Scientists have come up with another innovation to respond to the Ebola outbreak. During the next Ebola outbreak, a brand new vehicle might come to the rescue. It’s a lab on wheels that some scientists say could greatly improve the response to disease outbreaks and epidemics. It can be flown into trouble spots by plane and driven to even the most remote locations, and it has everything on board needed to rapidly diagnose patients or carry out research studies, according to the Science Magazine, a peer - reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
A prototype was parked outside a conference center in Maryland in the United States during the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Uganda Virus Research Institute Deputy Director Dr Julius Lutwama was among scientists who presented at the conference and witnessed the unveiling of the vehicle.
The company that developed it, Greensboro, North Carolina–based Integrum Scientific, says the first vehicle may soon be tested in Uganda, which occasionally has outbreaks of Ebola and a related virus, Marburg.
Clinical virologist and paediatrician Calum Semple of the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, who is on the company’s infectious disease scientific advisory board said the idea was born out of “deep frustration” among scientists during the 2013–16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The new mobile lab would solve most of those problems, Semple says. It can be outfitted as a biosafety level 2 or 3 laboratory. (In the latter case, it has a glove box.) It comes with almost 10 meters of lab bench space, a –80°C freezer, satellite communication, and two generators that can run on the “dirty” diesel fuel common in African countries. Built for traversing unpaved, muddy roads, it boasts a reinforced door and a security system to keep out unwanted visitors. Its roof can be lowered by about 40 centimeters so that it can be carried by a C130 Hercules military transport plane.
The Integrum Scientific CEO Joseph Sgherza says the lab is not just for foreign researchers operating in developing countries. He hopes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other funders will support African countries to buy and operate the vehicles—which would cost about $700,000 each.