Kent State Hosts National Institute of Health’s Biosafety Training
Possessing one of only two officially designated National Biosafety and Biocontainment Training Program facilities, Kent State University recently hosted a week-long education course for professionals across the country.
In Kent State’s BSL-3 training laboratory, attendees learned how to function safely and effectively in a high-containment facility, but in the absence of pathogen dangers, according to Christopher Woolverton, Ph.D., Kent State professor of environmental health and director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness.
“It’s like an airline pilot training in a simulator,” Woolverton says. “For example, when people working in containment labs put on personal protective equipment, many don’t know what to do. Here they adjust to having a respirator on, breathing their own air, and to losing dexterity from the other pieces of protective equipment, without having to worry about dropping test tubes of deadly pathogens.”
The course curriculum was co-developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Frontline Healthcare Workers Safety Foundation, Ltd. and Kent State’s College of Public Health. Training program attendees earned a certificate from the NIH, and the course served as one component for the NIH’s two-year fellowship program in biosafety and biocontainment.
The laboratory is equipped with two self-closing doors with an anteroom; three biological safety cabinets; special ventilation, sterilization and sanitation equipment; an alcove for projects; and training cameras and a monitoring room, among other facilities and equipment required for BSL-3 training toward certification.
During the training week, students learned specific methods for maintaining a safe laboratory, what infectious agents are and the risks in working with them, the proper use of personal protection equipment, decontamination strategies, and about sources of infectious organisms and the antibiotics used to treat exposure.
“They learned how to appropriately protect themselves and others around them from contamination,” Woolverton says. “There was a considerable hands-on component to the course, as students learned about correct actions, then enacted various hazardous scenarios. There are cameras around the lab, and we videotaped the trainees at work.
“For each individual, we can edit his or her activity into a 30-minute video, showing what went well and what needs to be worked on. It’s a very effective education tool,” he adds. “When we see ourselves doing wrong things, it’s not often that we do them again.”
Trainees came from all over the country. They may work as university safety officers, in the private sector in labs where pathogens are kept for drug research use or as maintenance workers changing filters and repairing equipment in high-containment labs.
“There are many organizations that need lab workers who are competent and will be successful in high-containment conditions,” says Woolverton. “In addition, there will be a number of folks planning to go into the two-year NIH program, and our course is one of the components of that.”
All participants were vetted via the NIH registration process and must have demonstrated a real need for the training. “So we don’t inadvertently train a potential terrorist,” Woolverton says.
Kent State is one of only two high-containment training laboratories, along with Kansas State University’s Biosecurity Research Institute, which was certified by the NIH in 2008.
The lab was established with $3 million in appropriations from the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Education.
“After the anthrax attacks in 2001, I concluded that universities weren’t doing enough to prevent that kind of situation,” recalls Woolverton.
With the support of university administration, he pursued state and federal funding, ultimately receiving funds to build the facility and to develop curricular materials for trainees in the lab, along with other educational materials for K-12 students and for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Students learned what would happen in case of a terrorist attack. In addition, a new sign-language lexicon was created, in collaboration with Harry Lang of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The signs told people who cannot hear what to do during epidemics and in biocontamination events and also provided basic information about hand washing and antibiotics. Video clips were produced, using sign language, as well as cartoons, which assisted the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and people with low reading levels.
In addition to the NIH training, Kent State’s Center for Public Health Preparedness conducts training for lab workers from area hospitals, working with the Akron Regional Hospital Association to instruct on lab safety and bioterrorism awareness and readiness. The center has also trained representatives from the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio National Guard in lab safety, bioterrorism readiness and containment of pathogens.
“Right now, we are converting a number of curricular materials to offer them as continuing education for public health practitioners. We will be a supplier of online and in-person courses in which practitioners can share experiences and learn techniques from each other,” Woolverton says.
For more information about Kent State’s College of Public Health, visit www.kent.edu/publichealth.