Threading the NEIDL

After two long days of shooting and hundreds of hours of editing, the American Society for Microbiology and This Week in Virology are proud to release the documentary “Threading the NEIDL.” This video provides an unprecedented (and probably never-to-be-duplicated) look inside a state-of-the-art Biosafety Level 4 laboratory. BSL-4 labs are the ones that work on the most dangerous human pathogens, and the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) at Boston University is the newest facility with labs built to the incredibly strict standards this type of science requires.

As you’ll see, we were able to get a detailed view of the inner workings of the NEIDL because it’s not operating yet. It seems that opening a high-level containment lab in the middle of a densely populated city didn’t sit well with the neighbors, and lawyers and government officials are still haggling over its fate. Meanwhile, this brand-new $200 million building is mostly empty. The silver lining is that the TWiV team was able to get inside and see spaces that would normally be inaccessible to outsiders. We also tried on some BSL-4 suits to see what it’s like to work in that environment, and chatted at length with the scientists who hope to do research in the NEIDL’s containment labs if and when they open.

The video ends on a positive note about the need to study dangerous pathogens, but it’s not a promotional piece. Community objections and BU’s handling of them get some coverage, and we went into more detail about those controversies in the associated podcast episode we released back in September. I’m still not convinced downtown Boston was the best place to stick the NEIDL. However, it does seem to have been built well, and I’d really hate to see a nine-figure sum of NIH funding flushed down the toilet now that the deed is done. Check out the video and make up your own mind:

One thought on “Threading the NEIDL

  1. marcia stone

    The neighborhood wasn’t the major problem with NEIDL, the fact that three researchers working in one of their existing BSL-3 labs became infected with Francisella tularenis in 2004, the ‘select agent’ that causes tuleremia, wasn’t reported for months was. The Boston Public Health Commission, the state health department, the CDC and the FBI were considerably displeased. A Massachusettes state court rejected an early version of the Environmental Impact Report and a bunch of other stuff. The BSLp4 facility at the University of Texas Galveston National Lab (GNI) was completed at the same time (2008) and went online immediately –it’s in the middle of a dense community as well. Even an NIH-convened blue-ribbon panel couldn’t save NEIDL. BU caused its own problems.

    For more information see the February issue of Microbe.

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