In March 2009, a researcher in a laboratory in Hamburg, Germany, accidentally stuck her finger with a needle containing the Ebola virus. Up to that moment, all patients known to have received sticks from needles contaminated with the virus died.
Two hours after the accident, German officials called the Boston University researchers who had developed the Ebola vaccine for monkeys. After a rapid series of consultations, the patient and her doctor decided she should be given the vaccine, which was shipped overnight from Boston to Hamburg. The patient survived.
Ebola. H1N1. West Nile. Anthrax. SARS. Lyme. HIV. Equine encephalitis. The mere mention of the names of these diseases can evoke dread.
And rightfully so: These and other fast spreading, lethal diseases are a threat to the health of the world. Their emergence, combined with the rise of globalization and international terrorism, means that at any moment, the health of entire populations can be placed at risk.
A national center for infectious disease research
Boston University School of Medicine, a leader in this field for decades, is poised to take center stage in the global fight against infectious disease. The School’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories opened in BioSquare, adjacent to campus. Known by its initials—NEIDL, pronounced “Needle”—the $198 million, seven-story research institution is one of a network of secure facilities established in the United States to combat the threat posed by infectious diseases. It is one of only two National Biocontainment Laboratories, both built with grants awarded in 2003 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The several hundred researchers and staff assigned to the NEIDL will work in all phases of the exploration of infectious diseases, from laboratory bench to bedside. The facility will be one of only about a dozen in the world capable of conducting Level 4 biosafety research—work that involves the most dangerous airborne agents.
To conduct these vital explorations, staff will follow carefully designed, elaborate protocols, and will work in highly secure areas. Access to the NEIDL will be tightly controlled, and all personnel will undergo extensive background checks.
Most recently, the state approved NEIDL for levels 3 and 4 biosafety research; BSL-4 research will not begin until some additional regulatory and judicial determinations are made.
A history of breakthoughs
Even before the NEIDL’s formal opening, researchers in BUSM’s Section of Infectious Diseases and related departments have been responsible for some of the world’s most important breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and cure of infectious diseases. The Ebola vaccine, developed by a research team led by Professor of Microbiology Thomas Geisbert, has proven 100 percent effective in monkeys. Another group is discovering how the microorganisms that cause infectious disease become drug-resistant, and how that adaptation can be disrupted. Other researchers are developing tests that can determine whether a patient has been exposed to tuberculosis, and whether the patient will have a resistance to drugs that might treat it. Yet another team is discovering ways to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child.
This ongoing expertise, boosted by the NEIDL, will make the Boston University School of Medicine a first line of defense for both the United States and the world when there is an outbreak of infectious disease, whether from natural causes, or from acts of terrorism or warfare. It is at the Boston University School of Medicine where diseases that threaten the lives of millions will be diagnosed—and it is here, too, that effective strategies for combating those scourges will be crafted.
Sample giving opportunities
- Create and name an endowed professorship for the faculty of the program: $1.25 million for an assistant professor, $2.5 million for a full professor
- Endow a research fund: $100,000
- Endow a scholarship for a BUSM student: $100,000
- Endow a postdoctoral fellowship: $100,000
- Create a current-use fellowship award: $10,000
- Provide unrestricted support as a member of the BUSM Dean’s Club: $1,500 and above