Boston University Plans to Request Permission to Conduct Lower Level Research in NEIDL: BSL-4 Risk Assessment Process to Continue

in Press Releases
October 5th, 2011

Boston University Medical Campus
For Immediate Release: August 12, 2011
Contact: Ellen Berlin, 617-520-7115

Boston — Boston University will be asking the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) for permission to conduct lower-level biosafety research in its National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL).

Construction on the $200 million facility, located on the BU Medical Campus in the South End was completed in September 2008, but controversy and litigation surrounding the proposed study of Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) agents has kept the building’s 192,000 square feet of laboratory space closed. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently overseeing a supplemental risk assessment study in response to concerns raised by the courts and community.

The request, if granted, would allow Boston University to use the part of the building that is designed to accommodate lower levels of research similar to work being done elsewhere on its campus and throughout Boston and the state.

Specifically, the University will be requesting a Phase One Waiver which would enable it to begin BSL-2 research later this year. It would also enable the University to apply for the appropriate permits to do BSL-3 research, but the University will not undertake any BSL-3 research activities in the NEIDL until the NIH supplemental risk assessment is completed and considered.

Biosafety levels are assigned based on primary risk criteria including infectivity, severity of disease and the nature of the work being conducted. Each level of containment describes appropriate laboratory practices, safety equipment and policies for conducting research with a particular agent. The policies are in place to protect researchers, non- laboratory occupants of the building, the public health and environment.

University officials stress that this request is limited to lower safety- level research and would not permit researchers to conduct BSL-4 work. BSL-4 work could not take place until and unless the regulators and courts review the supplemental environmental risk assessment and determine it is permissible for BU to conduct that highest biosafety level research in the building.

University officials added, “We strongly support the supplemental environmental risk assessment process. We want it to be thorough, complete, and determinative of the legitimate questions raised about the future of BSL-4 research in urban medical centers like ours. At the same time, only 16% of the space in the NEIDL is designed for BSL-4 laboratories. It makes sense to put the lower safety level laboratories to use now instead of leaving them empty.”

In 2003, Boston University was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to build one of two National Biocontainment Laboratories. Construction began in 2006. Located on the Boston University Medical Campus on Albany Street in Boston’s South End., the NEIDL cost $200 million to construct and is a 192,000 square feet, 7-story building that includes BSL-2, BSL-3, and BSL-4 capacities.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. BU consists of 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.