New York State Department of Health’s World-Renowned Wadsworth Center Poised for Growth with Increased State Investment and New Director
Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Includes $1.7 Billion to Fund Consolidated State Public Health Research Laboratory
New Director to Provide Leadership Across the Center, including in Wastewater Surveillance for COVID-19, Polio, Mpox and Other Communicable Diseases
ALBANY, N.Y. (May 5, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health this week welcomed the new director of the Wadsworth Center, Leonard Peruski, Ph.D., as the enacted state budget brings major investments to the world-renowned public health lab. New York State's 2023-2024 Budget, adopted this week, includes $1.7 billion to complete the creation of a new state-of-the-art public health laboratory aimed at enhancing the State's readiness to effectively respond to future public health crises and retain top-tier scientists.
The Wadsworth Center currently operates across five facilities. The new laboratory, to be constructed on the Harriman Office Campus Complex in Albany by 2030, will seek to consolidate the facilities. In April 2022, an initial $1.9 million design contact was jointly awarded to Gilbane Inc. and Turner Construction Co. in association with the design firm HOK.
The budget funding is an increase of $967 million to the original $750 million approved in the 2018 budget, but due to the pandemic and inflation, development was split into two phases. The Department expects initial designs of the consolidated lab to be released later this month.
"New York is fortunate to be home of the Wadsworth Center, one of the premier public health laboratories in the world. This substantial investment, supported by Governor Hochul and the legislature, further demonstrates the State's commitment to public health excellence," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "I am also thrilled we've recruited world-known expert Dr. Len Peruski who will continue to conduct groundbreaking research that protects and promotes the health of all."
Since February 2016, Dr. Peruski has led international laboratory operations within the Division of Global Health Protection of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over his 30-year career, Dr. Peruski has spent 17 years developing sustainable laboratory capacity and guiding laboratory-centric public health research in more than 60 countries.
"I am honored to be named director of the Wadsworth Center, the authoritative source for public health research recognized both in the United States and abroad," Dr. Peruski said. "I am looking forward to working with the world-class scientists and public health experts of Wadsworth so that we may enhance New York's readiness to effectively respond to potential future public health crises."
In addition to his extensive experience with special pathogens and other infectious agents, Dr. Peruski has had several notable field assignments including serving as the commander of the U.S. military team that deployed to New York City with the CDC in the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attack and leading a military team that provided rapid biological detection capability at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. In 2014, he deployed to Nigeria as the CDC lead during the Ebola outbreak in west Africa and has been deployed extensively during outbreaks in southeast Asia for anthrax and botulism, and in Latin American for Zika and Chikungunya viruses.
The Wadsworth Center focuses on a wide range of critical public health concerns, including responding to public health threats, studying emerging infections, analyzing environmental exposures, and licensing clinical and environmental laboratories, among many other critical responsibilities. Since its origins developing communicable disease treatments in 1901 and the development of the Division of Laboratories and Research in 1914, the Wadsworth Center has grown to become the largest and most diverse state public health laboratory in the U.S.
The Wadsworth Center is a major collaborator in the State's Wastewater Surveillance Network and program, which has provided health officials with an additional mechanism to assess COVID-19 circulation in communities. The results are used, alongside clinical case information and test data, to provide a more comprehensive view and advance tracking of transmission trends. The Wadsworth Center also coordinates the genetic sequencing of wastewater samples to identify variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. These new tools and capabilities enable the Department and local health departments to target their public health responses more effectively.
More recently, the work of the Wadsworth Center has been paramount to the detection of poliovirus in certain areas. Following the Wadsworth Center's identification of a case of paralytic polio in Rockland County in July of 2022, Department officials quickly adapted the existing wastewater network—partnering with CDC and local entities—to test for poliovirus. These monitoring activities, now also based at the Wadsworth Center and ongoing, enabled the State to assess communities for signs of circulating polio and prioritize the public health response to residents in areas most at risk.
The Wadsworth Center was also critical in response efforts to the mpox outbreak. As one of only two laboratories in the State with initial capability to detect mpox virus, the laboratory was able to immediately perform testing during the first three months of the outbreak, until clinical and commercial laboratories implemented testing. The Wadsworth Center laboratories developed a specific test for the rapid identification of the type of mpox causing the outbreak, as well as a serology assay for the diagnosis and surveillance of mpox virus in New York State.