BU Researchers near approval to tackle Ebola in new bio-lab
As concerns about the Ebola outbreak spreading to the US continue to mount, New England Council member Boston University (BU) is awaiting the last steps of approval to open a Biosafety Level 4 laboratory to study the deadly virus and others like it. The center has been in the works for 11 years, and a review by the Boston Public Health Commission and inspection by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the final hurdles it must pass before beginning full operation.
BU won a competitive $200 million federal grant to build the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) in 2003, as part of the government’s response to biowarfare fears that followed the September 11 attacks. The facility’s labs enable basic, translational, and clinical research and the development of products related to emerging infectious diseases that are—or have the potential to become—major public health concerns. It contains state-of-the art technology and security including multiple doorways and identity checks to enter, 12-inch thick walls, and full-coverage positive pressure protection suits. Since the laboratories were built 6 years ago, researchers have worked on less dangerous pathogens in the Biosafety Level 2 lab, but only 25 percent of the building is currently in use. In the approval process for the level 4 lab, BU has obtained over 50 permits and approvals from various agencies, as well as a risk assessment from environmental consulting firm Tetra Tech, which found that risks are “extremely low or beyond reasonably foreseeable.” The Boston Public Health Commission is expected to make an official decision this fall on whether the level 4 laboratory will open.
As the Ebola virus continues to be a national and international health threat, BU’s initiative and dedication to working towards a deeper understanding of the virus and others like it is commendable. The New England Council thanks BU for taking a major step forward in advancing public health and solidifying the New England area’s reputation as the biomedical research hub of the nation.