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: