July 17, 2024

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Investing in the Future of Public Health: The New Wave of Lab Construction

2 min read

Here are six design trends that HOK’s teams are incorporating in our public health lab projects:

1. Adaptable Design

By nature, the work conducted in public health labs can change almost overnight. Creating labs that can be easily reconfigured gives researchers and technicians the adaptability they need to change them to accommodate different types of research, testing procedures and surges in demand.

At the 2024 Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) Annual Conference, this need for adaptability was a central theme. Discussions focused on how states and municipalities can expand their surveillance efforts to meet current threats. Wastewater analysis, for example, is becoming increasingly important for the early detection of public health threats, including COVID-19 and other pandemic agents, opioids and various harmful viruses and bacteria. To support this work, labs need building systems and benches that can flex and adjust to handle the increased sample flow required for this type of surveillance.

Given the unpredictability of global health trends, these facilities must easily accommodate future expansions, technological advancements and shifts in research focus. This includes incorporating infrastructure to support additional floors or extensions, as well as adaptable IT systems for evolving data management and scientific practices.

2. Technology Integration

An influx of automation equipment is transforming public health labs. Automated sample handlers, analyzers, robotic systems, and automated storage and retrieval systems require new space configurations. These labs also need more space to accommodate genome sequencing machines and digital tools for data management.

Integrating continuously changing new technologies requires careful planning and attention to detail from the outset of the design process. As automation becomes more cost-effective and ubiquitous, designers must accommodate a mix of benchtop and floor-mounted equipment.

The growing use of advanced genomic sequencing for pathogen identification, drug resistance testing and outbreak investigation presents brand new challenges and opportunities. To maximize the impact of these tools and ensure optimal throughput, public health labs must balance cost, space and staffing.

3. Safety First

The pandemic and persistent threat of bioterrorism have made safety and biocontainment paramount. Some of the safety precautions being implemented include using cutting-edge air filtration systems, incorporating biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) labs for handling dangerous pathogens and creating suites that minimize cross-contamination risks.

The demand for BSL-3 labs in public health labs is rising due to emerging concerns like new pathogens, antimicrobial resistance and the global movement of infectious diseases. Additionally, programs like the Select Agent and Toxin Program, which regulate the possession and use of biological agents and toxins that pose a severe threat to public health, require labs to have robust biosecurity measures. These labs need to be flexible to adapt to various situations, incorporating security protocols to secure specimens and mitigate risks.

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