How CDC Strengthens Laboratory Safety
In 2014, CDC launched ambitious reforms to ensure that its laboratories are a national model of scientific excellence and safety. These reforms led to the creation of the position of the Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety (ADLSS)—a senior official who serves as the single point of accountability for laboratory safety and science at CDC. This position leads the Office of Laboratory Science and Safety (OLSS) that advances two coequal and interrelated priorities: to enhance the scientific excellence and safety of every CDC laboratory.
Acting Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety: Jim Pirkle, MD, PhD
Jim Pirkle, MD, PhD, is serving as the Acting Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety (ADLSS) and Acting Director of the Office of Laboratory Science and Safety (OLSS) at CDC. In these capacities, Dr. Pirkle provides high-level oversight and coordination of critical laboratory science policies and operations, particularly those associated with laboratory safety and quality management at CDC.
Learn more about Dr. Pirkle on CDC’s leadership page.
CDC Activities to Strengthen Safety and Scientific Excellence in CDC Laboratories
Overseeing Safety in CDC Laboratories
CDC is committed to continually improving its culture of safety in its laboratories where transparency and accountability are valued; staff receive complete, comprehensive, and cutting-edge safety training; the safety of a procedure or project is considered before all else; and potential safety issues are quickly and openly addressed.
While working with dangerous pathogens, chemicals, and toxins always carries a degree of risk, CDC is committed to identifying, mitigating, reducing, and eliminating these risks in every feasible way to protect the safety of its staff and the American public.
The OLSS oversees biological, chemical, and radiation safety at CDC laboratories. The OLSS safety inspectors visit CDC laboratories annually to ensure that their practices, procedures, and equipment meet key safety standards. The OLSS oversight includes ensuring that CDC laboratories are in full compliance with the requirements of the Federal Select Agent Programexternal icon, which regulates the possession, use, and transfer of biological select agents and toxins.
In addition, the OLSS also manages CDC’s Animal Care and Use Program Office (ACUPO), assuring CDC compliance with guidance and regulations for the responsible care of research animals at CDC.
Providing the Standards and Guidance on Biosafety
CDC co-authors the foundational biosafety manual Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL), in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Now in its 5th Edition, the BMBL has become the standard guidance for biosafety practices in laboratories across the country.
Advancing the “Science of Laboratory Safety”
CDC is committed to advancing the “science of laboratory safety”—applying the same rigorous scientific methods to the safety of CDC’s laboratories that CDC uses to confront threats to the public’s health. To spur the science of safety in CDC laboratories, OLSS supports CDC laboratories to advance innovative research or solutions to laboratory safety challenges.
Supporting Animal Care and Use in CDC Laboratory Research
CDC has a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that the animals entrusted to our care are treated in accordance with the highest standards of animal welfare and care. Research studies involving animals conducted at or supported by CDC must comply with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations promulgated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under Title 9, Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 1-3 as well as the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (PHS Policy) administered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW). As an OLAW Assured institution, all CDC animal studies adhere to the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. In addition, all animal studies must be approved by and conducted in accordance with the policies set forth by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), an oversight body mandated by the AWA to review all research studies involving animals at CDC to ensure compliance with animal welfare standards. CDC is also voluntarily accredited with the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), demonstrating CDC’s highest commitment to animal welfare and going above and beyond what is required by federal law.
Advancing Laboratory Scientific Excellence
One of the tenets of CDC’s Pledge to the American People is that CDC will “base all public health decisions on the highest quality scientific data that is derived openly and objectively.” OLSS is committed to ensuring that CDC laboratories continue to fulfill this pledge and serve as a model for scientific excellence and quality.
The scientific data produced by CDC’s laboratories provides a crucial foundation for sound, evidence-based public health decision-making across the country. OLSS aids this work by providing CDC laboratories with leadership and technical expertise that both supports, and helps to advance excellence in laboratory science throughout CDC.
OLSS supports this work by providing oversight and coordination of laboratory quality management and training programs for CDC laboratories. OLSS establishes teams responsible for developing agency-level plans, policies, guidelines, manuals, and tools for implementation of quality management programs within Centers, Institutes and Offices, and for the continual improvement of laboratory quality and safety training for CDC staff.
Fostering the Next Generation of Laboratory Leaders
CDC’s Laboratory Leadership Service (LLS) is a fellowship program that prepares early career laboratory scientists to become future laboratory leaders. The fellowship combines competency-based public health laboratory training with practical, applied investigations and service. LLS will provide CDC and public health laboratories across the country with a pool of expertly trained laboratory scientists poised to meet the evolving challenges of laboratory science and safety.
Providing State-of-the-Art Laboratory Trainings
Maximizing the safety and impact of CDC’s laboratories requires a workforce of laboratory scientists trained in state-of-the-art techniques and technology. In partnership with the CDC Office of Public Health Scientific Services and the Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services (CSELS), Division of Laboratory Systems and Safe Labs Program, OLSS supports the development of a comprehensive training curriculum to ensure that CDC’s laboratory scientists are equipped to meet current and future public health challenges.
In 2019, CDC opened a state-of-the-art laboratory training facility where these trainings could be held. The 4,760 square-foot facility was designed to provide hands-on training to laboratory scientists with access to high containment laboratories. This space offers CDC laboratory programs a facility to test new protocols and equipment in a realistic laboratory setting in the absence of pathogens.