UH researchers frustrated by biolab's lengthy closure

Lengthy UH Biolab Closure
Published: May. 9, 2016 at 11:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii is trying to get its troubled biosafety lab back on track. The facility at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kakaako has been closed for 10 months, delaying critical research.

The level 3 lab is equipped for research and experiments involving infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. UH officials said the facility was supposed to be closed for three months for routine maintenance, but upgrades and equipment replacement led to delays.

"A lot of his boils down to neither the components, the equipment parts, nor the requisite personnel were available here on the island, and all of that had to come from the mainland," explained Michael Bruno, UH Manoa's vice chancellor for research.

The work in the lab is now finished, according to Bruno. The facility still needs to pass federal and state inspections in order to resume operations. Mandatory training for all users is also underway. Officials hope to have the lab back open sometime this month.

"I have a bunch of students waiting to graduate. They need to do the research to graduate. Graduate students, Master's students, Ph.D. students. They've been sitting there doing nothing for the past 20 months. This delays their graduation for almost a year. That's unacceptable," said Tung Hoang, a microbiology professor at UH Manoa.

Critics said the lab hasn't had a good record of reliability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the university for 30 safety infractions in 2014. UH chose to participate in the CDC Performance Improvement Plan program and met all of the requirements, according to university officials. They said the CDC registration was approved for three years until 2017.

The latest shutdown is a source of frustration for researchers and the closure could also jeopardize federal funding.

"These people have places to go and careers to build. They can't be sitting there for 10 months doing nothing. I feel bad for them. Very emotional," said Hoang.

Bruno said university officials are working with Facilities Management staff on better planning to ensure that critical research infrastructure is properly maintained in the future.

"On a day to basis, I've not been so concerned about the funding as I have been about our faculty and the students in terms of getting their work done and their publications out the door," he said.

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