A high security lab in Boston just received a sample of a deadly virus that has killed thousands — Ebola.
The pathogen arrived at Boston University's National Emerging Infectious Diseases this week, along with the related Marburg virus. They are the first of their kind to arrive at the facility, which is allowed for labs classified as Level 4. The designation has only been given to 10 labs in the country.
"If you can't stop them when the outbreak happens, then you're out in the position to try to play catch-up," the lab's director, Ron Corley, said of the research.
Utilizing a variety of scientists who work in Boston's academic community, Corley said they expect to make significant strides in better understanding the Ebola virus and its characteristics.
"This is exactly the place to have a facility like this," said Corley. "That allows us to get people who would not normally think about trying to solve these problems to get interested."
But the work has faced pushback in the community. Since the building was completed in 2008, residents, as well as some city officials, have expressed growing concern over the types of pathogens that would be brought into the facility and the possibility they could somehow be compromised.
"Even though the risk is low, it's not zero," said nearby resident James Alan Fox.
When the facility initially sought its classification, Fox and others protested the move, citing concerns about safety. Now that the first samples have arrived, they want to renew their calls to city leaders.
"It's gambling with the safety of the community," said Fox. "Level 4 research is important, but it should be done in a sparsely-populated area."
Despite the pushback, Corley's lab will be moving forward with their, which he argues is critical to the public.
"I don't think we should ever fool ourselves into believing that if we prevented studies for a pathogen in the city, that we are making that city safer," Corley said. "Think of HIV. Before HIV was in this community, did we decide we weren't going to to study HIV? We turned a deadly disease into one that people can live with for decades now."