STATE -- The long-awaited, state-of-the-art Mississippi
Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Pearl opened its doors
Aug. 17 to provide quicker diagnostics on samples from a broad range of
The $18.5 million construction and equipping project started in 2002
with the ground-breaking of the 2,000-square foot poultry lab with its
estimated $500,000 cost. The second phase of the project started a year
later when construction began on the 40,000-square foot diagnostic
facility for all animal species. The poultry unit became the first to
enter the larger facility as their initial lab becomes the receiving
office for samples from all species.
Dr. Lanny Pace, executive director for the Mississippi Veterinary
Research and Diagnostic Laboratory System, said the project includes
more than the building itself; it includes the latest in equipment needs
for such a facility.
“One example of the new equipment is a robotic microscope that can be
used to share microscopic slides with other labs all over the world as
well as with consultants from other universities and laboratories,” Pace
said. “Rapid diagnoses and responses are the keys to preventing
catastrophic losses when a major disease outbreak occurs in an animal
industry. Four years ago, we could not have responded to high-path avian
influenza. We would have had to send samples to another lab.”
The new building has biosecurity and biosafety measures in place
including separate, dedicated air handling systems for public areas and
laboratory space, limited-access areas and numerous biological safety
cabinets and fume hoods to protect lab personnel.
“Most routine diagnostic work can be done in biosafety level 2
laboratories, but biosafety level 3 is needed for work on disease agents
that are more highly contagious to animals and humans and for agents
that could be used as bioterrorism agents,” Pace said. “Part of the lab
is designed as a biosafety level 3, but it has not been commissioned
yet. Once approved for that level, the staff will be able to work on
diseases, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza and eastern Equine
encephalitis, in a secure and safe laboratory environment.”
Pace, a professor of veterinary pathology with Mississippi State
University's College of Veterinary Medicine, oversees the diagnostic
laboratory system. Accredited by the American Association of Veterinary
Laboratory Diagnosticians, the MSU lab network includes the new
diagnostic facility in Pearl, which also houses a poultry lab, the
aquatic lab in the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center in
Stoneville and the veterinary college lab in Starkville.
Before the completion of the new diagnostic lab, most non-bird or
non-fish samples were sent to the state-owned building on North West
Street in Jackson. The building, which is more than 60 years old, lacked
space, proper ventilation for adequate biosafety measures and some of
the state-of-the-art equipment to meet for future diagnostic needs.
“We could do our job, but now we can do it better,” Pace said.
Dr. Jim Watson, state veterinarian with the Mississippi Board of Animal
Health, said access to the latest in diagnostic tests and the highly
skilled and trained staff greatly improves the ability to provide
quality animal health care within the state.
“Whether it is a beloved pet, a valuable breeding or performance animal
or food producing animal, it is critical to have a diagnostic laboratory
that can provide the support that our veterinary practitioners need to
provide quality veterinary care for animal owners,” Watson said. “We
need to have the diagnostic capability to rapidly diagnose new and
emerging diseases as well as having the ability to screen for foreign
animal diseases that do not normally occur in our country.”
Watson said with the emergence of new diseases and continued threats of
diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease or avian influenza, it is vital
to the economic interests of Mississippi to detect the presence of those
diseases if they enter the country.
Dr. Danny Magee, director of the Poultry Research and Diagnostic
Laboratory in Pearl, said the timing for this new facility is very good.
“We started this process before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001
and before fully recognizing the degree of the threat of bioterrorism
and agroterrorism,” Magee said. “Events like the West Nile virus
arriving in the state have emphasized the need for a facility like this
to respond to health crises.”
Magee said poultry diagnostic services began to change in the mid-1990s,
and the MSU poultry lab opened in November 2000. Increased concerns
about avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease and exotic Newcastle
disease emphasize the need for this diagnostic lab.
“It has increased our ability to serve the industry in Mississippi.
Improvements are being made continuously,” Magee said. “This will help
us better protect agricultural industries and human health.”