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Hodgson: Opening of ESR Science Centre

Hon Pete Hodgson

Minister for Research Science and Technology

15 May 2008 Embargoed till 5.30pm Speech

Opening of ESR Science Centre

Ladies and gentlemen, my colleague Hon Paul Swain, MP for Rimutaka, Wayne Guppy, Mayor of Upper Hutt, David Ogden, Mayor of Hutt City and ESR Chair Ian Wilson, I am delighted you could all join me here today, to formally open the ESR Science Centre.

It is a pleasure to have with us this afternoon, many representatives from local government and the health and biosecurity sectors. You all represent various sectors in New Zealand, be it human health, animal health, disease prevention, or biosecurity, which just demonstrates the breadth of the work to be carried out here at the ESR Science Centre.

Biosecurity is an increasingly pervasive issue all over the world. In August 2003 the Government endorsed the recommendations of the Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand.

We agreed that the new strategy should form the basis for the Government’s improvements to the biosecurity system over a five-year period. It is as part of that new strategy that we approved the establishment in 2004 of the new National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease, the NCBID.

The NCBID is an extremely powerful science presence here in Upper Hutt. On a single site it links the expertise of several organisations: MAF’s Biosecurity New Zealand Investigation and Diagnostic Centre, AsureQuality’s biosecurity facilities, AgResearch’s infectious disease diagnostic facility and, of course, the new ESR Science Centre.

Together, these organisations will draw on the collective experiences, knowledge and resources that will support New Zealand’s biosecurity strategy.

ESR’s investment in this facility strengthens a key linkage between human and animal health issues, first recognised when the Wallaceville laboratory was established here in 1905.

John Gilruth, a veterinarian, pathologist, and researcher came to New Zealand in 1893 to work for the Department of Agriculture. He and Dr James Mason of Otaki were appointed health commissioners to provide advice on the bubonic plague health alarm in New Zealand in 1900 - I’m sure that not many of you were aware that there was once a bubonic plague scare in New Zealand.

Gilruth was the key figure behind the establishment of the Wallaceville laboratory in 1905. It was not only a laboratory – Gilruth directed the entire Division of Veterinary Science of 22 vets and 40 meat inspectors from here. Gilruth further highlighted the connection between animal and human health in his work on bovine tuberculosis, some twenty years before the disease was to be seriously investigated.

The re-establishment of a science centre here shared by animal and human health scientists comes at a time of increasing world concern about disease transmission from animals to humans.

ESR’s new $5 million Science Centre has a unique skill and capability base in this area. This includes expertise in surveillance and forecasting of infectious diseases such as SARS and Avian flu, counter-terrorism including identifying and investigating biological and chemical threats, and forecasting and investigating diseases transmitted from animals to humans.

New robotic laboratory equipment at ESR’s National Influenza Centre laboratory provides a significant increase in capacity to analyse influenza specimens,

I’m sure that, particularly at this time of year, the fact that the new robotic Epi Motion machine provides a significant increase in capacity to analyse influenza specimens by processing about five times more influenza samples per day than previously will be appreciated by everyone.

The new equipment has modernised ESR’s influenza diagnostic capabilities, particularly in the event of a pandemic and may also be used to screen for a range of other diseases as well as being utilised by partners at the NCBID.

Let’s hope that New Zealand remains safe from such threats but, if there is ever a national emergency, ESR’s new facility will help ensure New Zealand’s preparedness and emergency response capability for emerging infectious diseases, pandemics and biosecurity threats.

Furthermore, ESR will be able to provide training and advice for public health staff in field epidemiology and in-field support for designated officers requiring assistance in managing larger outbreaks. This is an important enhancement for our capability and capacity to deal with emergencies caused by emerging infectious diseases.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to formally open ESR’s new Science Centre at Wallaceville. Thank you for your interest in this project. I appreciate you taking the time from your busy schedules to attend this function.

I also wish to commend ESR on its investment in this project and its role, as a Crown research institute, in delivering benefit to New Zealand. I note that some ESR staff members here have transferred over from ESR’s base at Porirua. I thank you for your commitment to the ESR Science Centre – your work here is important for New Zealand.

Thank you.


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