In 2003, to improve the nation's infectious disease research infrastructure,
NIAID began funding the construction of dedicated biosafety laboratories,
both at NIH and at academic institutions.
To support the safe operation and research within the new labs,
NIAID partnered with the Division of Occupational Health and Safety
(DOHS) at NIH to develop the National Biosafety and Biocontainment
Training Program (NBBTP). The program is designed to prepare a
cadre of highly trained biosafety and biocontainment professionals,
under the tutelage of Dr. Deborah Wilson, director of DOHS, with
the skills to provide guidance to research investigators on the
use of safe practices in their studies of infectious agents requiring
high or maximum biosafety level containment.
"Biosafety is a preventive discipline," says Wilson. "The greatest
benefit the program brings to the public is it prevents accidents,
injuries and illness through risk assessment and appropriate program
development and implementation. The public must have confidence
that biomedical research with infectious agents is conducted in
a safe and responsible manner."
The 2-year post-baccalaureate and postdoctoral NBBTP fellowships
integrate traditional elements of academic learning with training
at NIH and other research facilities. The program will provide
hands-on experience in biosafety level 3 and 4 facilities and prepare
trainees to meet the needs of the biodefense and emerging diseases
research fields in the 21st century.
Current fellow Hector Valtierra was drawn to the program with
hope of enhancing his knowledge of microbes and issues involved
in the biocontainment of pathogens. "Since the program is training
us fellows to manage high-containment laboratories, getting the
opportunity to work in a 'blue' suit impressed upon me some of
the challenges that researchers face when working in a positive-
pressure suit." He adds that the program also has introduced the
principles of engineering and laboratory design for biocontainment
and biosecurity of pathogens. "This combined academic and hands-on
experience has provided a great way to learn the key issues and
protocols involved with managing laboratories that are conducive
to both research and biosafety."
Eligible fellows must meet all requirements of federal regulations
necessary for working with Select Agents and should have academic
backgrounds in microbiology, public health or other related sciences
such as industrial hygiene or engineering. There are currently
five fellows in the program.
Wilson hopes that in addition to the technical knowledge fellows
will gain from the program, "they will leave with a sense of accomplishment,
pride in their professional competence and personal self-confidence.
The NBBTP fellows will be future leaders in the biosafety profession."
For more information on the program, visit http://www.nbbtp.org/.