Councilors vs. BU over killer germ research in the South End

The Daily Free Press reports on a hearing yesterday on a proposal by City Councilor Charles Yancey to ban the sort of research BU wants to do on the world's deadliest microorganisms at its South End research lab.

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Where was the PH Commissioner?

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What is her opinion on this project? The NEIDL has been plagued with rumors, lies, half-truths, innuendos and hysteria since its inception. Business has already been lost over the years it has been successfully blocked by fear-mongering political activists. Social justice, Mr. Jackson? How about jobs for social justice?

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BU continues to show they don

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BU continues to show they don't know how to play ball. They made some great moves in the first half of the decade, but now show they don't know how to keep shit together and follow through. If this was Harvard or MIT, all this stuff would have been settled in 2006.

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In my experience, I'm not

In my experience, I'm not sure that Hah-vid or MIT are any better than BU. Look at the PR mess Harvard made of its land deals in Allston to expand its campus over there.

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Wouldn't want HIV loose in the South End

Oops, too late. But seriously, a ban does send the wrong message to big Pharma looking to locate in Boston and recruit from our colleges, including those who would have been at this BU lab. On the other hand, cities are the wrong place for many things, including deadly stuff. Some people just don't think radiation won't escape power plants, bugs escape a lab, or chemicals escape a pesticide plant or refinery.

[Edit] Yes, the subject line was a hook leveraging off a stereotype of the location. Kneejerk reaction followed. I know the South End is not the gay ghetto it was when my barber worked there, and that HIV is less communicable and takes a relatively long time to kill otherwise healthy people even without treatment, hence not considered as dangerous. Historically, the Plague and the Spanish Flu devastated populations via far easier transmission. HIV is devastating too. A previous hairdresser had a picture up of him and 5 friends on the salon wall. Of the 6, he was the only one still alive.

Offensive

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Mark, that was REALLY offensive. To me at least.

I'm sure it was a joke but that really was offensive. Only idiots believe HIV is a communicable disease that spreads like that.

PS - The SoEnd isn't gay anymore.

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Oh for fuck's sake

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Seriously. It's 2014. If you don't know how HIV differs from, say, the Ebola virus, and why the latter might be a threat to a community in a way the former isn't, you really need to spend some time reading up or something.

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You mean Adam?

He would lose a lot of us biosciencey types if he were nothing but a propagandist.

Looks like a lot of that crew is still here ...

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Time to relearn what

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Time to relearn what "propagandist" means, because you're way off.

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From what is known of Ebola

and we don't know a lot ...

Ebola does not seem to readily spread through other than intimate or blood contact, either. It also does not appear to have a long latency - unlike HIV.

Otherwise, it would have long ago spread from village to village and wiped out much of Africa by now, rather than just wipe out an entire village here and there.

Ebola is simply so awful and unknown (and these things can and do mutate) that it gets a very high classification.

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Sounds like they want a BL-4 level facility.

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At least that was the gradation in 91 or so when I last worked in that field.

Labs have biohazard ratings from fairly vanilla BL 1 to Science fiction hell BL 4.

You usually only find the scariest labs at places like the CDC in Atlanta or Livermore Labs out on Long Island.

I can't imagine the huge biotech players here would care either way as the money in bio pharma is in inventing better fart and belch nostrums and sniffle cures.

It's in targeted treatment of cancer cells or stem regrowth of islet cells for diabetics.

The nice thing about extreme biohazard things is that they tend to be extremely rare although the latest ebola outbreak is not following its usual script very well.

I understand that much of academic maneuvering turns on hustling for research money but this is a reasonably good situation for a rigorous application of "Why does this need to be here?".

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Beyond the stupidity of HIV

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Even beyond the rebukes you're getting about HIV, I want to point out that Big Pharma doesn't give two hemorrhagic diseases about what Boston thinks about BL4 safety. Big Pharma doesn't work on curing Ebola, Marburg, or Lassa. There's zero return on investment for a big company. There are a number of small companies that often work in conjunction with the CDC and other government agencies to develop vaccines (most BL4 are viruses and won't likely ever have an exacting "cure" but will be stopped by vaccination).

Also, HIV is a BL-3 disease...precisely for the reasons described in others' responses. It's not easily communicable by aerosolation.

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At MGH it was "BL-2+"

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They invented a classification that was beyond BL-2 and not quite BL-3 to work with HIV. At least, that is what the sign on the lab door said when I walked by it.

But yes, HIV is not easily transmitted so it's not treated the same way as Ebola in the lab.

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Depends on the facility a bit

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I'd prefer biology moved into the same space as chemistry when it comes to safety. Have a "safety diamond" with different categories and be more nuanced. That's what he hybrid 2/3 or 2+ lab spaces were set up to do. HIV is lethal (slowly) and has no cure but some therapeutic treatments. It also has very little community exposure risk if "released", but high personal risk in working with it. And it's not a huge inhalation risk which is one of the criteria for strict BSL3.

