Kent State gets one of two bioterrorism labs in the country

Sarah McGrath

Since 2005 Kent State has unofficially been at the forefront in the battle against bioterrorism, but it was only this past May that the university officially created and recognized the Center for Public Health Preparedness.

“The goal of the center is to involve business, community and academic groups to address biopreparedness and homeland security issues through education, research and workforce development,” said Shannon Helfinstine, the program coordinator for the center.

Helfinstine, a former doctoral student in biological sciences at Kent State, has been working with the center since its training lab opened in October 2005.

The Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Education funded the training lab with a $1.5 million donation. There is only one other lab like it in the United States.

“The lab came about after 9/11 and the anthrax scares,” Helfinstine explained. “There is a need to train people who work in an environment subject to select bioterrorism agents such as anthrax.”

The lab, located in Cunningham Hall, simulates a real laboratory where biological agents such as anthrax, the plague or smallpox might be tested and identified by public health officials and laboratorians.

Helfinstine said because the lab only simulates the biological agents and does not use the real threats, personnel who are being trained can come in learn how to properly work with and handle such agents without risk.

The training lab is only one part of the center. In July it will sponsor a two-day workshop for middle and high school science teachers that will focus on microbiology and biopreparedness.

“It never hurts to be prepared,” Helfinstine said. “This is a way to educate and keep people safe.”

Contact news correspondent Sarah McGrath at [email protected].