New hebrew university lab for viral research focuses on COVID-19, and future pandemics

  (photo credit: Yoram Aschheim)
(photo credit: Yoram Aschheim)

The multiplying variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the recent spread of Monkeypox are reminders that, while we may wish to be done with viruses and pandemics, they are not done with us. Our species has always been threatened by deadly viruses, and our interconnected world remains vulnerable to new and evolving pathogens. 

It was the deadly threat posed by COVID-19 that prompted the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to construct the Barry Skolnick Biosafety Level 3 National Laboratory, located on Hebrew University’s medical campus adjacent to Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem. 

The ability to study live viruses is a necessary precursor to clinical trials and a crucial component to the development of vaccinations, drugs, and other anti-viral technologies. In order to handle live and deadly viruses, the new Level 3 Biosafety Lab (BSL3), is equipped with a wide array of the latest equipment. This includes an advanced air filtration system, biosample storage facilities, robots for handling the live virus, an antibody analysis system, centrifuges, reagents for use in chemical analysis, and IVIS optical imaging machine. 

A joint venture between the Ministry of Defense’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (Mafat) and the Hebrew University, the new facility is Israel’s only civilian BSL3, enabling virologists from Israel and beyond to conduct research on live viruses without threatening the safety of the surrounding community. The BSL3, which is restricted and controlled, will increase scientific understanding of COVID-19 and other viral threats, foster cooperative research, and provide the infrastructure needed to help prevent future pandemics.

From the beginning of the pandemic, the Hebrew University has played a significant role in the fight against COVID-19, conducting more than 60 research projects in the race to detect, treat, cure, and prevent the many variants of the virus. Hebrew University is Israel's leading academic and research institution. producing a third of Israel’s civilian research, ranked 12th worldwide in biotechnology patent filings and commercial development. 

American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU) has a commitment to Israeli research and technology. With a long history of support for the internationally recognized medical research occurring at the Hebrew University, American Friends has played a vital role in the BSL3’s creation. For example, the new laboratory bears the name of Barry Skolnick, a leader in South Florida real estate and noted philanthropist. Mr. Skolnick’s $2.5 million leadership gift was a driving force behind the establishment the BSL3, and he continues to be a generous supporter of faculty recruitment and Ph.D. fellowships at the university’s Harvey M. Krueger Family Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

Credit: Yoram AschheimCredit: Yoram Aschheim

Brad and Sheryl Schwartz are American friends who also recognized the BSL3’s importance to Israel’s health and security. Their $1 million gift enabled the creation of the Bradley and Sheryl Schwartz Live Tissue Wing, an essential component of the BSL3’s operation.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s BSL-3 will advance scientific education and research in Israel, helping the nation and the world face current and future health challenges with state-of-the-art medical research and innovation. Thanks to the State of Israel, the Hebrew University, and AFHU, the new BSL3 will strengthen the nation’s capacity in virological research, helping Israel and the world confront the health challenges of today and prepare for –and possibly forestall—the next viral pandemic.

Visit AFHU’s website to learn more about the Barry Skolnick Biosafety Level 3 National Laboratory, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the American Friends of the Hebrew University.

This article was written in cooperation with American Friends of the Hebrew University