Skip to main content
hpa logo
Topics A-Z:
Search the site:
Home Products & Services Microbiology and Pathology Laboratories and Reference Facilities Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL)

Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL)

Brown dog tick, vector of rickettsia

The Rare and Imported Pathogens Department (RIPD), HPA Microbiology Services is located at Porton Down Salisbury and operates the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL), formerly known as the Special Pathogens Reference Unit (SPRU).

RIPD has 23 staff including two medical consultant microbiologists, a full-time consultant infectious disease physician, a part-time consultant virologist, a dedicated SpR on rotation from University College Hospital, London (UCLH), a part-time clinical scientist and a post-doctoral trainee clinical scientist covering diagnostic work and medical advice for the NHS and other units nationally and internationally. Three dedicated post-doctoral scientists lead specialist research programmes covering diagnostics, vaccine studies ad biosafety. Operational management and a dedicated diagnostic development unit are provided by associated units.

A key programme is the Imported Fever Service, a joint venture between RIPD and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases (part of UCLH) and the Royal Liverpool Hospital’s Tropical and Infectious Diseases Unit. The department also provides strategic scientific advice and programme support to the Agency and beyond on a wide range of research topics, from vaccine design and development through evaluation of therapeutics to environmental spread of organisms and has three post-doctoral scientists covering this area. Many of the junior staff are studying for PhD or Masters degrees.

Through RIPL, RIPD provides reference diagnostic services for dangerous pathogens including viral haemorrhagic fevers, the arbovirus group, hantaviruses, rickettsia and coxiella, anthrax, tularemia and other biothreat agents. The Lyme disease specialist unit is scheduled to be a part of RIPD from 1 April 2012. RIPD is supported by an active research programme in diagnostics, disease pathogenesis, antimicrobials and antivirals, vaccines, biosafety and biocontainment. Additional resources and a dedicated operational management are currently provided by other groups in Microbiology Services at HPA Porton. RIPD leads a multi-disciplinary Bioresponse team for environmental sampling (e.g. to investigate outbreaks of anthrax or Q fever), and a research nurse working on epidemiological serosurveys. Through the specialist RIPL laboratory within the department, RIPD is a WHO collaborating laboratory for anthrax, VHF’s and arboviruses, and for biosafety. We work at all containment levels up to level 4 (the highest). All current diagnostic methods from culture, IF tests and ELISA to real time PCR are used for routine work, backed up by access to a range of research assays and developmental tests for new agents and unusual diseases (see user manual).

The departmental staff provide specialist advice related to the management of dangerous pathogens, ranging from the clinical care and treatment through infection control and public health measures, to environmental management and decontamination of affected areas. RIPD staff serve on national and international advisory committees covering all these areas, and also including biosafety, biosecurity and bioterrorism. Between RIPD and other groups at HPA Porton there is an international training programme for dangerous pathogens and infectious diseases, and we have hosted 3 of the 5 workshops held by the G7 nations in this field. We have an active network of collaborators across Europe and the US, Asia and Africa.

RIPL hosts an environmental laboratory testing samples for a range of pathogens from potentially contaminated sites e.g anthrax from construction sites, and have the capability to handle forensic samples when required. 

Departmental staff have extensive experience in working with dangerous infectious organisms, in risk assessment and management for infectious agents, and aspects of preventing contamination, environmental sampling and decontamination. This knowledge is used to advise hospital staff on how to apply these principles rationally in their setting to allow both safe and effective working in the interests of patients and carers.