Benjamin Wolozin, MD, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and neurology at BUSM,
By Lisa Brown
(This video shows a bacterial ribosome docked onto the SecYEG protein translocation channel, then removes the ribosome as it zooms in to show the channel as a set of ribbons that represent alpha helices of the 3 different channel subunits. The SecY channel is viewed from the plane of the membrane and changes from a closed to an open form and then the nascent (newly forming) protein (in green) from the ribosome, which is not shown in later stages of the video, is modeled within the central pore of the open channel in a looped configuration and additionally, there is a loop of the new protein lying on the top of the channel, before it enters the central pore.)
Similar to passengers on an urban transit system, every protein made in the cell has a specific destination and function. Channels in cell membranes help direct these proteins to their appropriate target. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and their colleagues have now captured images of these channels as they open to allow proteins to pass through a membrane, while the proteins are being made. These findings are published as a Letter in Nature (Park, E. et al. 2013).
Christopher W. Akey, PhD, professor of physiology and biophysics at BUSM is a co-senior author of the Letter. In addition, the collaborating institutions include Harvard Medical School (HMS), Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and Georgia Institute of Technology (GT).
Proteins, which are encoded by genes, are large molecules that perform specific functions. Many proteins such as hormones and growth factors are secreted by the cell and move into the bloodstream. These proteins are made in factories called ribosomes, which interact with a family of channels called Sec61/SecY that provide a path across the membrane. Initially, these nascent, or newly-made, proteins are inserted into channels as the proteins are being made. The channels also aid in inserting nascent proteins into the cell membrane where they function as receptors for drugs and form ion channels that function in vision and in transmitting nerve cell impulses.
In this study, researchers used samples made in E. coli bacteria to determine the structure of the highly conserved SecY channel. Using an electron microscope and computer analysis, researchers were able to capture images of the SecY channel opening when a nascent protein enters the central pore. In particular, the channel undergoes large movements that enlarge the central pore as a first step in allowing the nascent protein to cross the cell membrane and eventually travel to its destination.
“Similar to train cars that transport passengers through a tunnel, SecY/Sec61 channels help nascent proteins move across the cell membrane to reach their target in the body, and this study provides important insight about the function of these channels,” said Akey.
Funding for this study was provided in part by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences under grant award number NIH GM45377.
Tom Rapoport, PhD, professor of cell biology, HMS, is a co-senior author. Other collaborators include: Eun Yong Park, PhD, HMS; Jean-François Ménétret, PhD, BUSM; Steven J. Ludtke, PhD, BCM; and JC Gumbart, PhD, GT.
MED’s Jack, SPH’s Jette earn honor for research, service
Two BU professors have been inducted into the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a branch of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that confers membership on people in the health and medical fields who combine outstanding professional achievements with a commitment to service. Among the 70 new IOM members nationwide are Brian Jack, a School of Medicine professor and chair of family medicine and chief of family medicine at Boston Medical Center, and Alan Jette, a School of Public Health professor of health policy and management and director of the Health & Disabilities Research Institute. They join IOM’s active membership of just 1,753, a respected body that offers independent analysis and recommendations on important health issues.
“Election to the IOM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus, who is also a member. “Dr. Jack has made invaluable contributions to the field of medicine, specifically his extensive research regarding hospital readmissions.” Robert Meenan (MED’72, GSM’89), dean of SPH, who has worked closely with Jette for three decades, lauded his colleague for his longtime leadership in the field of disability. “Through Alan’s insightful studies, disability has become better understood by being more measurable, and his findings have led to important changes in major government policies and programs,” Meenan says.
Although his election came as a pleasant surprise, Jette, who from 1996 to 2004 was dean of Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, has been working with IOM for several years. He chaired the institute’s Future of Disability in America project, which led to the release of a landmark report in 2007 that shaped national priorities in the field of disability. Trained as a physical therapist, he worked with patients in the clinical setting before earning a doctorate in public health, hands-on experience that informs his work helping communities and the Social Security Administration to develop assessment tools. Jette, whose work embraces several fields, recently completed a study of older people who have fractured a hip, and did a clinical trial looking at the benefits of extending traditional rehabilitation.
“We work with social scientists, physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, physical and occupational therapists,” says Jette. He sees the aging of the American population—a major focus of the IOM panel he chaired—as a huge challenge to researchers studying prevention and management of late life disability.
