Arrow icon Divider icon

BU lab gets OK to work with deadly pathogens

Poised for progress

Judith Olejnik, Adam Hume & Elke Mühlberger
Judith Olejnik
Senior Research Scientist at the School of Medicine
Adam Hume
Research Scientist at the School of Medicine
Elke Mühlberger
Associate Professor of Microbiology at the School of Medicine

After years of scrutiny by regulatory agencies and city, state, and federal officials, the University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) received final approval from the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) this past year to conduct research at Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4).

NEIDL director Ronald B. Corley, a professor of microbiology, says the BPHC permission was “the last hurdle for our scientists being able to work with approved BSL-4 pathogens—specifically, Ebola and Marburg.” NEIDL researchers have already begun working with the facility’s first level-4 pathogen, the Ebola virus.

NEIDL microbiologist Elke Mühlberger, one of the world’s leading researchers on the Ebola and Marburg viruses; research scientist Adam Hume; and senior research scientist Judith Olejnik have begun working with the facility’s first Level-4 pathogen, the Ebola virus.

Ebola and Marburg are both rare but life-threatening viruses that have become global public health threats. There is no available FDA-approved vaccine or therapy for Ebola, which killed and sickened tens of thousands of people in West Africa in a 2014–2016 outbreak, or for Marburg. Ebola cases traveled to the United States and Europe during the 2014 outbreak.

NEIDL, where multidisciplinary teams of microbiologists, virologists, engineers, and other scientists have been doing research at BSL-2 since 2012 and at BSL-3 since January 2014, is part of a national network of secure facilities that study emerging infectious diseases and develop diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines. The BSL-4 lab, located on BU’s Medical Campus, was built according to the most stringent safety specifications set by the US government for infectious disease research.

One important benefit of the location is that NEIDL researchers can draw on the expertise of multidisciplinary teams of scientists—engineers, chemists, and biologists—across BU and at other institutions in Boston.

“BU is poised to establish itself as a national leader in fighting microbial systems and infectious diseases,” says Gloria Waters, BU’s vice president and associate provost for research. “The work that will be carried out here will bring benefit and relief in the form of vaccines, treatments, and cures to people in Boston, the United States, and around the world.”