NEIDL Website Puts Research on Display

in Featured, In The News
July 23rd, 2012

BU Today


by: Leslie Friday


Long a source of apprehension for some neighbors and community activists, the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) on the Boston University Medical Campus is working hard to become an open book: the research facility has launched a new website where visitors can read about its research and safety procedures, review quarterly incident reports, or read meeting notes from the Community Liaison Committee (CLC), which is recruiting additional members.

“Transparency is really a critical element,” says Stephen Burgay, BU senior vice president for external affairs. “Given the unique nature of this lab, we found it was important to take as many steps as we can to give people confidence that they know exactly what’s going on inside.”

Scott Dasse, the University’s creative director for interactive design, says the site, which launched this month, strives to make the facility fully accountable and transparent to the community. Web visitors will find video tours of the labs, discussions with researchers, and detailed accounts of scientists’ backgrounds and the focus of their current research. The site also states that classified research is prohibited at the lab.

“It should be very clear that the type of work that we’re doing is intended to help find cures for infectious disease, rather than finding ways to use infectious disease to inflict harm on people,” says Burgay.

The website provides direct links to NEIDL’s safety procedures and to the work of the Institutional Biosafety Committee, a panel of experts and community members who review and approve all experiments before they are conducted. Quarterly reports of all safety-related incidents are published on the site.

NEIDL is also expanding the membership of its Community Liaison Committee, from 6 volunteer members to 14, according to Valeda Britton, executive director of community relations for the Medical Campus. The committee, which meets monthly, welcomes candidates with backgrounds in science, public health, and communications, particularly those who are bilingual, to cater to the needs of the surrounding diverse population. Britton says the committee’s original deadline for applications, July 27, has been extended to August 31.

Community Liaison Committee members convey local concerns to NEIDL officials and help keep the public informed about work conducted at the facility. “It’s a two-way street,” says Britton.

Construction on the $200 million NEIDL was completed in September 2008, but controversy and litigation surrounding the study of infectious diseases requiring the highest biosafety level, or BSL-4, kept the building’s 192,000 square feet of laboratory space closed. That changed late last year when the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs gave the facility clearance to conduct research at Biosafety Level 2. (Research at that level, as well at BSL-3, is conducted at dozens of other labs throughout the commonwealth, including some at BU.)

As of April, researchers in BSL-2 labs began exploring better ways to prevent tuberculosis—an infectious disease that kills more than one million people each year. The University is still seeking a permit to pursue judicial and regulatory approval for research in NEIDL’s BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories. On July 6, the University’s effort was reinforced by a National Institutes of Health report asserting that the risk is very low that an infection arising in the facility would spread to the larger community.

Residents of Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston, and the South End are encouraged to apply for membership to the Community Liaison Committee by filling out this form or by contacting Valeda Britton. Applications will be accepted until Friday, August 31.

These videos discuss the importance of BSL-3 research and provide a virtual tour of BSL-4. Videos by Joe Chan.