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Primate center readies respiratory disease lab

Monkey1w

Louise Olsen, inhalation exposure facility manager, speaks with reporters about specially designed chambers inside the California National Primate Center's new respiratory disease laboratory building. With room for up to four monkeys, the building's 12 chambers will be used to expose animals to allergens and air pollutants. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | February 28, 2014 |

A one-of-a-kind respiratory disease lab is nearing completion at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis.

The 19,000-square-foot building will house an inhalation exposure facility unique among the eight National Institutes of Health-supported primate centers, plus new laboratory, meeting and office space.

Initial areas of study there will include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, exposure to secondhand smoke and air pollution, childhood asthma and infectious diseases, including H1N1 influenza in infants.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be opening this building,” said Lisa Miller, an associate professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, during a media tour held Thursday. “From a technical side, this is fantastic facility to study environmental exposures using the nonhuman primate as a model.

“This is really the first time that we can have a large group of respiratory scientists collaborating together. We’re expecting visiting scientists from other universities to come in and work with us.”

The building cost about $18 million. Of that, $14.2 million came from federal stimulus money, the balance from UCD.

Inside, the new inhalation exposure facility measures 6,643 square feet. It includes 12 specially designed, glass-sided exposure chambers, which can hold four monkeys each, allowing researchers to expose animals to, say, ozone or allergens.

The new facility also has a room specially designed to study exposure to cigarette smoke and three clean-air animal holding rooms, each of which can hold 32 caged monkeys and a pulmonary function testing laboratory.

“And we have windows,” said Louise Olsen, inhalation facility manager.

The center’s current exposure facility, constructed in 1972, is really just a large steel shed, measuring 4,800 square feet, with a dated air-handling system.

The old structure holds 18 smaller exposure chambers that hold only two monkeys and that open from only one side, making them more difficult to use for animal-care staff, Olsen said.

Center director Dallas Hyde said a new room that will be used to study secondhand smoke exposure is particularly unique.

“It’s very difficult to do secondhand tobacco exposures in small chambers because you don’t get the aging of smoke that would happen in a smoky bar,” he said. “In a large room like that you can get those types of chemical reactions.

“It’s expensive to build these, but if you can ever do this, it’s a golden opportunity to look at the injurious components of secondhand smoke. We have not been able to do that in the past.”

Added Hyde, “In Davis, not that many people smoke, so we don’t think cigarette smoking is a big issue. But there’s 10 to 15 million mothers a year in this country that smoke during pregnancy. So understanding the effects on prenatal and how that affects post-natal development is a critical issue.”

For now, lab space related to respiratory research is housed in separate buildings. The new structure places two laboratories and adjacent tissue-culture under the same roof, a few steps away from the exposure areas.

Microscopes, incubators to culture cells and the faculty, post-doctoral researchers and graduate students who use them likely will be moved in by summer, Miller said, after a series of inspections and certifications is complete.

About 42 UCD faculty members are involved in respiratory research.

Another 26 researchers from across the country have expressed interest in doing work at the facility, Hyde said. He said he expects 10 to 15 of those to write grants to perform research at the center in the next year.

The center also will promote its new facility on other UC and nearby campuses, as well as at events like an upcoming American Thoracic Society conference, Hyde said.

The new building also will enable the center to double the total number of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows doing research there.

Currently, 12 graduate students and 10 post-doctoral fellows do research at the center. Other primary areas of research include brain, mind and behavior, infectious disease and reproductive sciences and regenerative medicine.

The Primate Center is west of the main campus, on 300 acres ringed by barbed wire and video cameras, on County Road 98 adjacent to Hutchison Drive. Its staff numbers about 350.

The center also is home to about 4,900 monkeys, almost all of them rhesus macaques.

About 65 percent of the animals live outside in family groups — most in one of 24 half-acre corrals that include shade structures, wind breaks, barrels, play structures and gas-powered heaters. About 850 monkeys are born at the center annually.

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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