18.1  Introduction

18.2  Scope and Mission

18.3  Definition of a Biological Agent

18.4  Review Classification

18.5  Review Procedures

18.6  Appeals

18.7  Examples of NOU and Instructions

18.1       Introduction

The Biological Safety Committee was established for the purpose of formulating and recommending to the governing body through the Vice President for Research a general policy for the safe use of biological agents at UTMB.  The Committee recognizes and supports the University’s fundamental objectives of teaching, research and healthcare delivery.  It also recognizes the University’s obligation to pursue these objectives without compromising the health and safety of its students, staff and faculty and those members of the surrounding community.  The Committee’s goal, therefore, is not to be restrictive but to develop safety policies and procedures that will promote the safe use and handling of biological agents while allowing necessary research to proceed. 

The Committee has used the “Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories,” May 1999, CDC/NIH, as a basis for this policy.  The classification of etiologic agents and oncogenic viruses and the levels of containment of this policy will be updated to reflect changes in the CDC/NIH, and USDA guidelines.


18.2       Scope and Mission


The scope of the Biological Safety Committee encompasses all UTMB biological safety issues except those addressed by Healthcare Epidemiology.  Healthcare Epidemiology addresses infection control issues specifically related to healthcare delivery for both patients and healthcare workers, including personnel in the clinical laboratories.  Healthcare Epidemiology does not address infection control or biological safety issues in research laboratories unless consulted by the Biological Safety Committee. 


The Mission of the Biological Safety Committee is to support the University’s fundamental objectives of teaching, research and healthcare delivery by promoting the safe use and handling of biological agents and assuring that all activities involving these agents are in compliance with the applicable guidelines, codes and regulations. 

Responsibilities/Important Components of Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) 

·         Assess all biohazardous activities

·         Develop institutional biological safety policies and procedures

·         Maintain/review policies and procedures

·         Identify problem areas

·         Assure safety of students, employees, visitors, volunteers, patients, environment and community

·         Review and assess grant projects for biological safety

·         Monitor the handling of biological waste

·         Report and advise university administration on biological safety issues

·         Communicate to address:

-          Biological agents requiring biosafety review

-          Individual responsibilities with respect to biological safety

-          Biological issues prompted by public awareness/media coverage


18.3       Definition of a Biological Agent

A biological agent is defined here as any agent, or component of an agent, that could cause harm to people, animals and/or the environment.  The following are examples (not inclusive or comprehensive) of biological agents. 

For the purpose of this policy, a “biological agent” is considered to be any of the following: 

·         organisms and viruses containing recombinant DNA molecules

·         materials known or suspected to contain biological pathogens

·         oncogenic viruses

·         human products (e.g., blood, tissue)


18.4       Review Classification

Etiologic Agents and Oncogenic Viruses 

For the purpose of establishing review policies, etiologic agents and oncogenic viruses shall be classified into low, moderate and high risk groups.  Those agents in the high risk group require stringent controls for their containment because they are extremely hazardous to laboratory personnel or could cause widespread disease if released into the environment.  Adequate safety for agents in the low risk groups is ensured through standard microbiological practices and basic laboratory facilities.  

The moderate risk group includes biological agents that present a significant risk to the laboratory workers and the surrounding personnel and require the use of a containment facility.  Each group corresponds to a specific biosafety level.  Each biosafety level consists of a combination of laboratory practices and techniques, safety equipment, and laboratory facilities appropriate for the operations performed and the risk group. 

The following classifications and biosafety levels shall be used as guidelines.  The group classification corresponds to varying levels of review necessary to handle the biological agent.  The Institutional Biosafety Committee may place any specific agent in a higher group classification.  The reclassification will be deemed necessary if the laboratory procedures will involve:

·         large quantities or highly concentrated preparations of infectious agents

·         manipulations which are likely to produce a large volume or aerosol

·         manipulations which are otherwise intrinsically considered hazardous by the Committee


Biosafety Level

Biological Agents

Low Risk


Risk Group 1 Etiologic Agents

Risk Group 2 Etiologic Agents

Low Risk Oncogenic Viruses

Moderate Risk


Risk Group 3 Etiologic Agents

Moderate Risk Oncogenic Viruses

High Risk


Risk Group 4 Etiologic Agents


Recombinant DNA Research 

The current procedures and requirements for recombinant DNA are specified in the current “NIH Guidelines for Research Involving DNA Molecules.”  UTMB must comply with these guidelines if NIH funding is to be maintained.  Any update to the NIH guidelines shall be considered as a revision to this Biological Safety Policy. 

Due to the complexity of the NIH guidelines, only a brief overview of the classification and review procedures will be given in this policy.   The laboratory facilities and procedures for each experiment involving specific agents are specified in the guidelines. As with the review classification for etiologic agents and oncogenic viruses, the group classifications for recombinant DNA correspond to varying levels of review by the Committee.  All persons proposing to use recombinant DNA must file a registration document.


18.5       Review Procedures

Etiologic Agents and Oncogenic Viruses 

All persons currently conducting or proposing to conduct research involving biological agents, as defined by this policy, shall submit a properly completed Notification for Use of Biological Agents and Recombinant DNA Form (NOU) to the Environmental Health and Safety /Biological and Chemical Safety (EHS/B&C) Program.  This form should be submitted prior to, or simultaneously with, any proposal for funding of research.  As part of the Risk Assessment for the NOU, investigators should refer to the Risk Group listings found at:

Once this notification is received, Environmental Health and Safety staff will review the facilities, equipment and general procedures with the Principal Investigator.  The Committee will then place the laboratory at a specific Biosafety Level.  The specific requirements that must be met for each biosafety level are included in this chapter. 

After an Investigator obtains the biosafety level, an approved agent corresponding to that level or below may be used in that laboratory.  Research involving any additional biological agent requires a Notification of Use Form to be submitted to Environmental Health and Safety /Biological and Chemical Safety Program for committee approval.  This does not include rDNA or work with agents that require U.S. Department of Agriculture approval before importation, possession or use. These agents must be addressed on a case by case basis. 

All research involving agents in the Low to High risk group classification shall require prior approval by the committee.


Recombinant DNA Experiments 

All persons proposing to conduct recombinant DNA research must submit a Notification for Use of Biological Agents and Recombinant DNA to the Institutional Biosafety Committee through the EHS/B&C Program.  EHS/B&C will aid the Investigator in the interpretation of the NIH guidelines. 

The Registration Document must contain a description of:

·         the source(s) of DNA

·         the nature of the inserted DNA sequences

·         the hosts and vector to be used

·         whether a deliberate attempt will be made to obtain expression of  a foreign gene and, if so, what protein will be produced

·         the containment conditions specified in the NIH guidelines

 The document must be dated and signed by the Investigator. 

PI is responsible for complying with NIH  rDNA/rRNA guidelines.


Experiments Involving Animal and Biological Agents 

Any experiment involving both animals and biological agents will be classified and reviewed at the appropriate level.  The Vertebrate Animal Biosafety Level recommendations as given in the latest edition of “Biosafety in Microbiological and Biosafety Laboratories” will be used as a guide for the Investigator (a copy of these recommendations is in this chapter).  The Committee will cooperate with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee on all experiments involving both animals and biological agents.


18.6       Appeals

Any Investigator who believes that a biological agent has been improperly classified may request a reconsideration of the classification.  The request should be submitted to the Chairman of the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) and should contain a suggestion for alternative classification and documentation in support of this suggestion.  The Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) will then inform the Investigator of its decision.


18.7       Examples of NOU and Instructions

Please refer to the NOU website.