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Panel to examine state research center

A special task force created by state Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah is putting the state's public health laboratory and research center under the microscope.

The Albany-based Wadsworth Center is the nation's third-largest public health lab after the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health. Wadsworth has a $100 million budget and employs about 1,000 people in 20 labs.

The center's research capabilities, however, have been diminished by budget cuts, retirements among senior researchers and universities that are recruiting away staff scientists.

Shah appointed the task force in November and expects it to report in January. Members include leaders from research institutes, laboratories and state economic groups. A spokesman from the state Department of Health said the group is not tasked with cutting costs but is looking at how the center should position itself for the future.

"The key goals of the task force are to explore avenues that will allow Wadsworth to take advantage of new scientific and economic development opportunities, and further strengthen its world-class research and public health labs," the department said.

Wadsworth handles testing for influenza, West Nile, rabies and newborn screening, but state law also gives it authority to perform original research in "matters affecting public health." It is the largest state lab in the United States. Its developments include Nystatin, a treatment for fungal infections that is named after New York State.

Wadsworth has been criticized for the fees it charges hospitals and private labs in the state for its monitoring program.

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