Expanding Research Capacities: Ulm's New BSL-3 Laboratory will Facilitate Studies of High-Risk Viruses

In a somewhat belated response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction of a cutting-edge biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory is underway at the Ulmer Science Park in Ulm. This state-of-the-art facility, funded by the European Union and the Medical Faculty of Ulm, will provide a safe and dedicated space for the study of highly pathogenic viruses.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of suitable high-biosafety laboratory space represented a major limitation for effective research on the pandemic pathogen. SARS-CoV-2 was quickly classified as a risk group 3 organism, placing it in the same category as pathogens like M. tuberculosis, yellow fever virus, and West Nile virus. Risk Group 3 organisms are known for their potential to cause frequently airborne, severe and potentially fatal diseases, necessitating stringent safety measures during handling and research activities. Currently, only the Department of Microbiology is equipped with a small biosafety 3 laboratory. During the pandemic this limited space was generously shared with the Institute of Molecular Virology for studies on SARS-CoV-2. However, due to the risk of cross-contamination, only one one group was allowed to work at a time, limiting laboratory access and scientific output.

Three years after pointing out the urgent need for expanded high-biosafety laboratory space, the Ulmer Virologists are now witnessing the construction of a state-of-the-art biosafety level 3 laboratory. This facility allows the investigation of major viral pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, influenza viruses and yellow fever viruses. The project has secured 5 million Euros in funding from the European Union as part of the "Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe" (REACT-EU) program. This program specifically targets mitigating the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Medical Faculty contributes an additional 3.4 million Euros for the completion of the new S3 laboratory, demonstrating the commitment to support virological research at Ulm University.

The design of the new laboratory is based on a closed system approach, incorporating features such as constant negative air pressure, high-efficiency particulate air filtration systems, and airlocks to prevent any potential pathogen leakage. Equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, including a new full-spectrum flow cytometer, the facility will facilitate the development of novel therapeutics and support fundamental research into the ongoing evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and future viral pathogens with pandemic potential.

Link to Article by Ulm University

(Foto: Elvira Eberhardt/Uni Ulm)