MSU COVID-19

Students walk by "Spirit," the bobcat statue at Montana State University on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. Gallatin County reported seven new cases of COVID-19 connected to Montana State University this week.

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Montana State University is seeking to expand lab space as it saw a significant increase in research grants this year, including COVID-19 testing and research.

The university is asking the Montana Board of Regents to approve a lease extension to an existing lab facility during its Thursday meeting.

“This extension will ensure critical research grants and ongoing work continues including essential services with assisting the state of Montana’s COVID-19 lab testing results as well as providing space for new grants in microbiology and immunology work,” the university’s request to the Regents said.

MSU spokesman Michael Becker said the new lab spaces would not necessarily be used for COVID-19 research but for the university’s ongoing biomedical research. He said it would “allow us to continue ongoing COVID work.”

MSU already has a lab lease with the off-campus Molecular Biosciences Building, set to expire on Jan. 31. The term for the lease would be 24 months, with options for up to three additional 12-month periods.

The university rents 2,512 square feet with a monthly rate of $3,125, according to MSU’s request. The Office of Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education will occupy three additional lab spaces, adding 2,000 square feet to the university’s lease agreement.

The new space will cost $19 per square foot plus utilities, janitorial and operational costs.

The university’s request says the extended space will “offset space constraints in both the COVID-19 testing lab as well as to support additional microbiology and immunology research endeavors.”

The university will continue its work assisting Montana’s COVID-19 lab testing, but Becker said the expansion would not mean an increase in coronavirus testing capacity but a continuation of ongoing work.

He said the university has occupied space in that building for many years now.

“There is laboratory space that is available, we’re simply taking in new spaces and new suites,” he said.

He said it’s not certain what project will use the additional labs but space for research is needed campus-wide.

The move to expand the lab comes as the university set a research expenditure record this year, with the Office of Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education receiving $167 million in grants for fiscal year 2020. It was a 5.7% increase from the previous year.

In October, MSU announced it received $776,000 in state funding to research a potentially faster and cheaper method of testing for the COVID-19 virus. The method is called loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or LAMP testing, and relies on saliva as opposed to the commonly used nasal swab test.

The university also received a $1 million National Institutes of Health grant to aid with COVID-19 research, according to the university’s request. It states there is “limited lab space on campus” to pursue the research and lab needs “during this critical research time.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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