“Election to the IOM is a great honor,” says Jack, whose team has earned international recognition for developing Project RED, a set of 12 detailed steps for reengineered discharge, which reduces hospital readmissions. The IOM membership also recognizes Jack’s work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which presented him with its External Partner award for his role on a panel on preconception care. Jack has devoted much of his career to improving global health, working on family medicine training programs in Hungary, Romania, Albania, and Lesotho. He believes that preventing “poor maternity outcomes is indeed possible, and in developing family medicine training programs around the world that meet the needs of society, all came about from observations in my clinical work and my reflections on how we can do better.”
The IOM is one of several branches of the National Academy of Sciences, along with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council. It seeks to help both government and the private sector make informed health decisions. Every year, thousands of professionals, IOM members and nonmembers, volunteer their expertise to work on studies launched as specific mandates from Congress or at the request of federal agencies and independent organizations.
This BU Today story was written by Susan Seligson. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Franklin Park Mile race Sunday to strengthen community ties
Owen Kendall recalls the shock he felt when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last April, killing three people, including Lu Lingzi (GRS’13), and injuring more than 200. The veteran long-distance runner had finished the race in under three hours and was walking through Copley Square to congratulate other runners when the explosions occurred. “I felt helpless, horrified, and frustrated,” he says.
But in the days following the bombings, the 31-year-old Kendall (MED’15) noticed something remarkable. “I saw how close the city became in the wake of that tragedy,” he says. “Boston is a somewhat segregated city, but after the Marathon, it became completely unified. So I really wanted to think of some way to use running to help our community bond like that in the future.”
On Sunday, Kendall will realize his dream: an event billed as the Franklin Park Mile, a one-mile race around Boston’s largest park. The goal, he says, isn’t simply to get people moving, but to instill a sense of community by bringing together residents from the diverse neighborhoods that surround Franklin Park—groups of people who rarely interact.
“We live in a world where people are becoming increasingly disconnected, where there is a massive gulf between the richest and the poorest,” he says. “But running is completely egalitarian, so we felt that we could use that as a way to bring people together and knock down some of the barriers of economic inequality.”
Kendall has spent the last six months planning for Sunday’s race. “We’re reaching out to a different population,” he says. “We’ve been contacting churches and community centers and marketing on a kind of grassroots level, because we don’t want this race to be the same as all the others.”
A veteran triathlete, Kendall has seen firsthand how running can bring a community together. After moving to Jamaica Plain two years ago, he started a free community running group with classmates Kristin Schwarz (MED’14) and Steven Mills (MED’14). Calling themselves the Forest Hills Runners (FHR), they began as a small group of a dozen runners that today is more than 100 strong, with runners of all ages and backgrounds.
“FHR is not like other running groups in that it caters to all runners,” Kendall says, “from people who have been running their whole lives to people who are trying to convince themselves to take their first running steps. Everyone is connected through our shared goal, which is to improve our community as a whole.” He believes that a shared activity like community running can empower an entire population.
And for him, the desire to foster community through running is deeply personal.
“Free community running saved my life,” he says. “When I was going through a separation and divorce, I needed to be around people, and getting my body in motion really helped to stabilize everything else. I knew others were going through similar experiences, and I felt that we could get people connected through this completely human and natural thing.”
Shortly after founding Forest Hills Runners, Kendall, who plans to pursue a career in family medicine, knew he needed to get local youth involved as well. “If you don’t treat the kids and the parents, you can’t make a change,” he says. “If you treat them both, they will help each other by continuing to monitor each other’s behavior.”
Kendall teamed up with the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), a community-development organization that provides after-school activities for high school students struggling with their grades. HSTF runs dance, music, and theater programs for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, so Kendall partnered with the nonprofit to create a running group for freshmen, called Rookie Runners.
Alexis Agrinsoni (SSW’15) was hired to coordinate the program, which, he says, “teaches students resilience, community development, and leadership skills through running.” Kendall and other MED students volunteer as mentors to the kids. “Owen comes in on a weekly basis to run with us,” Agrinsoni says, “and he reaches the kids on a different level by helping them with reflections about what running means to them.” Kendall says the goal is to help kids stay away from street violence and become youth leaders by promoting healthy lifestyles. Each of the 40 students enrolled in Rookie Runners plans to race in Sunday’s Franklin Park Mile.
