London

Western unveils research lab to study deadly viruses

Deadly diseases will go under the microscope at Western University's new $16 million dollar research lab, where scientists will aim to better understand them and develop life-saving vaccines.

Researchers will be able to study infectious pathogens like HIV, West Nile, and Zika

The containment facility is embedded inside the school’s dental sciences building, and has $7 million in equipment to let researchers safely study infectious diseases like HIV, West Nile, and Zika. (Liny Lamberink/CBC )

Deadly diseases will go under the microscope at Western University's new $16 million dollar research lab, where scientists will aim to better understand them and develop life-saving vaccines.

The university celebrated the grand opening of its Imaging Pathogens for Knowledge Translation Facility -- also known as ImPaKT -- on Monday.

The containment facility is embedded inside the school's dental sciences building, and has $7 million in equipment that'll let researchers safely study infectious diseases like HIV, West Nile, and Zika.

 "It's one of the few places in the world where you can study pathogens in their natural types of hosts and understand how they cause diseases, and how the immune system combats the disease," explained Dr. Eric Arts, a Western University professor and the facility's director.

Dr. Eric Arts is a Western University professor, and the director of the Imaging Pathogens for Knowledge Translation Facility. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

He and other researchers spoke about ImPakt's technology during tours of the 5200 square foot space. Two pieces of imaging equipment in one room were worth $2 million. A multiphoton microscope in the next room, which hadn't been installed yet, was worth another $2 million.

"Sometimes our questions ask about behaviours of single cells within tissues, and that's where multiphoton microscopy comes in," explained Dr. Kate Parham, the microscope's prime user.

The microscope might be focused on the lymph node of a live mouse for example, said Arts. "You can put a pathogen in there, and see what's happening; you can put drugs in there and see how they're inhibiting," he explained.

"This stuff, this knowledge base, will rapidly advance to human imaging and diseases," said Arts.

Canada has a Level 4 containment lab in Winnipeg, where researchers study dangerous diseases like Ebola, and anthrax. Western's ImPaKT facility boasts two different containment labs; one is a Level 2+, the other is a Level 3. It's expected to be fully operational in the fall. Officials say more than 100 people will work at the facility, though it would be rare to see more than 10 at a time.

"We'll be looking at things like Zika, West Nile, a lot of work on HIV and vaccine development," said Arts.

"We have already interest from Guelph, University of Toronto, and McMaster… that will want to come and use this equipment and understand the disease they're studying."

Right now, Arts himself is working on a project involving researchers from Western and Laval University. The team received $4 million from the federal government to develop an HIV vaccine.

"This type of facility is instrumental in that."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.