Minding the Details in BSL-3 and Other Medical Research Labs
By: Douglas Watts
Coronavirus has had a major impact on our lives. It has required us to alter our daily routines, whether at home, work, even play. It has impinged, for some us irrevocably, on so many facets of the way we continue to live our lives, disrupting daily routines.
Scientists and research laboratories at undisclosed locations around the world have, and will continue to study coronavirus in a safe controlled environment, particularly in BSL-3 (“biosafety level 3“) labs. These are designated suitable for research and diagnostic work involving various microbes which can cause serious and potentially lethal disease via the inhalation route.
And while our interest in the progress of their work may be heightened due to the uncertainties of how our lives will change, the scientists doing the work are carrying on using the same methodical rigor that have long been the hallmark of the BSL-3 designation.
In the U.S., the CDC designates four levels of labs. BSL-3 labs specialize in microbes that can become aerosolized and cause major illness, injury, or death. This includes coronavirus.
Because of the seriousness of handling materials, BSL-3 labs are “slow labs“—places where workers plan their workflows carefully in advance. They work methodically, from checklists, one step at a time. Essential PPE and biological safety cabinets enclose and contain contaminated surfaces of all kinds within the lab. Staff are medically monitored. Safety processes carefully defined.
Slow and Easy Wins the Race in BSL-3 Labs
Researchers build slowness into the BSL-3 workflow. As Vanderbilt’s Dr. Mark Denison explained in a recent episode of Radio Lab, “No one can tell you to speed up when you’re in the BSL-3.”
The BSL-3 lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center took more than two years to design and build to safety specifications. As Dr. Denison sees it:
“This [work on the novel coronavirus] is too urgent to go fast. … Work in BSL-3 is hyper methodical. You do one thing at a time. … You do everything with an intentionality that is sort of ‘anti’ how we’re trained to move forward fast and do lots of things in a day.… Everything is written down, you follow the guidelines, you follow them one step at a time.… You can’t answer a phone, you can’t respond to an email. The world sort of comes to a stop while you’re working in there.”
Researchers hope to bring intentionality and mindfulness to any scientific inquiry. But it is even more important when they’re working with substances that could cause significant injury, illness, or even death when not safely handled.
These “clean-room” setups are increasingly common beyond pathogen containment. We’ve worked with several organizations on clean room and BSL projects. We appreciate their methodical approach to work—and match it with a methodical approach to ours. Our custom pass-through autoclaves provide sterile routes into and out of these sealed laboratory environments, reducing the risk of compromised laboratory standards, contamination, or infection—in BSL-3 labs and beyond.
BioMaster for Safer Surfaces
High-stakes situations are not the only time we’re interested in preventing cross-contamination. Every Priorclave autoclave—not just those destined for sensitive BSL-3 environments—come with Biomaster Protected® Antimicrobial coating as standard. This anti-bacterial and anti-fungal coating also has virucidal qualities, and is incorporated into the body of our sterilizers. It stays with them for the life of the product, offering passive protection from cross contamination over the long haul.