Kendall hopes the race will help not only to build stronger ties between communities in Boston, but to serve as a national model for other cities. After graduation, he wants to create a nonprofit that will sponsor free community running groups in cities across the country. “We’re always talking about ways to prevent disease and save money for the American people in the field of medicine,” Kendall says. “Well, here’s a way to do both, while also dramatically improving people’s lives and strengthening community ties. I believe community running has the potential to change the culture of the United States so that it ends up being much more equal and connected, and this race is one of the first steps towards that goal.”
The Franklin Park Mile will be held on Sunday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. at the Playstead in Franklin Park (near White Stadium), One Franklin Park Rd., Dorchester. The race entry fee is $10 for adults and free for those under age 16. There will be cash prizes for the fastest overall runners. Whole Foods and Zico will have promotional stands. Bib pickup and race-day sign-up begin at noon, or register in advance here.
This BU Today story was written by Nate Weitzer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUSM Investigators Identify Barriers to Implementing Complementary and Integrative Medicine Curricula into Residency Programs
Investigators at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have identified that lack of time and a paucity of trained faculty are perceived as the most significant barriers to incorporating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative medicine (IM) training into family medicine residency curricula and training programs.
The study results, which are published online in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, were collected using data from an online survey completed by 212 national residency program directors. The study was led by Paula Gardiner, MD, MPH, assistant professor of family medicine at BUSM and assistant director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center, and colleagues from the department of Family Medicine.
“This is a part of medicine that has significant impact on patient care,” said Gardiner. “We need to minimize barriers to implementing CAM/IM curricula in order to address these competencies and promote a larger focus on patient centered care.”
According to the current study a majority of family medicine residency program directors felt that CAM and IM were an important part of resident training and, of those, a majority was aware of these recommended competencies. However, a majority of directors also did not have specific learning goals around CAM and IM in their residency programs. Of those directors aware of the competencies, a minority had an adequate evaluation of CAM or IM in their program.
The survey respondents identified “strong” CAM/IM programs as those that incorporated at least one of the following modes of exposing residents to CAM or IM: didactics, clinical rotations or electives. “Weak” programs incorporated none of these modalities. Didactics were the most commonly employed techniques of the strong programs. There were significant differences between the strong and weak programs in perceived access to experts in CAM or IM and faculty training in these modalities.
The study was conducted via an online survey and consisted of six questions on CAM and IM with a focus on awareness, competencies, attitudes toward curricula, barriers to implementation and management techniques.
Given the use of CAM and IM modalities by patients and practicing physicians future directions should include raising awareness around the proposed competencies and identifying solutions to minimize the barriers to incorporating these competencies in residency training programs.
This research was funded in part by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Study data was provided by the Council of Academic Family Medicine (CAFM) Educational Research Alliance (CERA) Steering Committee.
Researchers Identify an Effective Screening Tool for Detecting Intimate Partner Violence among Women Veterans
Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers have identified a promising screening tool to detect intimate partner violence (IPV) in females in the VA Boston Healthcare System. The findings, which appear in the current issue of Journal of General Internal Medicine, accurately detected 78 percent of women identified as abused within the past year by a more comprehensive and behaviorally specific scale.
IPV is a major public health issue, particularly among women receiving medical care at VA facilities. The researchers cite “lifetime reports of IPV as high as 74 percent among this population,” reinforcing the critical need for both brief and accurate screening tools. The four-item screening tool studied is named HITS (Hurt/Insult/Threaten/Scream) and can be used in under four minutes. HITS is unique in that it assesses psychological IPV in addition to physical aggression.
The study used a sample of 700 women with data extracted from the Veterans Health Administration electronic health records, with 63.5 percent of those contacted participating. The subjects completed two surveys by mail: the HITS screening test, as well as the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS-2), considered the gold-standard for measuring IPV. The final study sample included 160 women who reported involvement in an intimate relationship within the prior year.
The study found that nearly 29 percent of women who had been involved in a recent intimate relationship reported physical, sexual and/or severe psychological IPV in the past year. The tool demonstrated good sensitivity and specificity in detecting IPV in this sample. Report of IPV in the past year was associated with higher scores for depression and PTSD. The use of the HITS screening tool was also found to assess sexual IPV with a sensitivity of 87 percent, signifying that very few cases of sexual IPV go undetected.
