BACKGROUND

SEBLAB Facility Intro ImageThe University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is one of America's premier research universities, ranking among the top 25 in funding from the National Institutes of Health and earning more than $600 million per year in extramural contract and grant support. With a world-renowned academic health center and 80 interdisciplinary research centers, UAB's pioneering breakthroughs offer new solutions and new hope for families and communities worldwide.

In 2003-2004, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), awarded 12 contracts to build Regional Biocontainment Laboratories (RBLs). UAB was fortunate enough to receive one of the awards, and used it to build the Southeastern Biosafety Laboratory Alabama Birmingham (SEBLAB). The RBLs are designed to support basic research necessary to develop drugs, diagnostics and vaccines for emerging infections and biodefense, and to provide surge capacity, in the event of a public health emergency.

ABOUT SEBLAB

SEBLAB Built in 2008. Started operations in 2009. Cost $32 million in both State and NIH funds. Regional biocontainment laboratory (RBL) member. Total space is 43,688 GSF.

SEBLAB was completed in 2008 and fully operational in 2009. Located on the Southside of Birmingham on UAB's campus, SEBLAB is approximately 43,500 square feet. The project cost around $32 million to complete, with construction funding coming from the NIH and state sources.

SEBLAB is a major asset to the research and public health communities in the region. It houses state-of-the art biosafety level 2 and level 3 laboratories as well as animal biosafety level 3 laboratories. SEBLAB's design includes flexible and secure laboratories, animal housing and procedure space, and laboratory support space.

Specialized resources at SEBLAB include:

  1. Glas-Col Inhalation Exposure System
  2. Nanolive CX-A real-time live cell imaging workstation
  3. Biotech Cytation 5 cell imaging multi-mode reader
  4. Agilent Seahorse XFp extracellular flux bioenergetics analyzer
  5. Vaporized H2O2 decontamination capability
  6. Decontamination chamber for specialized equipment

In the event of a bioterrorism emergency, SEBLAB can provide surge capacity for diagnostics and other necessary analyses to enhance state and regional public health responses. SEBLAB enables UAB to expand its current research efforts into emerging infectious diseases and to support state and local health agencies. Additionally, the facility enables researchers to develop collaborative studies with colleagues, both nationally and internationally, which may result in new federal research funding.

RESEARCH

SEBLAB Ground Floor Labs: Special Access BSL2 LaboratoryThe University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) constructed the Southeastern Biosafety Laboratory Alabama Birmingham (SEBLAB) to eliminate the lack of available biocontainment space on the UAB campus hindering UAB investigators with distinguished records in virology, bacterial pathogenesis, immunology, and vaccine development. These investigators are now bringing their skills to bear on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and other issues directly relevant to biodefense and emerging infectious disease, concentrating on National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) priority pathogens. SEBLAB continues to greatly facilitate maximal national benefit from this talent.

Several funded research projects are currently ongoing in SEBLAB, both in BSL3 and ABSL3 areas. These projects include investigation into new vaccines and exploration of the mechanisms by which infectious agents function. The goal is to develop methods to disrupt the life cycle of infectious agents and create new treatments. Examples include trials to generate new efficient vaccines against encephalitogenic alphaviruses, mechanisms of alphavirus packaging, and generation of pseudo infectious viruses. Another project is studying the function and physiological role of an autotransporter, CpnT, which is utilized by M. tuberculosis (Mtb) to secrete a recently discovered novel toxin. In addition, there are ongoing studies on the mechanisms by which Mtb acquires and utilizes iron. Other studies seek a better understanding of why certain strains of influenza are more virulent and pathogenic than others, focusing on the non-structural protein 1 (NS1). With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, several UAB investigators shifted their focus to study the SARS-CoV-2 virus, its mechanisms, and possible COVID-19 treatments. Examples of these studies include, but are not limited to, investigating new animal models of SARS-CoV-2 using ferrets and hamsters via inhalation. Also, evaluating investigational drug pathways for COVID-19 treatments with prototype compounds using cell culture based in vitro and in vivo models of infection.

SEBLAB Ground Floor Labs: Restricted Access BSL3 Laboratory SEBLAB Ground Floor Labs: Restricted Access ABSL3 Laboratory

SEBLAB is currently playing a significant role in the fight against dangerous pathogens and the COVID-19 pandemic, as mentioned. At the same time, all staff working in SEBLAB are held to the highest standards of safety. No one is given unrestricted access to work with dangerous pathogens without first completing a series of rigorous training, both online and in person. The online training culminates in a written exam to ensure key points were learned and retained. Following that, staff are mentored in on facility- and lab-specific SOPs under direct supervision, to ensure containment principles are rigorously followed during their proposed research endeavors. After the mentor is confident in their work, Biosafety and/or SEBLAB management representatives observe the staff in containment and determine whether the staff member is ready for containment work. This system of training creates subject matter experts (SMEs) by building skilled teams trained and experienced to deal with infectious agents. SMEs then go on to help transfer knowledge and skills to other scientists and younger researchers through work shadowing or customized hands-on training workshops. Ultimately resulting in the perpetuation of biosafety culture among life sciences and biomedical research professionals.

UAB and SEBLAB recently received a generous grant from NIAID for upgrades to mechanical and HVAC systems. In addition, the grant will fund the purchase of state-of-the-art cell sorting and animal imaging equipment. The goal is to enable expansion of the existing capacities of SEBLAB and open more doors for UAB and other researchers in the southeast region.

USE OF SEBLAB

SEBLAB is available for use by all UAB researchers, other investigators in academia, not-for-profit organizations, industry and governmental organizations, studying biodefense and emerging infectious diseases. The application process for working in SEBLAB includes the SEBLAB management team review of the work, Institutional Biosafety Committee approval, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Institutional Review Board review, as applicable. Once approved, all persons using the facility must complete comprehensive training tailored to BSL3 containment.

The SEBLAB management team includes:

  1. The SEBLAB Director
  2. The SEBLAB Biocontainment Facility Manager
  3. as the Select Agent Responsible Official
  4. The Biosafety Officer
  5. ARP Manager of Facilities and Standards