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International conference drives science forward in the post-pandemic era

International conference drives science forward in the post-pandemic era

Scientific collaborations matter now more than ever. As the world faces new challenges around emerging and re-emerging pathogens, topics like biosafety, pandemics, science policy and diplomacy are top of mind. That's where the Biosafety Level 4 Zoonotic Laboratory Network (BSL4ZNet) comes in.

The 2021 BSL4ZNet International Conference streamed online between September 23 and October 14, 2021. The event focused on "Preparing and responding to new post-pandemic challenges" with 4 sessions: emerging and re-emerging pathogens, BSL3 and BSL4 biosafety and biosecurity, One Health perspectives, and science policy and diplomacy in the context of zoonotic outbreaks and pandemics. The BSL4ZNet is now organizing a new series of virtual sessions from September 8 to October 13, 2022. The overarching theme of the 2022 BSL4ZNet International Conference is "Forging ahead stronger: Strengthening zoonotic disease preparedness".

What is the BSL4ZNet

Established in 2016 by the CFIA's Chief Science Operating Officer, Dr. Primal Silva, the BSL4ZNet is a CFIA-led alliance of animal and public health organizations from 5 countries: Canada, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

These organizations protect human and animal health from zoonotic pathogens, which are diseases that spread from animals to humans. Their scientific work is done in some of the most advanced high-containment laboratories in the world, including the CFIA's National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg. These labs are specialized to help protect scientists working with infectious pathogens.

The BSL4ZNet provides a framework for global cooperation that allows scientists in these otherwise unique and highly specialized facilities to share knowledge and resources to improve the international response to zoonotic outbreaks.

Science diplomacy and responding to crises

The COVID-19 pandemic presented new and evolving challenges that highlighted the importance of global collaboration. At the outset of the pandemic, the BSL4ZNet established a rapid collaborative response centred on regular network meetings. This provided a venue that helped members share information, research, challenges, and updates more efficiently than before.

As a result, network scientists, laboratory management personnel, and science administrators had real-time access to important scientific data and operational information. This type of international cooperation is referred to as science diplomacy and helps tackle common challenges nationally and globally.

"It is the trusted relationships we build in times of calm that prove to be vital in times of crisis," explains Dr. Silva, Co-Chair of the BSL4ZNet. "I am grateful for the dedication and expertise of my BSL4ZNet colleagues that helped Canada and the world better understand COVID-19."

In August and September 2020, the BSL4ZNet held its first annual international conference. Over 1,000 scientific experts from around the world shared knowledge about COVID-19, each contributing towards the common goal of understanding the evolving pandemic.

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