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New Upstate lab will focus on tick, mosquito-transmitted diseases

Upstate Medical University
This is what researchers will wear when working with the most dangerous, infectious substances.

A new state-of-the-art lab at Upstate Medical University will offer researchers in Syracuse ways to study infectious diseases that pose major public health risks. A prime focus will be on how ticks and mosquitos spread diseases.

This new Vector Biocontainment Lab is what’s called a BSL-3 lab, which means it has an advanced biosafety level required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so it can study potentially dangerous diseases and carriers. One of those is Lyme disease, and other insect-transmitted infections. Royale Scudaroi, executive director of the CNY Lyme and Tick-Born Disease Alliance, said this research can be a game changer to help the thousands of people who suffer from these infections.

"The potential for advances in the research that can come out of this, in better treatment and diagnostics, are very promising," Scudaroi said.

Heading up the lab, Upstate’s Saravanan Thangamani.

"The basic research ideas can now turn into products,” Thangamani said. “That’s what I’m really excited about."

That includes vaccines as well as treatments for infections. Thangamani said there are a number of safety measures in place to keep it safe.

“For every single action, we have two or three safety measures put in place,” he said. “If one fails, you have another one to catch on. So, you have a 0% chance that anything will happen.” 

Upstate Infectious Disease Chief Stephen Thomas said it’s important to start focusing on these mosquito and tick-borne illnesses as soon as possible.

"As we begin to emerge from the COVID pandemic, we are compelled to refocus our efforts on long standing threats, which are now reaching the tipping point for becoming the next major U.S. epidemic,” Thomas said. “I’m talking about tick and mosquito-transmitted diseases such as Lyme disease, Powassan, West Nile Encephalitis, Anaplasmosis and a host of others."

This is the only level-3 biosafety lab in the SUNY system.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.