China has set up a P4 (or BSL4) biosafety lab in Wuhan, supporting studies on highly contagious and fatal infectious diseases such as Ebola. P4 refers to the biosafety level 4 (the highest level), which means the microbiology laboratory safety level supports working with dangerous agents (mainly viruses and bacteria) which can cause severe to fatal disease in humans for which vaccines or other treatments are not available. The whole reason for setting up such a lab is that researchers can try to find such vaccines and treatments without risking the release of these agents into the general public. When China’s P4 laboratory is formally put into service, it will be the first operating P4 laboratory in Asia, according to Yuan Zhiming, director of the lab.
Creating a P4 biosafety lab is easier said than done. China decided to build a P4 laboratory in 2003, during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). It has taken 11 years to build the facility.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is the parent organisation of the P4 laboratory and build it in close cooperation with Jean Mérieux BSL-4 Laboratory in Lyon, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Wuhan government. That the Chinese appreciate the cooperation with the French becomes clear from this statement by Yuan: “The cooperation with our French partners assured the completion of the P4 facility, improved our capacity to design, construct and operate the laboratory, and helped our personnel training.”
“The lab will play a crucial role in enhancing China’s ability to prevent and control new epidemics as well as to develop related vaccines,” said Bai Chunli, President of CAS.
The short-term goal of the laboratory is to carry out research on two or three viruses that currently pose the most immediate, including Ebola. International cooperation is highly welcomed, especially with the other P4 labs around the world.
Feature Image (cropped): University of Michigan/Flickr