photo: RBL

Regional Biosafety Laboratory

The Tulane University Regional Biosafety Laboratory at The Tulane National Primate Research Center is a biosafety level three (BSL-3) facility. Research conducted in the facility focuses on the development of treatments, vaccines and diagnostics for emerging infectious diseases that occur naturally, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and against biological agents that have the potential for misuse for terrorism. The overall goal of research associated with this facility is to protect the health and safety of our community and the nation.

Scientists use biosafety labs to safely and effectively study infectious and toxic materials. These state-of-the-art labs are designed not only to protect researchers from contamination, but also to prevent microorganisms from entering the environment. There are four biosafety levels (BSLs) that define proper laboratory techniques, safety equipment, and design, depending on the types of agents being studied. Brief descriptions can be found below. More complete information is available at the CDC website.

Types of Biosafety Labs

BSL-1 labs are used to study agents not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans. The work is generally conducted on open bench tops using basic safety procedures. No special equipment or design features are required.

A typical BSL-1 lab is a high school biology laboratory.

BSL-2 labs are used to study moderate-risk agents that pose a danger if accidentally inhaled, swallowed or exposed to the skin. Safety measures include access controls, specialized training for laboratory employees, personal protective equipment such as gloves and eye wear as well as biosafety cabinets, hand-washing sinks and decontamination of waste material.

Most of the TNPRC is BSL-2 lab environment, as are hospital laboratories.

BSL-3 labs are used to study agents that can be transmitted through the air and cause serious or potentially lethal disease. Research precautions include those indicated for BSL-2 labs as well as respiratory protection, specialized ventilation and decontamination systems and showering when entering and exiting the facility.

The TNPRC has had an operational BSL-3 facility for more than 15 years.

BSL-4 labs are used to study agents that pose a high risk of life-threatening disease for which no vaccine or therapy is available. Lab personnel are required to wear full-body, air -supplied "space suits" when working in the facility. The labs incorporate all BSL-3 safety features as well as having air-tight door seals and occupy safe, isolated zones within a larger building.

The Tulane Regional Biosafety Laboratory is NOT a BSL-4 laboratory. The closest BSL-4 laboratories are at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas.

Safety & Security

BSL-3 laboratories are explicitly designed to protect both the research scientists and the public from exposure to biological agents or biotoxins used in research. The design principle used to ensure the safety of the facility is described as a "box-within-a-box-within a box."" This engineering principle has been utilized to safely design and operate these types of infectious disease laboratories for over 50 years.

Research activities using infectious pathogens occur in chambers under negative pressure deep within the containment laboratory; these laboratories are in turn completely contained within the facility's outer building. Air leaving the chambers, laboratories and the outer building passes through multiple high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. In fact, air leaving the building is cleaner than air coming into the building.

All employees who have access to or work with select agents are required by federal law to undergo a FBI background check and fingerprinting.

The Tulane Regional Biosafety Laboratory has been designed in compliance with federal regulations set forth by the National Institutes of Health. These regulations govern the construction, use, security, inspection and certification of a BSL-3 laboratory, including the safeguards to ensure the proper containment and destruction of infectious agents.

BSL-3 facilities have operated safely in the United States for more than 30 years.

Before entering the laboratory area, employees are required to remove street clothing and put on protective clothing. When leaving, they must remove protective clothing and shower before changing back into street clothing. Protective clothing is sterilized before being laundered.

The Tulane National Primate Research Center has operated a BSL-3 laboratory for over 25 years.

The TNPRC is a division of Tulane University (985) 871-6201