Viral comments (17): Biosafety in Europe; harmonizing and leaving a Catalonian mark

The last viral emergences with impact in the mass media (Ebola, MERS – Coronavirus, Chikungunya) has been nurturing the need of a good practice in the design, use, maintenance of laboratories or facilities where it is manipulated pathogens with high riskiness and with severe consequences in case of its involuntary or malicious liberation. Therefore the importance to develop continuous training in this field.

For more than four years I’ve take part, representing the CReSA, in initiatives of lifelong personnel training for the researcher team, also for members and Europeans public servants in themes such as biosafety, bioprotection, risk assessment, incidents response, etc.

The last week of November the BSL3/4 training school was held in Göttingen. It has a cleary explanatory title of what is a consortium of experts from different origins (Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Catalonia (Spain)) that during four days we carry out an intensive course about these themes. This training activity is usually organized two times a year.

Manual clases_comentaris

“Working in Biosafety Level 3 and 4 Laboratories”, the manual used as a support in the BSL 3/4 training school

The peculiarity of this course is that the sessions are divided in face-to-face lecture, or master lecture, at the morning, and with practice class, or hands on training for the afternoon schedule.

During the morning sessions the themes to be discussed were the high-containment biological facilities design, accidents with pathogens and its consequences, the transport of infectious material, how the BSL4 laboratories works; how a biosafety level 3 facility  for big animals (ABSL3)works; waste inactivation; decontamination with formaldehyde  and hydrogen peroxide; disinfectant and disinfection…

In the afternoon sessions the attendees enter inside an authentic BSL3 facility and experienced in themselves the change attires; the double or triple layers of gloves and the diminishing in dexterity which that means and, inside the biological safety cabinets they practice the safe pipetting method, also they did the pathogen sowing such as Bacillus anthracis; decontamination of the nucleic acid solution contamination using a filtration method; viral propagation; viral inactivation trials; decontamination of potential contamination by anthrax spores of cabinet; how to respond in case of accident (simulation), etc.

This combination and the fact that every professor took the responsibility for just a pair of students and acted as a tutor of those “disciples” along the practice classes, make such sessions intense, but, at the same time, the experience is enriching, profitable and pleasant, speaking as a professor; we must ask the students, although the feedback from them was always good.

The success of the course can be measure by the fact that there is always long waiting list. In fact, only 10 students are admitted by session and the waiting list has never went down from about thirty aspirant. It helps that the student only has to invest around 350€ and the rest of the expenses (travel, accommodations, meals, material employed, experts) are covered by the European project HOME-2011-ISEC-AG -CBRN-4000001951.

But everything comes to an end, or to a transfiguring change, maybe. This European project had its last edition in 2014, but we have decided to organize an additional session of the course to be hold in Barcelona in this March, 2015. For the experts it will be a whole change from the cold, but lovely, Göttingen to the more mediterranean, but also fantastic, Barcelona.

My mission as a host, which is the same as the CReSA as the institution that is going to hold the course in its facilities, is to equal (difficult) or exceed (almost impossible) the level of previous sessions and discuss, at the end, the possibility to spread in time, this format or in any other equivalent structure, this experience truly useful and with high demand. And the CReSA is willing to contribute, because one of its leadings is to extend and disseminate the biosafety culture and to contribute to the continuous training of its personnel but also to other professionals.

But that, that’s another story.

About the author of this post:

Cap de la Unitat de Biocontenció IRTA-CReSA.