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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) Laboratory?
Laboratories that handle infectious agents are rated on four levels. BSL-1 laboratories handle agents that are considered harmless. BSL-4 labs handle agents that are considered extremely dangerous and life-threatening. BSL-3 labs handle agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases.

Why is a BSL-3 Laboratory necessary? What will be studied?
The number of newly emerging infectious diseases continues to grow. The most recent pandemics of H1N1 "swine" flu and Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are perfect examples of how quickly a new disease can appear on the international health scene and require rapid and massive amounts of research to attempt to bring it under control. Additionally, the federal government is seeking expanded facilities capable of conducting research into methods of rendering harmless biological agents that may be used in terrorist activity. For more information on Biosafety Levels, please visit the CDC Web site on Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories

Researchers will utilize this laboratory to investigate such emerging infectious diseases as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, as well as biological agents that may be used in terrorist attacks against the United States. These type facilities provide a very controlled, publicly safe environment for the scientific investigation into potentially dangerous disease and microbes.

What is biodefense?
Biodefense is a broad program with the goal of protecting human populations against people who may want to inflict harm through the use of biological agents. The need for biodefense became clear after 22 Americans were infected by anthrax spores delivered though the US mail.

What is a microbe?
Microbes include bacteria, viruses and fungi. The vast majority of microbes are harmless. In fact, life as we know it is dependent on the microbes that surround us. However, microbes also include the germs that cause human infectious diseases. Research in the SEBLAB will be limited to Biosafety Level 2 and 3 microbes (BSL2 and BSL3).

Why at UAB?
Investigators at UAB have distinguished research records in virology, bacterial pathogenesis and immunology and are poised to bring that experience and knowledge to bear on the national efforts to develop vaccines, drugs and diagnostic approaches to protect society from emerging infections and bioterrorism.

The research that will take place in the facility is similar to that which already takes place not only on the UAB campus, but also at Southern Research Institute, an affiliate of the university. BSL-3 labs are in many major cities throughout the nation, including Washington, D.C., San Diego, Philadelphia and Atlanta. These labs usually are associated with major research centers studying the diseases that affect the world's population.

Just how safe are these labs?
The safety records at these labs have been outstanding through the years. Safety is the first concern when developing these facilities, both for the environment, and for the scientists who will be working in the labs, who actually are at greatest risk of anyone. Therefore, a variety of measures are built into the facilities to protect all involved.

  • The labs have negative air pressure; meaning air is pulled into the room and not blown out. Air that exits the lab is filtered through HEPA (high-efficiency particulate area) filters that are 99.99% efficient against bacteria and viruses.
  • Alternative power and water sources are provided in case there is a rare event that the primary sources of either are disrupted.
  • The interior surfaces of the lab such as walls, floors, and ceilings are constructed for easy cleaning, with any seams being sealed. Bench tops are impervious to water and are resistant to moderate heat and the cleaners used for decontaminating the work surfaces and equipment.
  • No glass containers are used in the lab, reducing the chances for breakage or contamination.
  • Workers in the BSL-3 laboratory change from street clothes to scrubs to perform their laboratory work. When they are done, they remove the scrubs and shower in an adjacent room before exiting the facility. These measures prevent bacteria or viruses from exiting the lab.

Safety for the researchers is paramount. They undergo extensive training and receive appropriate vaccinations. There is no risk of person-to-person transmission when researchers utilize gloves, masks, gowns, etc. All researchers receive training precautions that must be taken to ensure their safety.