Unveils the China Biosafety Laboratory: Studying the World's Most Dangerous Pathogens

The National Biosafety Laboratory in Wuhan, China, will study the world's most dangerous pathogens and will therefore be pushed to the top. This lab is an important part of China's biotechnology program. By 2025, China plans to establish 5-7 laboratories with biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) across the country. This move is both exciting and worrying.

Many foreign scientists are concerned about the escape of these dangerous pathogens. They also worry that the geopolitical relationship between China and other countries will have an impact on biological research. But Chinese microbiologists are celebrating because they are entering elite clubs that fight the world’s biggest biological threat. Gao Fu, director of the Key Laboratory of Pathogenic Microbiology and Immunology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: “This will provide more opportunities for Chinese researchers. Our research on pathogens that achieve biosafety level 4 will also benefit the world.”

In January 2017, the National Biosafety Laboratory has passed the BSL-4 standard certification of China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS). CNAS representative Wang Rong said that the agency has inspected the laboratory's infrastructure, equipment and management, and laid the foundation for the Ministry of Health to approve its establishment. The representative of the Ministry of Health stated that this process will be carried out slowly and carefully. If the assessment is successful, the laboratory will be approved by the end of June.

BSL-4 is the highest level in the field of biological control. Standards include air, waste water, waste disposal and filtration before leaving the laboratory, and researchers need to change clothes and shower before and after using laboratory equipment. Such laboratories are often controversial. The first BSL-4 laboratory was established in Japan in 1981, but it was not until 2015 that the study began on low-risk pathogens. At that time, its safety concerns were eventually overcome. Over the past 15 years, the BSL-4 laboratory network has expanded rapidly in the United States and Europe, with more than a dozen laboratories currently in use or under construction in each region. Although they have also been boycotted, they have been questioned whether they need so many biological laboratories.

The construction cost of the Wuhan laboratory is 300 million yuan. To eliminate potential safety hazards, the lab is located far above the flood discharge area and is able to resist the 7th-level earthquake, although no strong earthquake has ever occurred in the area. The laboratory will focus on controlling emerging diseases, storing purified viruses, serving as a "reference laboratory" for the World Health Organization, and establishing links with similar laboratories around the world.

Yuan Zhiming, director of the lab, said: “It will become a key node in the global biosafety laboratory network.” The Chinese Academy of Sciences approved the construction of the BSL-4 laboratory in 2003. The outbreak of SARS has provided tremendous impetus for the establishment of this project. The laboratory received assistance from France in the design and construction of the laboratory. The two parties signed a cooperation agreement with 2004 to prevent and control emerging infectious diseases. However, it was not completed until the end of 2014 due to the complexity of the project, lack of experience, insufficient funds, and government audits.

The first project of the National Biosafety Laboratory will be to study the BSL-3 pathogen, which causes hemorrhagic fever in Congo-Crimea. This is a deadly ticker virus that has an impact on livestock all over the world, including northwestern China, and can even infect humans. In the future, the laboratory will also study the pathogens that cause SARS, although the latter does not require the safety level of the BSL-4 laboratory. After that, Ebola, West African salad virus and so on will also be studied. Yuan Zhiming said that there are about 1 million Chinese working in Africa and China needs to be on the safe side. After all, the virus has no borders.

During the recent Ebola outbreak, Gao Fu went to Sierra Leone to lead the team to report the speed of virus mutation. The Wuhan laboratory will provide new opportunities for its team, such as studying how the virus causes disease, and based on antibodies and small molecules to develop treatment programs.

At the same time, there are also opportunities for international cooperation to help genetic analysis and prevention of emerging diseases. Gao Fu said: "The world is facing more problems with emerging diseases, and we in China need to make more contributions." Bruno Lina, director of the VirPath Virus Lab in Lyon, France, said that especially those people and livestock suffering from viruses, these diseases Humans can be infected by animals, such as SARS or Ebola.

Many Wuhan laboratory researchers have received training in the BSL-4 laboratory in Lyon, where scientists admired Chinese researchers. Wuhan laboratory facilities have begun to use low-risk viruses for test operations. However, many concerns have arisen around the biosafety laboratories in China. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, pointed out that the SARS virus has escaped from Beijing's advanced control facilities on several occasions.

Yuan Zhiming stated that he has discussed these issues with laboratory personnel. He said: “I told them that the most important thing is that they must report what they have done or have not done. Domestic cooperation will be increasingly open and transparency is the basis of the laboratory.” Expansion Plan of the Biosafety Laboratory Network It also highlights such concerns. The BSL-4 laboratory in Harbin is already awaiting certification, followed by laboratories in Beijing and Kunming, the latter mainly using monkeys to study diseases.

According to Lina, director of the VirPath Virus Labs in Lyon, France, China’s huge national territory means that it needs more biosafety laboratories. Compared with the West, Chinese researchers face even less pressure when studying primates. She said: "If you want to test vaccines or antibodies, you need to first test on non-human primates."

He said: "These facilities can be used for both military and civilian purposes." Tim Trewin, founder of Maryland CHROME Biosafety Consulting Co., Ltd. believes that China's investment in the establishment of the BSL-4 laboratory may prove to the world that it has great potential for competition. . He said: "This is a huge identity symbol in the biological world, whether you need it or not."

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