“Further research is needed to validate questionnaire answers by mail with in-person clinical assessment, however HITS has the potential to effectively and efficiently identify a high proportion of female VHA patients who have experienced past-year IPV,” explained lead author Katherine Iverson, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM and clinical research psychologist at the VA Boston Healthcare System and VA’s National Center for PTSD.
According to Iverson the screening tool has the benefit to quickly identify high-risk patients, and coordinate referrals to more comprehensive support services.
This research was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) Services as part of Dr. Katherine Iverson’s HSR&D Career Development Award (CDA10-029).
BUSM Awarded $3M NIH Grant to Study Link between Obesity and Breast Cancer in African-American Women
Gerald V. Denis, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Julie Palmer, ScD, professor of epidemiology at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, have been awarded a five-year, $3M grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the implications of obesity on breast cancer in African-American women.
“Breast cancer mortality is higher in African-American women in the U.S. when compared to white women and access to care does not fully account for the difference,” said Palmer. “Our hope is that a better understanding of the interplay of obesity with cancer will lead to better outcomes for women with breast cancer.”
Previous research has shown that inflammatory adipose tissue is associated with metabolic status. However, about 28 percent of obese persons remain metabolically healthy. In metabolically-abnormal obese (MAO) individuals who express this inflammation, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer are more prevalent. Until now, MAO and metabolically healthy obese (MHO) individuals have been grouped together. This research will explore the unique immunometabolic features of the MHO subgroup to distinguish important mechanisms that affect cancer risk.
“The American Cancer Society has estimated that the number of American women who will be diagnosed annually with breast cancer may approach double the current 220,000. This increase is attributable solely to the metabolic and immunological complications of insulin-resistant obesity,” said Denis.
Using basic laboratory and epidemiological population data to identify the relationships between co-morbid obesity and cancer and pharmacological solutions, the long term goal of this research is to understand and use the relationships among obesity, inflammation and breast cancer outcomes to reduce the effects of obesity on cancer incidence and mortality.
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U01CA182898. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Garden, recreation space offers students welcome respite
Just over a year ago, Karen Antman was strolling past the newly opened Medical Student Residence on Albany Street when she spotted students tossing a football in the small courtyard abutting the building. The tight space called for some creative, and potentially dangerous, catches.
“They kept careening into the benches and rose bushes,” says Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and Medical Campus provost. “Clearly they needed a field.”
Coincidentally, there was a wide-open space behind the building, where two additional residences will be built once funding and city approval are secured. Realizing that students needed recreation space immediately, Antman approached John Barton, Medical Campus executive director of facilities, with the idea of transforming the site into a green space that could be used for sports and other activities. Working together, they developed a plan and a budget. Antman says that Barton was the one who dubbed the space the “Field of Dreams.”
“The name stuck,” says Antman, MED’s John Sandson Professor of Health Sciences. “I presented a plan at our Dean’s Advisory Board this spring, and volunteers had funded it by the end of the meeting.”
The donors, who prefer to remain anonymous, covered the $90,000 construction cost, and work was completed in August. The field now boasts an NBA-sized basketball court, a sand volleyball court, and a grass field for sports like soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, and football as well as nine raised vegetable beds, where students can help themselves to fresh produce.
The Field of Dreams offers an essential respite to the stress of medical school. “No matter how wonderful a student you were before, medical school is difficult,” says Angela Jackson, a MED associate professor of medicine and associate dean for student affairs. “It’s more demanding, more anxiety-producing, and just being able to balance life is impossible.” And while extracurricular activities are available for MED students, Jackson says, “there is something about just getting your hands in the dirt and eating the product of your work.”
On a recent autumn afternoon, Barton swipes his BU identification card to enter the gated field. Any BU student with a valid ID has access to the area. So far, Barton says, the University has had no problems with trespassing or vandalism, despite the high-traffic area.
There’s still some work to do on the field. Barton points to the volleyball court, which he’d like to expand in the coming months, and the grass that’s been reluctant to take hold. Still, the field is already popular. On a recent weeknight, students were playing a pickup basketball game on the new court. And the garden, although tired and wilting after a long growing season, produced a nice crop of eggplants, kale, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and a wide variety of herbs.
