Biosafety Labs to Open This Week
NEIDL’s first quarry: tuberculosis| From BU Today | By Rich Barlow
The first researchers moved into BU’s new biosafety labs during the first week of April. Photo by Vernon Doucette
During the first week of April, $200 million worth of laboratories that have been idle for three-plus years on the Medical Campus begin their first research: combating the resurgent killer tuberculosis.
Following state approval in December of Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) research, 15 researchers are firing up their equipment in the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL). Legal challenges and government reviews had stalled the start of research.
The labs are awaiting approval to do more sensitive Biosafety Level 3 and Level 4 research. Meanwhile, to assuage the concerns of neighbors and environmentalists about the lab’s safety in a populous area, NEIDL leaders and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) have been guiding public health and safety officers, political leaders, reporters, and residents on tours of the labs.
“It is noteworthy that these researchers will be conducting important public health research on a disease that affects nearly one-third of the world’s population,” says NEIDL interim director John Murphy, a School of Medicine professor of medicine and microbiology.
The inaugural research pits these new high-tech labs against a disease once declared eradicated by the U.S. Surgeon General. The new iteration of TB is resistant to many common drug therapies and is plaguing large cities throughout the world that are vulnerable to the airborne bacteria causing the contagious affliction.
One NEIDL research team will study M. smegmatis, a relative of the organism that causes TB. Unlike the TB organism, M. smegmatis doesn’t cause disease and might provide clues to “how key gene control mechanisms work,” according to a NEIDL press release. James Galagan, a College of Engineering associate professor of biomedical engineering and microbiology, leads the team.
Another team will probe how host resistance to the TB bacteria works, with an eye toward improving the potency and safety of vaccines. Igor Kramnik, a MED associate professor of medicine, heads this team.
Other BSL-2 research will include studies of measles, meningitis, and Dengue fever.
A three-hour public meeting on a National Institutes of Health risk report on the BSL-3 and BSL-4 research will be held April 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Roxbury Community College, 1234 Columbus Ave., Boston. It’s uncertain when regulatory and court approval for those research levels will come.