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What type of research will be done in this building?

The Duke Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at Duke will be used to develop new treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines for infectious diseases. All building research will be related to promoting human health and protecting human populations. Research results will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals available to the public. Our mandate from the National Institutes of Health focuses on emerging infections and biodefense.

What are examples of emerging infections?

The most important emerging infection in our lifetime was HIV/AIDS. Unrecognized before 1981, HIV has spread globally to become a top-ten cause of death on every continent. Duke has been a leader in HIV research for over 20 years. Modern air travel has made our world more connected than at any time in the past, so emerging infections have the potential to spread more rapidly. The SARS epidemic began in China, but spread quickly to multiple continents. West Nile Virus was first identified in Western Hemisphere in 1999. It began in a single city, New York, but now causes infections from coast to coast. Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, was identified as an emerging infection in January 2004, when it swept through poultry flocks in Southeast Asia. Over 100 human cases have been reported and half of these cases were fatal. The examples of HIV, SARS, West Nile Virus, and avian influenza demonstrate the need for a global response to protect Americans from emerging infections. The Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at Duke will contribute to this response. 

What is biodefense?

Biodefense is a broad program with the goal of protecting human populations against people who may want to hurt us using biological agents. The need for biodefense became clear after 22 Americans were infected by anthrax spores delivered though the US mail. The Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at Duke will be used to develop new treatments, diagnostic tests, and vaccines to protect human populations from microbes. 

What is a microbe?

Microbes include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The vast majority of microbes are harmless. In fact, life as we know it is dependent on the microbes that surround us. However, microbes also include the germs that cause human infectious diseases. Research in the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory will be limited to Biosafety Level 2 and 3 microbes (BSL2 and BSL3). These levels of research are currently being conducted safely at Duke and many other Triangle institutions. 

What do these Biosafety Levels mean?

Biosafety Level 1 is the minimal level of laboratory safety used for microbes that don’t cause disease in healthy adults. Laboratory strains of E. coli are handled at this level. BSL1 work can be safely conducted in a high school science laboratory with no equipment beyond a sink for hand washing. 
Biosafety Level 2 is used for routine microbes that are present in our community and can cause human disease of varying severity. Examples of BSL2 microbes include hepatitis viruses and common causes of pneumonia such as the pneumococcus bacterium and the influenza virus. Human blood samples are processed at BSL2, so this safety level is used for routine tests in hospital and clinic laboratories. 
Biosafety Level 3 is used for microbes that can be transmitted by an aerosol or that cause serious or lethal infections in humans. The bacteria that cause human tuberculosis are handled at BSL3. BSL3 laboratories maintain negative air pressure relative to the outside and to the rest of the building. Exhaust air from a BSL3 laboratory is not re-circulated to other parts of the building. Community hospitals typically have a single BSL3 room as part of their clinical laboratory suite.  This is the highest level that will be used in the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at Duke.
Biosafety Level 4 is used for dangerous and exotic microbes that pose a high risk of serous or fatal disease to researchers. Examples include smallpox and Ebola virus. Workers in BSL4 laboratories are protected by special suits (“spacesuits”) with a dedicated supply of outside air. The Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at Duke will not contain BSL4 labs, and no BSL4 microbes will be handled at Duke. 

What are Select Agents?

The federal government has identified a list of microbes and toxins that have the potential to threaten human or animal populations. Researchers who work with these "Select Agents" must register the research with the National Select Agent Registry (NSAR) and must follow specific rules to maintain security, safety, and inventory for these agents. For more information, please the National Select Agent Registry (NSAR) website.

Who regulates transportation and receipt of select agents?

The importation of etiologic agents and vectors of human diseases is subject to the requirements of the Public Health Service Foreign Quarantine regulations. Companion regulations of the Public Health Service and the Department of Transportation specify packaging, labeling, and shipping requirements for etiologic agents and diagnostic specimens shipped in interstate commerce.  The USDA regulates the importation and interstate shipment of animal pathogens and prohibits the importation, possession, or use of certain exotic animal disease agents which pose a serious disease threat to domestic livestock and poultry.  For more information, please see the Principles of Biosafety chapter from the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories.