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Ebola Expert Joins NEIDL

Thomas Geisbert comes to the NEIDL from the National Institutes of Health.

More than 50 years of research and administrative experience in infectious diseases labs comes to Boston University Medical Center’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) with the appointments of Thomas Geisbert and Joan Geisbert. Thomas Geisbert, who helped develop vaccines against the Ebola and Marburg viruses, was named associate director of the NEIDL and director of its Specimen Processing Core Laboratory; Joan Geisbert was appointed associate director of the Specimen Processing Core Laboratory and associate director of the NEIDL Training Simulator.

The NEIDL is being built in Boston’s South End by the BU Medical Center with a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers will study dangerous infectious diseases — whether they occur naturally or are introduced through bioterrorism — and develop diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines. Study of the most serious infectious microorganisms, such as Ebola, will take place in NEIDL’s biosafety level 4 lab. (Laboratories are required to meet one of four safety levels; level 4, or BSL-4, is the highest, used to contain potentially life-threatening microorganisms.) Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2008.

Thomas Geisbert, who will also be a School of Medicine professor of microbiology when he joins BU on October 1, 2007, is currently the associate director for high containment and the high containment coordinator of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases BSL-4 laboratory. Joan Geisbert, whose NEIDL appointment begins February 1, 2008, is a senior biological science laboratory technician at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), where she is suite supervisor for a BSL-3/BSL-4 lab.

“We are delighted that Dr. Geisbert will be joining the faculty of Boston University in the department of microbiology and the NEIDL,” says Mark Klempner, NEIDL director and Medical Campus associate provost for research. “Tom has been on the forefront of research to understand how several hemorrhagic fever viruses cause disease. That knowledge is the basis for his recent contributions to developing treatments and vaccines for these serious infectious diseases.”

Thomas Geisbert has a Ph.D. in molecular pathobiology from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He earned a B.S. in biology from Western Maryland College and an M.S. in biology from Hood College. Before joining the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he was a research microbiologist at USAMRIID, where he specialized in studying the Ebola and Marburg viruses.

As NEIDL associate director, he will take part in major leadership decisions, including faculty and staff recruitment, allocation of space and resources, policy development, and the scientific direction for various laboratory programs. As director of the Specimen Processing Core Laboratory, he will oversee the lab’s hub for analysis of specimens emanating from various research projects.

“One of my goals,” he says, “is to maintain the momentum I have built at USAMRIID and transition some of that work to the NEIDL. I hope to continue to develop interventions for biosafety level 4 agents.”

Geisbert says he is looking forward to working at the NEIDL, where he will examine agents that are not necessarily studied only for their biodefense potential. “At USAMRIID,” he says, “we were limited to biodefense agents, and one of the things I want to do is look at other things, like the Nipah virus, which is transmitted in rural areas of Southeast Asia and is highly pathogenic. I’d also like to work with Lhasa fever. I cut my teeth on Lhasa, but put it on a back burner to work on Ebola.”

Joan Geisbert will help develop policies and standard operating procedures and recruit and train the Core Laboratory personnel. As associate director of the NEIDL Training Simulator, she will develop a training and certification program to prepare NEIDL faculty and staff to work in BSL-4 labs and core facilities. She has been a lab technician at USAMRIID since the start of her career in 1974 and has more than 26 years of experience in BSL-4 laboratories.

“When you ask anyone familiar with biosafety level 4 research laboratories who is the nation’s most experienced, hands-on expert, they will refer you to Joan Geisbert,” says Klempner. “It is no wonder that with her experience in high-containment labs she has participated in some of the most important infectious diseases research projects requiring biosafety level 4 and trained many of the research faculty around the country who work in this specialized environment. We are very fortunate that Joan has chosen to bring her vast experience and talent to Boston University and the NEIDL.”

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.