CORVALLIS, Oregon. – Three grants from the National Animal Health Laboratory Network will enable Oregon State University’s Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to expand its role in responding to major disease outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest.
The main purpose of the laboratory is to test and diagnose animal diseases, including infectious diseases in farm animals. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out, the OVDL also helped test human samples at a time when testing capacity was severely limited in Oregon.
“We really showed that animal testing and human testing are one and the same, and our skills in large-scale animal testing translate into human testing,” said Justin Sanders, assistant professor at OSU’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine and a key investigator on TRACE OSU’s project tracking the presence of COVID-19 across the state. “It is crucial to maintain these skills for the future and to build on them.”
Each of the three grants address a specific facet of the laboratory’s emergency response work. Together, the grants total $ 675,155. The first will pay for a series of practice assignments aimed at improving cross-agency coordination and identifying any gaps in the OVDL’s current preparation for regulatory testing.
The project includes table-top exercises that simulate an outbreak, followed by exercises on the floor, during which simulated samples are physically processed in the laboratory.
“The on-site boating exercises are not only valuable for troubleshooting, but also for training the OVDL staff and the departments that work closely with the OVDL,” says Christiane Löhr, professor at the University of Veterinary Medicine and diagnostic pathologist.
The second grant will help the OVDL integrate the new equipment it has acquired for SARS-CoV-2 testing into existing emergency test workflows so that it can expand its animal disease testing and implement rapid sequencing of pathogens in the laboratory.
The third will streamline data transfer between the OVDL and the national laboratory network and improve communication around disease monitoring and emergency response.
“We have certainly learned lessons from the pandemic that we are applying to all of these projects,” said Sanders.
The faster diagnostic labs can respond to an emerging disease, the better they can contain and minimize its effects, said Donna Mulrooney, quality assurance manager at the lab. For example, she said laboratories in the United States are currently on high alert over African swine fever, a virus that is fatal to pigs that has not yet entered the country but could seriously damage pig exports and domestic herds.
Oregon’s economy in particular relies largely on agriculture, Sanders said.
“So any of these outbreaks have the potential to really harm the state’s economy, not to mention our food supplies,” he said. “The ability to quickly identify and respond to agriculturally critical pathogens and wildlife pathogens is critical to the economic health of the state.”