News

Texas Laboratory Tracks Deadly Diseases Worldwide

Multimedia

In August last year a new national laboratory began operating in the U.S. city of Galveston, Texas, just weeks before the area was struck by a devastating hurricane. But the lab fared well, with no damage or disruption to operations, because it was built to withstand such storms and more.  Security is important at The Galveston National Laboratory because it contains samples of the world's most dangerous pathogens.  

New illnesses appear all the time around the world and are often found to be variations of illnesses already known. But to be sure, samples of the virus or bacteria thought to be causing the illness are sent back to Galveston.

They end up in a 52,000 square-meter building - The Galveston National Laboratory-on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch. The lab's deputy director, Jim LeDuc says the staff on hand is ready for whatever comes in.

"Our faculty [members] are experts in a number of different diseases-plague and anthrax, virus diseases, common ones like influenza and less common ones that you see around the world like dengue and some of the viral hemorrhagic fevers," he said.

The Galveston laboratory has an in-house collection of most pathogens and works with collaborators around the world to identify and study new diseases.

"If we do not know what that organism is, then we begin with basic characterization and to do that we look at molecular tools to identify the sequence of the virus or the bacteria. We test it in a variety of systems that will allow us to start to classify it," said LeDuc.

If a pathogen has killed someone and cannot be immediately identified, it is taken to the highest level of security, a facility isolated from the rest of the building where workers wear air-filled plastic suits they call space suits, which LeDuc says keep them safe.

"You are protected not only by the plastic suit itself, but by this curtain of air that is circulating past you and out," he said.

When workers leave the secure lab, they take a chemical shower and then a normal water shower to remove any possible biological material that may have attached to the plastic surface of the space suit. The liquid from both showers drains into large tanks isolated on the floor below. The contents of the tanks are cooked at high temperatures before being flushed out.  

One of the most important roles of the lab would be to quickly identify and find treatment for any biological agent that might be used in a terrorist attack.  Jim LeDuc says researchers would use the same procedures they use for any other pathogen.

"The laboratory is designed to work on infectious diseases and biological terrorism threat agents.   We are using exactly the same skills and tests and the same objectives to work on biological terrorism agents as we are using for naturally occurring infectious disease threats," said LeDuc.

In the end, he says, the job is to improve diagnostics, find the best treatment and develop measures to prevent further infections.  The Galveston National Laboratory, which began operating about eight months ago with a limited staff is now close to being fully operational.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs