providers, and public health departments. “To go from a virtual lab to a bricks and mortar facility in just under a year speaks to the remarkable pace at which the bioscience economy is taking root in Flagstaff and all across Arizona,” said Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson.
TGen North is funded by multiple federal agencies that support medical diagnostics, forensic analyses and biodefense-related work including the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and others.