If we worked by describing different facets of the disease and put those factors together like they do with chemistry safety diamonds (health risk, fire risk, reactivity risk, special notes), you could have a diamond with something like (infection risk, airborne risk, lethality risk, special notes). Different levels would require different safety measures, so in cases like HIV you would use be at the equivalent of BSL3 for certain parts of the diamond and BSL2 for others.

Yes, the subject line was a

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Yes, the subject line was a hook leveraging off a stereotype of the location. Kneejerk reaction followed.

Mark K, comedy legend.

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You take a greater risk

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You take a greater risk getting in and out of the bathtub than you would from a lifetime living next door to this lab. But there are no votes to be found in stating the risks properly.

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Not really a comparable class of risk

We have very good data on bathtub risks.

We have somewhat less complete data on bio lab risks, and a lot of that is based on assumptions predicated on what we know, not what we didn't think of or excluded.

Also, one unanticipated bathtub failure doesn't cause mass mayhem.

Even some BU professors who are very well versed in risk evaluation are skeptical about the kinds of information that BU is providing to the public and using in their risk assessments: http://dailyfreepress.com/2011/11/02/bu-officials-decline-to-discuss-bio...

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the only BU professor in that

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the only BU professor in that article is David Ozonoff, and he is not an expert in risk evaluation.

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That article is irrelevant

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The article was written in 2011. Since then there has been multiple risk assessments done and things have been adjusted accordingly. If you'd like or if Ozonof would like to review the new risk assessments, he can. Everything is on NEIDL's website. However, I am sick of people bringing up arguments based on what was done 7 years ago or even 3 years ago. BU has spending its resources on improving the safety of the building, being as transparent about the work being done in the building, and making sure to mend their relationship with the community.

Also, for Ozonoff. He seems to not know what bench research is. BU does not plan on doing any work related to bioterror or even biodefense. They only plan on doing health related research, such as tuberculosis treatment and fast diagnosis of some of the killer viruses that are affecting many in Africa. Once again, all of the information regarding the research that is being done at BSL3 in NEIDL as well some of the work that will move into BSL4 can be found on the website. So please before posting an outdated news article, take a look at the website and hear both sides of the argument.

The website will also give you a video tour of the facility to show why it is deemed so safe and as I mentioned you can read the risk assessment to find out how they will deal with natural disasters and such.

Lastly, also note that no one from even the city public health commission was quoted on the article, this article was quite biased. I understand that they didn't want BU's side heard, but what about the city officials?

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Ozonoff et al

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Their opposition has been political, not scientific, from the very beginning.

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Some context from Atlanta

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Georgia State University operates a BSL 4 lab right on its campus in the middle of downtown Atlanta, not half a mile from the state capitol building, city hall, supreme court, etc. etc. Delta, Coke, Home Depot, and Georgia Pacific are all headquartered nearby, along with core urban neighborhoods that closely resemble the South End and Roxbury in demographics. Nobody objects to the lab--not politicians, not the companies, not the residents. It's a non issue. I got my master's degree literally across the street from their lab building, and nobody cared that it was there.

Then I'd go home to my apartment a mile from the Centers for Disease Control, which runs what might well be the biggest complex of BSL 4 labs in the world. They get crazy protesters all the time. They protest against vaccination and the federal government, but they never even mention the lab. That's how not controversial these labs are in another city.

It's quite interesting that Bostonians are having such a hard time with this. Why has nobody else bothered comparing Boston's response to other cities around the world with BSL 4 labs?

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Compare with other protesters

Places getting protests at nuclear power plants, chemical plants, big fossil fuel businesses etc. naturally also have more protesters of biologic research facilities. It may be inversely proportional to the level of protest at abortion clinics. Boston is more in the former camp than the latter.

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Community benefit of a BL-4 lab?

So, if big pharma won't be attracted to Boston by deadly infectious disease research going on in such a facility, what would make the facility worth the risk to Boston's population? Such a facility would be safer to have in North Dakota or Greenland. Sarah Palin's back yard is tempting except for the earthquake risk.

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That bastion of biology and medicine...

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North Dakota.

Just because Big Pharma isn't going to cure Ebola doesn't mean nobody is. Also, the B in BU doesn't stand for Bismarck University. It's not like the nation gets to tell BU "ok, we'll agree to you having a BL4 lab...but you're going to have to open it thousands of miles west of campus...like a floating island in the Pacific, please".

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Why Do We Need This??

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This is not safe. If the State lab had a breach of security, how could this biolab possibly be safe? This cat thinks the risk is too high to bring the worlds most deadliest diseases into our residential neighborhoods. And, imagine its employees going home to residential neighborhoods all over Boston. This is not desirable at any level and for any reason.