Aerobiology—Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick

The aerobiology team develops aerosol animal models of disease caused by high-consequence pathogens. Using advanced inhalational technologies, this team provides high experimental reproducibility to ensure the best modeling possible. Aerosolization procedures are fine-tuned to achieve accurate and precise dosimetry. All work with high-consequence pathogens is conducted within animal biosafety level 4 (ABSL-4) containment laboratories at the Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick (IRF‑Frederick).

Main Areas of Focus

  • Comparison of virion deposition, infectivity, and virulence within the nasopharyngeal, tracheobronchial, and alveolar regions of the respiratory tract (figure below)
  • Exploration of disease course and pathogenesis studies following aerosol exposure
  • Testing and evaluation of therapeutics and prophylactic agents (e.g., vaccines)
  • Facilitation and construction of mainstream and customized aerosol exposure chambers
  • Plethysmography (analysis of respiratory parameters) for rabbits and nonhuman primates
  • Comparison of aerosolization to other routes of administration (intramuscular, intratracheal) in animal models
  • Reporting findings, generating reports, publishing manuscripts, and presenting data

Collaborative Research Support

  • Provide consultation for inhalational studies
  • Develop and refine aerosol animal modeling
  • Customize and manufacture aerosol exposure chambers/devices
  • Calculate predictive and actual dosimetry, aerosol concentration, and target dosing consultations
  • Establish aerosol stability and viability characterization testing of viral agents
  • Determination of LD50 for aerosolized viral agents
  • Explore aerosol particle size comparison and analysis
  • Perform respiratory acquisition and training for aerosol studies (plethysmography)
  • Provide training and support for performing experiments in Class III biosafety cabinets
  • Conduct biological decontamination of small laboratory equipment

Capabilities and Specialized Equipment

  • Historical database of previously characterized aerosolized viral agents, including Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Lassa virus, Nipah virus, SARS-CoV-2, MERS‑CoV, and cowpox virus
  • Historical database of previously collected plethysmography data on nonhuman primates of several species and rabbits
  • Aerosol management platform (AeroMP-Biaera Technologies)
  • Aerosol exposure chambers (whole-body, head-only, nose-only, rodent tower, rabbit chamber, custom-built)
  • Centered flow tangential aerosol generator (CenTAG-CH Technologies)
  • Collison nebulizer (Mesa Laboratories)
  • Biosamplers (SKC Inc., In-Tox, Mesa Laboratories, custom-built)
  • Aerodynamic particle sizer and diluters (APS-TSI Inc.)
  • Plethysmography equipment: real time respiratory inductive plethysmography (RIP) technology, algorithm based (Ponemah, Buxco, SmartLab platforms-DSI Inc., Hans Rudolph Inc.)
  • Class III biosafety cabinets with autoclaves connected to (A)BSL-4 (Germfree, Getinge)
  • Certek decontamination machine (Nextek LLC)
Four PET/CT images of NHPs showing deposition patterns for aerosol particles 1.5, 4.0, 7.3, and 12.2 µm in diameter. The lower concentration shows deeper deposition.

A sagittal view of a nonhuman primate shows representative PET/CT overlays displaying deposition patterns as a function of particle size. Regional deposition pattern shifts as particle size increases to greater deposition in the upper respiratory tract. The body surface of the animal is represented by a light gray boundary; warmer colors indicate higher concentration in tissues and cooler colors indicate a lower concentration.

Credit: NIAID IRF-Frederick


Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick (IRF-Frederick)

Contact Information

Mike Holbrook, Ph.D.
Principal Scientist and Director of Biocontainment (Contractor)

Matt Lackemeyer, M.S.



All procedures are well-documented and adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs), methods, or study-approved plans and agreements.

Collaboration Opportunities

  • Studies relevant to human disease
  • Use of surrogate systems to test clinical hypotheses
  • Use of biological systems to answer questions regarding disease pathogenesis and strategies for intervention including antimicrobials, vaccines, and other countermeasures
  • Developing and incorporating cutting-edge technologies to understand infectious diseases

Read more about how to work with the IRF-Frederick.