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Insight: Research Edition
Veterinary Laboratory Leader in TSE Diagnostics
At the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (D-Lab), the largest single testing program is for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), scrapie, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). TSEs account for 40 percent of the D-Lab’s nearly 350,000 tests performed in 2004/2005, and almost one-third of those are done as part of the national BSE testing program.
“The D-Lab has led the way in TSE testing, largely as a result of our work with chronic wasting disease,” said Dr. Barbara Powers, Director of the D-Lab. “We did the validation of the rapid test for CWD, developed by Bio-Rad, and that is now the test used for BSE.”
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a progressive neurological disorder in cattle. The disease attacks the central nervous system and brain. Cattle lose weight, have difficulty with balance, act skittish and eventually die. In cattle, BSE is believed to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. A similar disease in humans, called new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, is thought to be linked with BSE. Concerns were raised worldwide about the spread of BSE and the potential exposure of humans to the BSE agent. Testing programs were put in place as governments sought to determine the prevalence of the disease in cattle herds.
In 2004, Colorado State University was selected to be part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national BSE laboratory network established to increase testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory was chosen as one of seven laboratories nationwide for high-throughput BSE testing.
The Diagnostic Laboratory was the only one of the facilities selected that was already equipped with the high-through-put equipment needed to conduct the necessary volume of testing. The equipment was installed in 2002 when the Diagnostic Laboratory, in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Wildlife, tested and validated a rapid robotic system for chronic wasting disease testing developed by Bio-Rad Laboratories.
The robotic system automates a portion of the testing procedure, speeding sample preparation and enabling laboratories to provide faster results using fewer technicians.
Colorado State’s laboratory alone has the capacity to conduct more than 150,000 tests per year. Because of the D-Lab’s capabilities, it now conducts approximately 28 percent of all national BSE testing.
“As we look to the future, I can see similar things happening with emerging diseases, especially as we look at avian flu or animal diseases that could be used for bioterrorism or agraterrorism,” said Dr. Powers. “Our challenge here is to not only focus on today’s animal health issues, but predict and plan for what tomorrow will bring.”
Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System’s responsibilities include monitoring and testing for animal diseases. The Colorado State laboratory also is accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians as a full service laboratory for all species of animals.