x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

UAE launches first facility to safely handle dangerous bacteria

A new laboratory rated bio safety level three according to WHO standards, has been officially launched in Dubai.

A lab technician working in the new Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
A lab technician working in the new Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

A laboratory that can safely handle dangerous bacteria such as those causing Sars and anthrax was yesterday officially launched in Dubai.

The facility, which belongs to the complex of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL), is rated bio safety level three on World Health Organisation criteria, meaning it is certified as safe to deal with bacteria which, when handled, can cause infection in humans.

The new lab will be able to safely handle samples of the influenza virus, as well as the SARS virus, which causes a serious form of pneumonia.

It will also be able to handle samples of bacteria causing a host of serious diseases in humans, such as tuberculosis, anthrax, glanders and Legionnaire’s disease, all of which can be deadly if left untreated.

The lab is, however, not authorised to handle highly pathogenic agents such as the virus that causes Ebola haemorrhagic fever, which are handled at facilities with bio safety lavel four.

“There are international rules on how to deal with certain bacteria, viruses and fungi,” said Dr Ulrich Wernery, scientific director of CVRL. “You can not deal with them in a normal lab because they are too dangerous,” he added.

“There is nothing like this in the whole UAE,” said Dr Ali Ridha, CVRL’s administrative director, addressing a small audience at the launch, which was also attended by Dr Rashid bin Fahad, the UAE Minister of Environment and Water.

“It is not only for us here, it is for the whole country,” he said, explaining that the new facility was ready to handle samples from veterinary clinics as well as hospitals from all over the region.

The facility took four years to complete because of the materials and equipment required.

Before entering the clean room, where samples are handled, lab workers go through two changing rooms – one where they leave their everyday clothes, and another one where they don protective gear.

Samples taken inside the lab enter through a special box, designed so that no contamination can leak. Items coming out of the clean room first go through an autoclave, where they are sterilised with hot, pressurised steam.

The lab’s wastewater also undergoes special treatment. It is heated up to 13°C for a period of one hour, enough to kill any pathogens, before being discharged into the sewer.

“It is important not to let anything outside,” said Dr Jorg Kinne, veterinary pathologist at CVRL, explaining the system.

The laboratory also has air handling units, which filter the incoming air, as well as the air being released from the lab. As an additional precaution, the clean room is kept under low pressure.

This, said Dr Kinne, ensures that “even if there is a leak somewhere in the clean room, the air will stay inside, rather than going outside of the room”.

The lab is currently running tests on samples of Brucella, a bacteria, which Dr Wernery said, is “quite common” in the UAE, in sheep, goats and camels.

Humans can contact it from drinking unpasteurised milk and the resulting infection requires extensive treatment. Infected animals cannot be cured and should be culled, he said.

vtodorova@thenational.ae