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Almost 300 people participated in the latest annual conference of the European BioSafety Association (EBSA). This year's EBSA conference, the 15th of the series, took place on June 12–13, 2012 in Manchester, UK. It was preceded by eight full-day courses with almost 200 participants in total.

The conference consisted of seven sessions with 16 lectures and started with the opening by the President of the society, Patrick Rüdelsheim (Perseus, Belgium), who presented the evolution of biosafety: starting from an intuitive approach followed by an evidence-based to the current performance-based approach. The welcome address by a representative of the host, the University of Manchester, Nalin Thakker, stressed the historical importance of the location: first railway station, first telephone exchange and now the role of graphene. A video teleconference call by David Heymann on an armchair (literally) tour of the world of biosecurity addressed the historical approach to Ebola virus in Africa, the origin of HIV, certification of small pox eradication in 1980, SARS in 2003, and the consequences of Hepatitis C in Egypt on workers in Saudi Arabia. The conclusion was: laboratory and health workers are at great risk of infection.

The first session dealt with facility design. Julian Franklin (Rothamsted Research, UK) spoke about the energy efficient, high containment facility for plants at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, which will be operational with living plants as cf September 2012. Daniel Kümin (Spiez Laboratory, Switzerland) informed us about an accident due to increasing pressure in an air-tight room prior to operation, most likely due to the filling of liquid nitrogen tanks for the first time.

Patrick Rüdelsheim presented the evolution of biosafety

In session two John Oxford (Queen Mary Bioenterprises, UK) presented the Chris Collins lecture and gave an excellent account of the developments around influenza, illustrated with very informative slides of paintings and sculptures. From the 1918 influenza to current vaccines, whereby volunteers were infected with the current strains to find human proteins that interact with H3N2 and H1N1.

Session three comprised the break-out discussion groups.

i)  How to establish and measure competency – competency defined as being adequately prepared for both intellectual and physical challenges;

ii)  Sample integrity – what checks are there that can be done: a perspective from pharma to academia.

iii)  A demonstrated tool for managing information on disinfectants and its effect on different micro-organisms.

iv)  Development of an institutional field safety manual concluded with a summary of the stakeholders: principal investigators and associates, veterinarians, occupational health group, biosafety professionals and institutional oversight.

v)  When containment of awkward things are required follow the line: infrastructure (building), equipment (laboratory, cage), and management (competencies, training and systems).

vi)  Finally the current research on influenza is discussed in view of the risk group the modified viruses are classified and the containment level required. Definitions in directives and regulations give rise to confusion and are too focused on classification of risk group and containment level. An extensive risk assessment is more effective and might lead to different solutions in terms of containment levels.

In some 40 posters several biosafety and biosecurity items were highlighted.

Session four dealt with global biosafety. The polio eradication initiative needs substantial funding to remove poliovirus from the last regions with active polio according to Ousmane Madiagne Diop (The World Health Organization, Switzerland). Marc Fitzgerald (OR Inc., USA) presented correct-sizing of containment facilities with some entertaining videos of construction sites. Jens Peter Teifke (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, Germany) reported the history of the old institute and the developments around the new bunya virus: the Schmallenberg virus, which infects sheep and cattle causing congenital malformations and stillbirths.

...polio eradication initiative needs substantial funding to remove the remaining poliovirus...

At the annual general meeting Gary Burns (AstraZeneca UK Limited, UK) was elected as honorary member for his contributions to biosafety and biosecurity before, during and after his presidency of EBSA in 2005–2006. The conference dinner took place in the historical Whiteworth Hall.

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Session five was on challenges of containment. Uwe Müller-Doublies (Institute for Animal Health, UK) discussed alternative means of carcass disposal, with the alkaline hydrolysis method as a cost effective and environmental friendly way. It is a pity that the European animal by-product regulation still requires incineration of the remains. There is no evidence that the remains still contain any living biological material that causes infection in the food and feed chain. David Hopper (Advanced Robotic Technology Ltd, UK) showed that robotics and automation is at last coming of age for application in high containment microbiology. Corinne Kostic (University of Lausanne, Switzerland) discussed the challenges for gene therapy using viral vectors: from the bench to large animals or from the gene via the vector to animal models. Finally Simon Parks (Health Protection Agency, UK) showed evidence of generation of aerosols by standard laboratory procedures. Using techniques such as vortexing, serial dilution and plating out a sample and spreading using a 10-microliter loop, he demonstrated the positive effect of training and skills on reducing potential aerosols. For sensitive measurements bacterial spore tracers and microbiological air sampling methods are preferred over fluorescent detection. The topic continued in Session seven with the presentation of Jonathan Gawn (Health and Safety Executive, UK): “The strategy for regulating the GB biological agents sector: selecting, inspecting and what to be expecting....” Containment levels 3 and 4 laboratories (781 and 110 respectively) are specifically targeted for pro-active inspections with consideration given to the level of inherent hazard at the site and past safety performance. Catherine Robertson (Public Health Agency of Canada, Canada) from Public Health Agency of Canada demonstrated the “Dry fogging system: A green, affordable laboratory decontamination technology”. The fog particles of ca. 7.5 micron diameter consist a strong oxidizer: peracetic acid and does not settle straight away, unlike wet fog.

The last talk of the meeting was given by Allan Bennett (Health Protection Agency, UK): “Can micro-organisms be easily re-aerosolized from a floor”. Initial results indicate that micro-organisms can be re-aerolized from carpet and are detected even at a 1.5 m height from the source of activity and that particle sizes are within the respirable range.

It is a pity that the European animal by-product regulation still requires incineration of the remains

Session six covered “The fight against infection”. Francois Diaz (World Organisation for Animal Health, France) discussed the rinderpest eradication and beyond. The disease suddenly appeared in 1920 in Belgium as a result of zebus, originating from India and destined for Brazil, transiting via the port of Antwerp. In 2011 was the official proclamation of planetary rinderpest eradication. Bharat Patel (Health Protection Agency, UK) talked about winning the battle against hospital infections. Quantifying the problem through targeted surveillance and identifying the areas of improvement. Implementation of multiple, carefully selected, targeted interventions results in a reduction in infections and improves patient outcome.

The next conference will be held in Basel, Switzerland, June 19–20, 2013 and will also be preceded by full-day courses on June 17–18, 2013.

Dr. Benedictus J.M. Verduin, BioRiskManagement, Wageningen, The Netherlands President of EBSA 2007–2008

A book of abstracts is available from the EBSA secretariat: