Manitoba

Get a rare peek behind the glass doors of Winnipeg's National Microbiology Lab

Ebola, HIV, anthrax. These are only a few of the dangerous, deadly diseases studied at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

Lab is holding open house to celebrate its 20th anniversary in Winnipeg

Workers at the National Microbiology Lab wear pressurized protective suits to keep pathogens out. On Saturday, the lab is opening its doors to the public to celebrate its 20th anniversary. (CBC)

Ebola, HIV, anthrax.

These are only a few of the dangerous, deadly diseases studied at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

This Saturday, the lab is celebrating its 20th anniversary by opening its doors to Winnipeggers to showcase the fascinating work it has done, and continues to do.

The facility is one of only a handful of North American labs capable of handling pathogens that require the highest level of containment.

That means over its 20-year history, the lab has boasted some important achievements, including developing the made-in-Canada Ebola vaccine, the extremely deadly hemorrhagic fever that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

The vaccine is currently being used to stymie an outbreak in Congo.

"We're proud that the Winnipeg [lab's] contribution is having a role in hopefully dampening that particular outbreak," said Dr. Matthew Gilmour, scientific director general of the lab.

Since it handles some of  the most destructive diseases known to humanity, the lab has the highest possible level of containment and security, Gilmour says.

That includes pressure suits that resemble something that is "almost a bit of a spaceman type suit," which provide a protective barrier for scientists, Gilmour said.

A worker at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg wears protective gloves to handle a potentially hazardous substance inside a plastic tent. (CBC)

There are also a whole other suite of protective features, including a lot of physical containment, he said.

"The whole point of it is to protect both the facility, the employees, and of course the city from these organisms that we're working on," he said.

On Saturday, the public will get to step behind the glass doors of the facility at 1015 Arlington St., starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m.

Though members of the public won't be able to see into the labs, scientists will give presentations every half hour on their work with various diseases and also put on interactive demonstrations — including demonstrations with the spaceman-like suit.

They'll also get to see inside the lab's emergency operations centre, where scientists come together to determine how they're going to tackle the latest outbreak.

"It's frankly kind of our war room where everyone from the lab comes down and we plan for whatever operation we're undertaking," Gilmour said.

The lab holds open hours rarely, with the last one taking place in 2014.  

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