Claire Wang (MED’16) comes to the garden occasionally to pick bell peppers and chilies to mix into stir fries, and she sees people playing basketball nearly every night. Without the field, most students would have to go to a gym, the Charles River Campus, or the South End to play sports, she says. “It definitely allows students to have access to their hobbies.”
Jackson recruited students via email to participate in the garden. Those interested compiled a wish list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Some even solicited suggestions from parents knowledgeable about gardening. After pruning their choices, the students presented a list to Jackson, Antman, and Barton, and Barton’s team planted them in early summer.
“This year was trial and error,” says Barton, who envisions planting fruit trees and blueberry bushes in the future.
Although the field is enhancing the quality of life for current MED students, it will eventually be replaced by two buildings that will provide critically needed additional housing. The first will eliminate the raised beds and sand volleyball court; the second will occupy the remainder of the field.
“Given the fundraising required for either building,” Antman says, “I believe we will have most of the field for some time.”
This BU Today story was written by Leslie Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Brian Jack redesigned hospital discharge procedures
The problem first came to Brian Jack’s attention 10 years ago. The School of Medicine professor and chair of family medicine noticed that patients at Boston Medical Center (BMC), like patients at most hospitals, were leaving without a good understanding of how to care for themselves in the short term. Jack started to track the amount of time that nurses and doctors spent with patients before sending them home. The average was five minutes.
“Patients in the hospital are not at the top of their cognitive game,” says Jack, explaining that sick, feverish, or sleep-deprived people are unlikely to comprehend first-time instructions about prescriptions or at-home care procedures.
Jack and his team found that nearly a third of patients experienced a medical setback after going home, and that one in five returned to the hospital within 30 days. That’s when the team started brainstorming solutions and identified 11 areas that must be covered during each discharge—steps like making appointments for follow-up care, identifying and creating a plan for prescriptions, and educating patients about their diagnoses. That list formed the foundation of Project RED (Reengineered Discharge), a practice that has been shown to lower the rate of returns to the hospital in the month after discharge by 30 percent.
It also led, this fall, to Jack earning the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation, a respected prize that has been given annually since 1991 to recognize existing programs that meet famous business guru Drucker’s definition of innovation—“change that creates a new dimension of performance.”
This year, 864 nonprofits applied for the award. Boston Medical Center officials nominated Jack’s Project RED, and it won the top prize of $100,000, which he will accept on behalf of BMC at in a November ceremony in Vienna, Austria.
“Project RED is an example of the innovative work we do here to provide safe, effective care to the whole patient,” says Kate Walsh, BMC president and CEO. “I am extremely proud of Dr. Jack, and the Project RED team, and pleased to see them honored with the Drucker Award for this creative approach to decreasing hospital readmissions.”
These days, before leaving BMC, patients are given a personalized package of information, with details about prescriptions and follow-up appointments, exams, or stress tests color-coded on a calendar. The plan, Jack says, reads like a comic book, with big font sizes, multiple colors, and plenty of icons.
Initially, nurses were responsible for going over each part of the plan with patients, but after they found it was too time-consuming, Jack and Timothy Bickmore, a Northeastern University associate professor of computer and information science, designed a computer program with a virtual patient advocate named Louise, who methodically explains the plan to patients at the end of their hospital stay.
Critics might scoff at Louise’s unpolished animation, but, Jack says, the point isn’t to entertain. “Every time she talks to a patient, it’s about their unique tailored information,” he says. “Louise is still four to five years ahead of her time. That really is the future of health care.”
And that future may have lower system-wide costs. A randomized trial performed in 2009 with 749 patients found a 30 percent lower rate of hospital use in the Project RED intervention group compared to those receiving the usual care one month after a patient’s discharge. One readmission or ER visit was prevented for every seven RED participants. According to Jack’s estimates, if readmission rates can be lowered from the current 20 percent to 15 percent over five years, that would save Medicare $17 billion and the private sector another $17 billion.
Project RED developed “at the right place, at the right time” in terms of federal public policy, Jack says. President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, emphasizes efficiency, reducing hospital readmission rates, and increasing the quality of care and patient safety. Federal agencies are now pushing Project RED as an example among the top 10 best practices for reducing cost while maintaining quality, and Jack estimates that at least 500 hospitals have adopted his team’s new discharge procedure so far.
