A new animal diagnostic laboratory being built in the Great Lakes region will help farmers and veterinarians get quicker answers about what’s making their animals sick. The lab will also be one of only a handful in the Midwest certified to work with potentially lethal biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
A new animal diagnostic laboratory being built in the Great Lakes region will help
farmers and veterinarians get quicker answers about what’s making their animals sick.
The lab will also be one of only a handful in the Midwest certified to work with
potentially lethal biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a huge cream-colored building
with green windows. It’s nestled among corn fields and campus dairy farms. When it
opens early next year, Michigan State University’s new animal diagnostic lab will test
thousands of animal samples every week. It’ll be one of the first lines of defense against
animal diseases that are spreading quickly through the Midwest. Testing for Chronic
Wasting Disease, West Nile Virus and Bovine Tuberculosis has already clogged many
labs in the region.
Right now, Michigan State’s ten animal diagnostic services are scattered in outdated labs
all across campus. Every day, the labs take in hundreds of samples from all over the
region. Some are entire animals – dead because of some disease or infection. Others are
just parts of animals – a liver or a piece of muscle.
These veterinary students are trying to find out why two pigs from two different farms
died. One had swollen joints and a high temperature. The other one was anorexic.
(ambient sound: “So have you taken your specimens already?”)
William Reed is the director of Michigan State’s Diagnostic Center for Population and
Animal Health. He says the current labs were built 30 years ago, and were never designed
to be used in the way they are now.
“For example, we need state of the art laboratories that have special air handling
capability. We have to be concerned about protecting the workers, we have to be
concerned about containment of the different pathogens that we work on. And it’s just not
proper to continue to run the kind of analyses in the kinds of facilities that we have.”
Besides dealing with various communicable diseases, the new laboratory will also help
the country build up its defense against bioterrorism. The lab will be one of only a few
facilities in the Midwest that’s classified Biosafety-Level 3. That means scientists are
certified to work with deadly biological pathogens and viruses, such as anthrax and
smallpox. Lab Director William Reed says it’s important there are more labs to handle
biological threats to animals and people.
“We will be able to address some of the agents of bioterrorism and it’s likely that we
would join forces with the federal government in addressing any introduction of a foreign
animal disease, whether intentionally or by accident. Particularly, some of the agents that
terrorists would want to use to harm animal agriculture in the U.S.”
University officials say the new Biosafety-3 lab would be safe and secure. People who
work in the high-containment area get special training and have to follow strict safety
There’s been strong opposition to similar bio-defense labs in other parts of the country.
So far, there’s been no sign of opposition to the Michigan State lab.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t say exactly how many Biosafety-3
labs there are in the region because of security concerns. But there are reportedly two in
Ohio, and several others are being considered in the Midwest.
Randall Levings is the director of the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames,
Iowa. He says the Michigan State University lab will help the federal government build a
bigger network of labs that can quickly deal with a serious outbreak.
“And the whole concept behind that is to have not only more laboratories that can work
with some of these agents, but the concept is also that it would be better to have a
laboratory with that kind of capacity close to the outbreak.”
Levings says another biosafety lab in the Great Lakes region makes sense. That’s because
of the large number of livestock farms, and the proximity to Canada, where there have
been recent outbreaks of animal and human diseases.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.