Background On Proposed BSL3 Laboratory Planned for Ohio State University's West Campus
Why are we building this new lab at Ohio State?
At the university, a growing number of researchers and scientists concentrate their studies on understanding the origins, life cycles, weaknesses and threats of numerous microscopic organisms that can present serious health risks to humans and animals alike. To best unravel the mysteries surrounding these pathogens, those researchers need a state-of-the-art laboratory that provides a safe facility for doing such research. The planned BSL3 laboratory on West Campus will be such a facility. . Knowledge gained from these studies will enhance the development of new diagnostic tests, therapies and vaccines against these diseases resulting in a safer environment for all.
What does “BSL3” mean?
“BSL3” stands for Biosafety Level 3, one of four classifications for biologic research designated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The levels – 1 through 4 – signify the increasing level of risk individual pathogens can present to humans. Biosafety Level 1 presents no risk of infection in humans while people infected by pathogens labeled as Biosafety Level 4 carry a high mortality rate.
It sounds like a BSL3 facility is a dangerous place – is it?
On the contrary, it will be one of the safest places on the Ohio State University campus. Federal laws direct lab operators to maintain a stringent series of safeguards to protect both people working inside such facilities and the general public outside the facility. Biosafety Level guidelines are cumulative, that is, those procedures and safeguards designated for a BSL1 facility also apply to facilities with higher safety levels. Regulators increase the required precautions and safeguards with an increased Biosafety Level ranking. Biosafety Level requirements for each level can be found here.
What about physical security? How safe is the facility from intruders?
No modern research facility ever divulges its security plan since doing so increases the chances of intruders. But there are some important obvious safeguards that can be noted:
Are there additional safeguards against intruders besides these?
Yes but we will not divulge those for security reasons. But it is important to note that all security systems at the facility will be linked to the University’s security center in Blankenship Hall, a mere two blocks away. In the event of a security breach attempt, first responders will be on the scene in a matter of minutes.
What about the safety of the facility itself? How can you insure that the organisms being used in the research can’t escape outside the building?
The building is designed to safeguard both against unauthorized access and against the escape of any biological materials. All doors into the facility and into individual laboratories are biologically sealed. No two doors may be opened at the same time, preventing the formation of an air corridor that might facilitate escape from the building. Most importantly, the building is configured such that the air pressure within the building is less than it is outside creating a “negative flow air barrier” at every passageway. Air will rush into the building from the outside and then will be filtered completely before exiting. No air can escape to the outside because the facility is airtight and is equipped with redundant state-of-the-art monitoring systems.
Air from the building flows through HEPA (High-efficiency Particulate Air) filters before it is vented to the outside high on top of the building. The filters contain very fine glass fibers that snag particles as small as 0.3 micrometers in diameter. A strand of human hair, by comparison, is 75 to 100 micrometers in diameter. Also, all work with these pathogens in the building’s laboratories will be done under sophisticated research hoods – self-contained air hoods that further insure that no organisms can escape.
Lastly, in the unlikely event of a lab accident – a spilled container, for example – the laboratory and the building will automatically seal itself off from the outside while personnel decontaminate the area. In fact, the entire facility is designed for easy decontamination.
What kind of research will be conducted within this new facility?
As with all research facilities, the decision on the exact nature of ongoing studies is determined by the research programs of the faculty using the laboratories. In effect, the types of research will change over time. And since the university attracts new researchers on a regular basis, and because in individual scientists interests change over time, there is no specified “set” of research planned. However, we expect that for the immediate future, studies at the new BSL3 facility will include investigations using pathogens responsible for tuberculosis and tularemia in the beginning.
Since concern has been raised recently over the threat of such pathogens being used as biological weapons, will research at the facility include any weapons-related studies?
As an institutional policy, Ohio State University does not conduct weapons research. No weapons research will be conducted at this new facility.
What about classified research? Will classified research be conducted at the BSL3 facility?
While we cannot predict the future, current plans by University leadership do not include accepting any classified research that would make use of this facility.
Will this facility make use of laboratory animals in its research?
Yes. Research in this facility will make continuing use of laboratory animals as models in research conducted here. These animals will be transported into the facility from an animal vivarium already in operation in Pressey Hall. The majority of animals to be used in this facility will be rodents. All research using animals at this facility will have to adhere to all federal, state and institutional guidelines governing animal use in research. All projects will be conducted under a protocol approved by the Institutional Lab Animal Care and Use Committee (ILACUC).
What oversight mechanisms have been put into place to responsibly monitor the activities underway at the new facility?
All research conducted at the new BSL3 facility will adhere to all federal, state and institutional guidelines governing research. As mentioned, the use of animals will be reviewed and approved by the ILACUC. Additionally, the operation of the facility, its use of chemical compounds and of biological agents will be reviewed by numerous long-standing committees permanently charged with this oversight. The BSL3 laboratory itself will report to an oversight group specifically designated to monitor its activity. That group will be responsible for oversight on research at all of the BSL3 facilities on campus.
There are other BSL3 labs on campus now? Where?
Currently, there are two other BSL3 level laboratories at Ohio State. One is located in the College of Biological Sciences and has been undergoing renovations that should be completed soon. The renovations included scheduled upgrades in containment that have changed since the facility was first constructed in the 1970s. The other existing BSL3 facility is part of the Primate Research Center, completed in 1996 as part of the University’s Laboratory Animal Center on Godown Road in northern Columbus. That facility was designed specifically for research involving primates that are housed in a nearby facility. Some BSL3-level research has been conducted there during the past year and is expected to continue this year.
What are the sources of funding for the new BSL3 facility?
The cost of constructing the initial facility is approximately $1.7M
and is funded largely from the Medical Center with some support provided
from the Office of Research. The equipment to go in the facility will
be purchased from grants from the National Institutes of Health and the
funds to operate the lab will come from direct as
Much concern has been voiced about the current site of the facility. What was the decision-making process that led to locating the new BSL3 lab at its proposed site?
In essence, the siting of this facility followed the same procedures that govern the siting of all new construction on campus. It did vary, however, in the length of time devoted to such decisions in similar cases. In essence, the siting process extended from December, 2002 through February, 2003, a much longer period than is normal so that concerns over the effects of such a facility on other nearby university units could be adequately considered. A committee of more than a dozen university officials comprised the site team and at least a dozen sites were considered for the new laboratory. At one point, student representatives were brought into the discussion to gauge their reactions, since student recreational fields will border the current site. Ultimately, the Pressey Hall site was selected because it offered the best combination of proximity to necessary research and animal facilities and enhanced opportunities for collaboration among researchers. The recommendation by the site selection committee was forwarded to the University’s Coordinating Council, a group consisting of the highest university leadership, which approved the Pressey Hall site.
What about future BSL3 facilities on campus?
The University announced earlier this year its plans to construct a new Biomedical Research Tower within the Medical Center which is expected to contain a number of BSL3 laboratories for its researchers. That facility is still in the early design stage.