“Many health care institutions are now studying and implementing Dr. Jack’s Project RED strategies,” says Karen Antman, MED dean and Medical Campus provost. “Clearly, reengineering discharge planning to keep patients safe is key to their recovery and to prevent unneeded readmissions.”
While Jack relishes the national attention and awards Project RED has received, he has other things on his mind—like learning how to waltz and finding something to wear to a formal ball in Vienna.
This BU Today story was written by Leslie Friday.
On the Senate floor on Monday, Sept.30, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) made an impassioned plea against the long-term consequences of sequester budget cuts. She cited the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), which is set to lose 40 percent of funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). FHS, administered by Boston University and the nation’s longest running large-scale analysis of cardiovascular disease, has been credited with numerous breakthroughs connecting risk factors of smoking, obesity, and cholesterol to heart disease. “There are people across this country who are alive today in part because of the work that began with this study,” said Warren.
Watch an excerpt of her speech .
The 40 percent reduction in federal funding took effect Aug. 1 and will reduce the study’s clinical and administrative workforce. The biggest hit is the funding cut to conduct patient examinations, which FHS Principal Investigator Philip Wolf cites as “the lifeblood of the study.” The physical examination provides continuity with participants and allows more extensive data than telephone interviews. According to BU School of Medicine Dean Karen Antman, MD “If we let these people go because we don’t have an exam and because we have this cut and then, when we do get funding for the exams — and I’m sure we will — it will actually cost more to bring them back or retrain new staff.” The sequester cuts also affect another $28 million in research that depends on FHS data. Warren does not see the cuts as inevitable, but as a consequence of misguided priorities.
“Here we are,” says Warren, “bluntly hacking away at their funding … not because we have to, but because Washington has its priorities all wrong, and it is making some truly terrible decisions.”
Submitted by Thomas Peteet, MD
BU’s NEIDL moves closer to full operation
In an action that moves BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) closer to full operation, a federal court judge has ruled that a Final Supplementary Risk Assessment prepared by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) adequately analyzes the risks associated with research involving pathogens at BioSafety Level 3 (BSL-3) and BioSafety Level 4 (BSL-4) and that such research can be done safely at the BU Medical Campus site.
That risk assessment, which examined a series of scenarios and potential consequences of procedural failures, including containment system failures and malevolent acts, had been challenged in court by a number of Boston residents and the Conservation Law Foundation. The groups claimed that the risk assessment prepared by the NIH was not adequate and that the NIH decision to approve it was arbitrary and capricious.
In a 76-page opinion, US District Court Chief Judge Patti Saris found that “the NIH provides sufficient scientific support for its ultimate conclusions that the risks to the public are extremely low to not reasonably foreseeable, and the differences between the Boston location and the suburban and rural sites are not significant. In light of the benefits of placing the biolab in an urban area like Boston, which provides opportunity for expert medical research collaboration, and the low risk of harm to the public, NIH’s decision is rational.”
John R. Murphy, NEIDL director ad interim and a School of Medicine professor of medicine and microbiology, says he is pleased that the federal court “went through each and every objection of the plaintiffs in a methodical way and found that they were not warranted.”
“The court is saying that it’s reasonable for the NIH to determine that research using these types of pathogens can be done safely at the NEIDL,” says Murphy. “This is one more step to the opening of the lab.”
Murphy says that one additional judicial hurdle, a similar lawsuit filed in state court, will be heard later this year.
The University has also asked the Boston Public Health Commission for required permits to operate the facility as a BSL-3, and will soon submit documents required for permission to operate as a BSL-4 lab.
Once the lab is open, all research will be subject to at least three systems of supervisions and safeguards. Those include approvals from the Centers for Disease Control, the Institutional Biosafety Committee, and the Boston Public Health Commission.
Construction of the $200 million NEIDL facility was completed in September 2008, but controversy and litigation have kept much of the building’s 192,000 square feet of laboratory space closed. In March, BU researchers moved into the NEIDL, at 620 Albany St., to work on tuberculosis research that has been approved for Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) laboratories.
This BU Today story was written by Art Jahnke. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.