Biosafety Level 4 Research Coming to the NEIDL
The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) is a $200 million research facility built by Boston University. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) agreed to co-fund the project in 2006, but several court injunctions have kept most of its brand-new highly equipped laboratories ridiculously empty.
A recent federal ruling by US District Court Chief Judge Patti Saris determined that the risks to the public associated with the NEIDL are “extremely low, or beyond reasonably foreseeable” and that its current location in Boston’s South End neighborhood poses no greater threat than if it were located in a different suburban or rural area. One more state court lawsuit (which will be decided later this year) stands as the last major obstacle before BSL-3 and BSL-4 research starts taking place at the NEIDL.
Maximum-security research facilities are the best place to pursue our ignorance about how these deadly pathogens work, and they provide the resources to eventually transform scary diseases into manageable annoyances. Unfortunately, a few vocal groups have pushed back against the construction of the NEIDL, claiming that its location would “have a disproportionately adverse effect on minority and low-income population”. This seems completely unfounded. If anyone was at risk, it would be the social contacts of a hypothetically infected lab worker, not the people living close to the facility.
Thirteen pathogens were chosen to be studied in the BSL-3 and BSL-4 facilities within the NEIDL, including the bacterium that causes anthrax, the 1918 flu virus, and the virus that causes SARS. The way I see it, the chances of catching the next swine flu variant coming from China far exceed those of getting infected from one of the pathogens being studied at the NEIDL.
The sooner research starts, the higher the chance that we will keep outbreaks from turning into epidemics.