Use in Ongoing Surveillance Drives Future Preparedness
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted both the importance and success of high-containment biological laboratories (HCBLs), their associated resources, and trained personnel needed to respond to emerging diseases. These laboratories include biosafety level (BSL)-3, BSL-4, animal BSL (ABSL)-3, BSL-3-Ag (agriculture livestock), and ABSL-4 laboratories.
Not only are they a critically important tool in infectious disease surveillance programs, HCBLs are also used to conduct the initial pre-clinical research that sustains the pipeline for development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
In addition to BSL-3, our team works in laboratories designated as BSL-1, BSL-2, BSL-2+, ABSL-2, BSL-3+, and ABSL-3+, with each requiring its own protocols and engineering controls. The + indicates that the lab has practices, procedures, or facilities that are enhanced beyond the designation below it. For instance, in BSL-2+, respiratory protection and following BSL 3 procedures are required. This enhanced designation may be abbreviated as BSL-2 enh instead of BSL-2+. ABSL indicates that the lab is suitable for working with laboratory animals.
Though CDC and WHO recommend that clinical samples such as confirmed and suspected COVID-19 specimens can be handled in BSL-2 facilities for routine diagnostic purpose, isolation or propagation of high concentrations of viruses should be conducted in BSL-3 at minimum.
The research conducted in these laboratories at MRIGlobal and around the world has enabled improved understanding of the SARS-CoV2 pathogen and informed the necessary public health measures to control and prevent further transmission and disease pathogenesis. The scientific capabilities of the highly trained personnel working in HCBLs are a tremendous resource not only because of the research they conduct, but also because they can provide critical guidance on how to effectively manage a highly infectious pathogen at lower containment levels if necessary.
Through the pandemic, we have supported testing and evaluation for various government and commercial partners to aid in obtaining regulatory clearances for devices and assays. This work has demonstrated the strength of our laboratory diagnostic capabilities and ability to scale up operations during surge demands for COVID-19 related work.
In the future, HCBLs will continue to be a critically important tool not only for responding to infectious diseases, but also in infectious disease surveillance programs that then help support tracking and predicting patterns and trends of infectious disease to augment preparedness.
*This piece is largely a summary of “Significance of High-Containment Biological Laboratories Performing Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Biosafety Level-3 and -4 Labs,” which was posted to Frontiersin.org (the website for Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology) on Aug. 13, 2021 and can be accessed here.
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