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September 8, 2020 10:07 am

Israel to Establish a National Laboratory to Study Covid-19 and Future Life-Threatening Viruses

avatar by Udi Etsion / CTech

Scientists at work in laboratory. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

CTech – Due to the urgent need for research on the coronavirus (Covid-19) and the obstacles preventing civilian researchers from accessing the advanced laboratories of the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona, the government has decided to set up a new national laboratory for the study of viruses.

The lab is expected to start operations later this year out of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at a cost of NIS 4 million ($1.2 million). The lab will be funded by the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Finance, and the university itself.

“We believe that we will have to cope with other pathogens after the coronavirus and we haven’t got that beat yet either,” Nadav Cohen, head of the defense ministry’s research and technological development unit of the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (Mafat) said. “It will be an especially well-guarded facility that will enable researchers to conduct tests on live coronavirus samples and study the virus’ behavior. The lab will serve Israel’s scientific and defense community.”

The new lab will be built according to the strict BSL-3 standard, equipped with a special air conditioning system that operates at lower air pressure than the surrounding environment so that nothing can spread outwards. It will also be equipped with advanced testing and experimentation tools and scientists using it will be provided with high-level protective gear.

Around the world, there exists only one standard of labs that is higher, BSL-4, which is mainly in use in the US and Russia, where scientists work on the types of viruses that pose a risk to public safety, such as the Ebola virus.

“As coronavirus research matures, the need for such a lab increases,” said Professor Re’em Sari, vice president of research and development at the Hebrew University. “Until now, experiments could be conducted on dead virus samples, but the new lab will allow researchers to study the behavior of a living virus, how to identify it and how to kill it. The lab will also allow us to develop a vaccine for the virus, by examining new ideas in parallel to the work of the commercial vaccine developers.”

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