UNCP Opens $1.9M Biotech Site

There are now two official "Biotechnology Centers" in North Carolina.

One - the world's oldest, established by the General Assembly a quarter-century ago.

And the newest - dedicated last week by the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

And you could say they're from the same family.

The original North Carolina Biotechnology Center is cited as a major factor behind the birth of UNCP's new Biotechnology Research and Training Center (BRTC). Dozens of well-wishers celebrated the new facility with a ribbon-cutting ceremony this past Friday.

"We couldn't have done this without the support of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center," said an obviously proud Len Holmes, Ph.D., lead scientist at BRTC.

"Way back when Charles Hamner was president, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center was already there for us with advice, help, financial support, networking. The biotech community is an amazing thing in North Carolina, with some really good people," said Holmes, a Massachusetts native who has been a resident of the Old North State for the past two decades. "My first grant here came a long time ago, and it was from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center."

Regional Boost

The celebrants hailed the BRTC as a milestone for UNCP and the region. The new facility is attached to UNCP's Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development at COMtech Park, just off campus.

The $1.9 million building, at 4,635 square feet, includes a commons area for seminars, small lectures and meetings, three offices, and five laboratories: the Sartorius Stedim Biotechnology Laboratory for fermentation, the Chemistry Research Laboratory, the Biology Research Laboratory, Core Preparative Laboratory, and the Friday Chair for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Research Laboratory.

Randall Johnson, director of the Wilmington-based Southeastern Office of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, was among supporters at the ribbon-cutting event.

"This type of basic biotechnology research and commercialization facility is a foundation for future jobs and businesses," he said, "not only for Robeson County, but for all the Southeastern Region of North Carolina.

"We're likely to see benefits derive from agricultural biotechnology applications, nutraceuticals, biofuels and a wide range of other applications that UNCP faculty and students will be discovering right here at this facility. They very well may find valuable biotech applications we can't even imagine today that will lead to high-paying jobs and important contributions to the people of Southeastern North Carolina and beyond."

Holmes was also quick to express gratitude to Sartorius Stedim, a Goettingen, Germany-based company that donated a bioreactor valued at more than $50,000 to the facility.

Holmes says the bioreactor and related equipment from Stedim is fundamental in helping UNCP students work toward biotech bachelor's degrees. It will also be instrumental in helping the economically struggling Southeastern North Carolina region woo new biotech projects and prospects.

"We're proud to be a part of this new biotechnology facility at the University," said Rich Malfa, who represented Stedim. "I hope to be part of a continuing partnership. We are happy to see science and scientific training moving forward here."

The equipment allows cells or bacteria to grow in a controlled environment that is monitored continuously. It uses a disposable, sterile bag which is oscillated and monitored digitally.

Chancellor Allen Meadors thanked the university's science faculty for the work done on getting the facility built, and thanked Stedim for its equipment gift. He said the equipment and the new laboratory will help UNCP do science and train scientists of the future.

"This will encourage our students to do research and get them excited about science," he said. "This will benefit our students and faculty."

Charles Harrington, Ph.D., provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, called it a great day for science at UNCP. "This is a day when dreams are realized," he said. "This is a fine example of a well-respected company that recognizes the good things we are doing here. We appreciate this gift and this partnership."

Holmes said the lab represents "a new vision for UNCP and raises the science profile of the region. This equipment allows us to put theory into practice, to transcend classroom teaching."

Wed, 03/18/2009 - 04:00