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Q&A: How SFU's CL3 Lab is equipping SFU researchers in the global fight against COVID-19

June 01, 2021

There is a lot of curiosity surrounding SFU’s Containment Level 3 (CL3) Lab, the newest addition to SFU’s Core Facilities Program.

Over the last 10 years, SFU has invested in core facilities, which are purpose-built to house and provide access to infrastructure shared across the whole SFU research community and beyond. SFU’s CL3 Lab is one of a few biosecure facilities in Canada that are certified by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

SFU News recently sat down with Ralph Pantophlet, the inaugural scientific director for SFU’s CL3 Lab and health sciences professor, to discuss his new role, how the new lab is helping in the global fight against COVID-19 and the importance of getting fully vaccinated as soon as it is your turn.

Pantophlet joined SFU as an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences in 2008, to lead the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Immunology. Today, he is also an associate member of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. His research is focused on investigating antibody responses to viruses such as HIV-1, Flu, HCMV and SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19).

What makes this lab unique?

SFU’s CL3 Lab is one of only a few biosecure facilities at an academic institution in Canada that is certified by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Researchers can safely conduct research activities on Risk Group 3 pathogens to help advance breakthrough discoveries that will benefit society. This CL3 facility is, to my knowledge, the first on SFU’s campus dedicated to infectious diseases research.

What kind of research is happening in this lab?

Since the CL3 Lab was certified in 2020, SFU researchers have been safely working on better understanding SARS-CoV-2 and how it causes COVID-19. We hope to welcome researchers working on other diseases in the future.

What excites you the most about your new role?

Over the next several years, I look forward to building up the capacity for SFU’s CL3 facility to support all types of research at the CL3-required level. As such, I look forward to working with internal and external researchers to better understand their needs and to develop the infrastructure needed for them to pursue their research questions.

Since the CL3 Lab is a part of SFU’s Core Facilities Program, I look forward to also working with and learning from the other core facility directors to develop, support and promote core research infrastructure at the university in general.

Why is it critical to vaccinate a population as quickly as possible from infectious diseases like COVID-19?

A key benefit is that vaccination provides protection against severe disease, which in turn means less stress on healthcare systems. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective means by which to protect the health of the public.

To protect public health against diseases that are readily transmissible, such as COVID-19, vaccination efforts need to exceed the rate at which the disease is transmitted within the community or geographic region so that transmission is blunted and the emergence of new, potentially more dangerous strains, is impeded.

There is some vaccine hesitancy in Canada. What are the consequences for those who are electing to wait a year before considering vaccinating?

If not enough people get vaccinated, SARS-CoV-2 could continue to circulate at levels that put all those who are unvaccinated at risk of getting COVID-19. Those who are hesitant about getting the vaccine should seek out further guidance from their health care provider who can address questions and allay concerns.

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