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Higher-Level TB Research to Begin at NEIDL

Boston Public Health Commission gives go-ahead

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BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories will begin doing tuberculosis research at a higher biosafety level in the coming months, following approval of the work by the Boston Public Health Commission. The research will be transferred from another lab on the Medical Campus.

TB researchers Igor Kramnik, a School of Medicine professor of medicine and director of NEIDL’s Aerobiology Core, and James Galagan, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering and NEIDL associate director of systems biology, have also received approval from BU’s Institutional Biosafety Committee (ISB) to begin preparing for Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) research at NEIDL. BSL-3 research at the lab was green-lighted by a federal court in September.

Kramnik says his research probes the “mechanisms of host susceptibility to tuberculosis, to determine how to prevent destructive lung inflammation caused by the pathogen.” He and his colleagues have managed to stem the disease’s lung lesions in mice, and they are now trying to figure out how to activate such protection in humans and prevent TB transmission by coughing.

“We’ll be able to start training in the new BSL-3 lab within a month,” says Kramnik. “We’ll start working with the pathogenic strain as soon as we are comfortable using the space.” Additional ISB review may be required before the BSL-3 work begins.

NEIDL associate director Ronald Corley, Medical Campus associate provost for research and a MED professor and chair of microbiology, says Boston is the only city he knows of that requires municipal health commission approval of BSL-3 research. The approval adds important external oversight to the high-containment laboratory, he says.

Kevin Tuohey, executive director for research compliance at BU and Boston Medical Center, says the Boston Public Health Commission’s review “is a comprehensive process that requires the submission of project-specific information and a variety of safety plans addressing biological safety, employee health, emergency response, security, transportation, training, and the maintenance of the laboratory space.” The submission of that information, he says, is followed by a commission inspection of labs and their procedures and equipment.

Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) research at NEIDL is not expected to begin until after the resolution of a state court case and approval by the Boston Public Health Commission and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lab was cleared two years ago for BioSafety Level 2 (BSL-2) research, which has included Dengue fever virus and some TB work using “surrogates” of human TB.

TB is “one of the areas of research we are planning to expand in NEIDL,” Corley says, “because it is one of the biggest health problems in the world, and it is also a disease that exists in Boston. There are more and more drug-resistant varieties that are emerging. It’s quite appropriate for NEIDL to be studying it.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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