NEIDL BSL-4 Lab Gets Green Light

in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates
December 7th, 2017

Original article from BU Today by December 6th, 2017

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

“We’re extraordinarily pleased,” says NEIDL Director Ronald B. Corley, a School of Medicine professor of microbiology. The BSL-4 lab, on BU’s Medical Campus in the South End, was built according to the most stringent safety specifications set by the US government for infectious disease research. Corley says the BPHC permission is “the last hurdle for our scientists being able to work with approved BSL-4 pathogens—specifically, Ebola and Marburg.” 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.

“As we have seen over the past several years, we are all vulnerable to potentially devastating infectious diseases that may have originated halfway across the globe,” says Gloria Waters, BU vice president and associate provost for research. “With the opening of the NEIDL’s BSL-4 lab, BU is poised to establish itself as a national leader in fighting microbial systems and infectious diseases. 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.”

“We’re extraordinarily pleased,” says NEIDL Director Ronald B. Corley. The BPHC permission is “the last hurdle for our scientists being able to work with approved BSL-4 pathogens—specifically, Ebola and Marburg.” Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

The NEIDL, where multidisciplinary teams of microbiologists, virologists, engineers, and other scientists have been doing research at BSL-2 for five years 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 to promote public health. There are 11 BSL-4 labs across North America—10 in the United States and one in Winnipeg, Canada. The NEIDL BSL-4 lab is one of only two labs sited within universities in the United States—the other one is at Galveston National Laboratory, at the University of Texas Medical Branch—and Corley says the NEIDL lab is the only one “in the middle of a very research-intensive university like BU” and in “a mecca for biomedical research like the Boston area.”

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

Last December, after more than three years of review, BSL-4 research at the NEIDL was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All BSL-4 research conducted at the NEIDL must also be approved on a case-by-case basis by BU’s Institutional Biosafety Committee, which was created under National Institutes of Health guidelines to review research involving biohazardous materials.


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