New high-level laboratories at Fort Detrick have improved safety features to both protect the lab workers and monitor their actions, officials said last week. The “biosafety level 4,” or BSL-4, labs at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at the fort are newly renovated, replacing the labs built in 1969. Construction began in 2007 and was completed in the spring. The cost of the project was not immediately available. Before the labs are open for business and closed for public inspection, USAMRIID took media on a tour of the labs Aug. 10. USAMRIID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta are the only labs approved to study BSL-4 agents, which include dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola, Marburg, and Lassa viruses. BSL-4 agents are transmitted by air, can cause severe illness or death, and have no vaccines or treatments. USAMRIID’s scientists are working on vaccines for the deadly viruses. As their work progresses, researchers move from working with small rodents to primates, so large animal cages are also housed in the containment suite. The redesign, which made use of advanced technology and more safety redundancies, made the labs more efficient and more secure, according to Dr. Lisa Hensley, chief of the viral therapeutics branch of USAMRIID. Solid waste from the labs is sterilized, burned in a medical incinerator, then buried in a lime-filled pit on base. More windows are in place than before for hallway monitoring, and each lab has two cameras and a lighted message board so lab workers can receive messages. Several new and improved freezers will hold lab samples. Increased internal security for the inventory of virus samples began in 2008, when Dr. Sam Edwin came on board. In 2009, the labs did a complete inventory and found that some samples were missing. Edwin, who previously worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and in academia, said Wednesday that a new database system helps keep track of samples, as do regular audits. “We have completely redone the accountability processes,” Edwin said. Prior to 2008, scientists kept individual records of their work with pathogen samples, and tracking them was not mandatory. Now Edwin has access to USAMRIID’s complete inventory through a database. And with his scientific and administrative background, he can understand scientists’ notes and experiments. “I can troubleshoot and look at usage, so no one can pull any tricks,” he said. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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