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Insight: Research Edition
D-Lab’s Mission Reflects Changing Times and Technology
As veterinary medicine has progressed in treatment modalities, the need for more specific and accurate diagnoses has exploded. Twenty years ago, tumors were categorized as benign or malignant and animals treated accordingly. Today, cancer treatments are tailored to patients so clinicians need detailed, specific diagnoses in order to map the best treatment plan for the best prognosis.
“Cancer is only one area of veterinary medicine where we have seen unbelievable advances in diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr. Barbara Powers, Director of the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System (D-Lab). “We are challenged daily to provide the highest level of service possible, while developing and testing new diagnostic methods and learning new technologies to provide our clients with the very best in diagnostic medicine.”
In the case of cancer treatment, the D-Lab not only provides testing, but has conducted studies in collaboration with the Flint Animal Cancer Center that were used to develop tumor grading systems that are in use across the country.
It is the mission of the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System to provide timely, accurate and pertinent animal disease diagnostic services and educational outreach to veterinarians, animal industries and animal interests. As part of the University and College of Veterinary Medicine and Bio-medical Sciences, the D-Lab contributes to research through the development of new approaches to disease identification, investigation, prevention and to contribute to the education of professional veterinary medical, graduate, undergraduate, and post-doctoral students. The D-Lab also has branch facilities in Grand Junction and Rocky Ford.
During the last several years, the D-Lab has experienced rapid growth in the number of tests it performs, thanks in large part to its designation in 2004 as one of seven U.S. Department of Agriculture BSE laboratories, established to increase testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. In fiscal year 2004/2005, nearly 350,000 tests were performed by the D-Lab, an increase of 45.3 percent in the number of tests performed during the previous year. The D-Lab also saw an increase of 75.7 percent of the number of animals tested (nearly 240,000 in 2004/2005) over the previous year. But BSE testing is not the only thing driving growth at the D-Lab.
“Testing technology has really changed during the last 10 years, driving forward the abilities of the veterinary diagnostician to provide more accurate and complete diagnostic services,” said Dr. Powers. “Advances in molecular diagnostics, including polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry, are creating a whole new diagnostic field that not only requires highly specialized equipment, but we had to build a whole new laboratory section to house the equipment. The testing is so sensitive that it is highly susceptible to cross-contamination and must be physically isolated from other diagnostic sections.”
The D-Lab is part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and, in 2002, received $2 million to enhance Biosecurity-Level 3 laboratory space for foreign animal disease testing. In May, the D-Lab received $3.5 million in state funding to begin planning and architectural work on the new Diagnostic Medicine Center which will provide state-of-the-art facilities and plenty of new space to accommodate the rapidly expanding D-Lab.
The D-Lab already needs the additional space, so far managing to get along in very cramped quarters by renting modular units. Dr. Powers notes that a number of areas are growing rapidly in the diagnostic area including avian influenza testing; concerns about vaccination which are leading to evaluation of titers before vaccination; an increase in work with the Division of Wildlife as it pertains to the interactions of wildlife with humans and domestic animals; continuing development of the Colorado BVD (bovine virus diarrhea) Control Program (developed by Dr. Jim Kennedy at the Rocky Ford Diagnostic Laboratory); and advances in data transmission so that animal disease information can be confidentially, easily and rapidly shared among concerned agencies.
Dr. Powers also noted that the D-Lab has led the way in a less glamorous area of diagnostic work, but extraordinarily important, that of the disposal of carcasses.“We have been a leader in alternative methods of disposal of carcasses and were one of the first laboratories to use alkaline hydrolysis,” said Dr. Powers. “We are now in the second generation of this technology, and are even exploring methods of making the end-product useful as an energy source. I think it is just one more place that we are thinking ahead and looking to improve what we do to the best of our abilities.”
To learn more about the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System, visit their Web site at www.dlab.colostate.edu.