Veterinary labs at Colorado State University, Purdue University, Iowa State University, and other universities across the U.S. are ramping up in powerful, creative, and impactful ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the nation, many public health labs (for people) are severely overloaded because of the huge demand for COVID-19 testing. Veterinary labs and medical labs use the same equipment and require similar expertise. Although the vet labs usually test for infectious diseases in animals, they are adapting in order use their existing equipment to screen people for COVID. This has increased testing capacity in several states and is helping more people to receive their results more quickly.
Kristy Pabilonia, director of Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory said “We respond to animal disease outbreaks often. What we do here on a daily basis uses the same processes and technology for animal testing as those used for human testing. We’re not sacrificing what we do for animal health patients. We want to help our community.”
The laboratory conducts over 600,000 tests annually, helping identify and diagnose a variety of animal diseases for veterinarians, livestock producers, pet owners, government agencies, and animal-health companies. “Because we test large populations of animals, we have a diverse testing scope and capabilities for testing large numbers of samples using our high-throughput equipment,” Pabilonia said.1
Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is also responding to COVID rapid spread by expanding testing capacity and expediting test results. Dr. Karen Harmon, clinical associate professor in the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory said “It’s our mission to protect animal and public health, and we want to do everything we can to assist during this global pandemic. This is a good example of Iowans coming together to find solutions to our most pressing problems.”2
According to Rodger Main, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Iowa State University, “Those instruments and technologies are things that we use day to day in the diagnostic lab.” Main says it became obvious how the vet lab could help the public health lab. Both rely on two same key tools.”3
College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University is using its expertise and resources to fight the pandemic by testing human samples and increasing Indiana’s testing capacity.4 “The College of Veterinary Medicine has a long history of providing services to protect animal and human health,” said Willie Reed, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Providing COVID-19 testing is yet another way to support the citizens of Indiana during this unprecedented public health crisis.”
Dr. Kenitra Hendrix, director of Purdue’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (ADDL), says “The ADDL is uniquely positioned to contribute skills and expertise in the detection of pathogens to the fight against COVID-19, while maintaining our diagnostic support of animal health and the safety of the food supply.”5
FEDERAL SUPPORT IS ESSENTIAL
USDA support of animal science does more than protect the nation’s livestock, ranchers, farmers, and consumers. This investment in science builds and provides the knowledge and infrastructure for tremendous and urgent societal benefits. The National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) is a group of 60 vet laboratories in 42 states working in cooperation with the USDA-APHIS Veterinary Service, USDA-NIFA, and state and university animal disease diagnostic laboratories. In addition to their vital and ongoing role of preventing animal diseases and improving animal health, these labs stepped up during this public health emergency and help with the immense demand for testing.
Federal support of animal science is essential to protect public health and adequately respond to COVID as well as prepare for future animal and human outbreaks. For individuals and families who are anxious to learn if they have COVID and for our nation’s healthcare providers, these innovative vet labs fighting COVID are bright spots in our extremely challenging times.
FedByScience is a collective communications initiative to raise the visibility of public investment in food and agricultural research. Participating universities are joining together to tell impactful and inspiring stories about food and agricultural research.