The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust biosafety into the limelight in all facets of medicine, including clinical laboratories. Despite previous scares from other infectious diseases like Ebolavirus and swine flu, many labs remain unprepared to handle the challenges posed by new emerging diseases.

Thankfully, an impressive slate of four expert speakers is addressing the critical topic of biosafety within clinical laboratories, bringing key perspectives from academia, public health laboratories, and the federal government.

In the session “Biosafety Practices for Today and Beyond” on Wednesday, December 16 at 2:00 pm Central, these knowledgeable speakers outline four aspects of biosafety preparedness: risk assessment and mitigation; instrument decontamination; biosafety as quality management; and the recent history of biosafety.

Moderator and speaker Michael Pentella, PhD, is a medical microbiologist with expertise in epidemiology and public health. Throughout his career he has not only worked with a wide variety of microbiology tests, but also has delved into the risks facing laboratory staff members during the course of their work. Pentella recognizes that many barriers stand between clinical labs and extensive preparation for emerging biosafety challenges. However, the emphasis placed on biosafety by laboratory leadership is paramount to marshalling the time and motivation to tackle this issue.

Pentella emphasizes that biosafety preparedness should be pursued as part of a lab’s overall quality management program, and that by aligning with quality improvement, both practices can be supported. As biosafety practices progress and improve, it’s important for laboratory leaders to effectively endorse and implement these measures within their labs.

Two speakers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nancy Cornish, MD, and Elizabeth Weirich, MS, contribute separate discussions on different aspects of biosafety. Cornish discusses the recent history of biosafety and explores lessons learned from this experience. Weirich provides tools to assess and mitigate risk, helping laboratories identify needed resources and determine where they should be applied.

Speaker Sheldon Campbell, MD, PhD, has expertise in laboratory testing in microbiology, chemistry, and point-of-care testing, as well as emerging infectious diseases. He presents on the important topic of instrument decontamination. Given the large investments labs make in instrumentation and the time and effort required to validate and maintain such complex machinery, laboratories are not eager to decommission equipment due to possible contamination with infectious material.

In particular, high-volume automated systems cannot be easily or readily replaced, and serve large patient populations. Campbell echoes Pentella’s conviction that laboratory leadership is key and support from leadership opens the door to the resources necessary for a safe and effective instrument decontamination program. The key elements to this capacity building are overcoming knowledge limitations and breaking through structural barriers.

From this session, which utilizes the Simulive format, attendees will learn how biosafety programs have been impacted by recent emerging infectious diseases and how to perform risk assessment followed by appropriate risk mitigation for such biosafety threats. Additionally, attendees will learn how to incorporate biosafety into existing quality management systems.