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NEW $18.5 MILLION DIAGNOSTIC LAB OPENS

by: Linda Breazeale
MSU Ag Communications


MISSISSIPPI 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

animal species.

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.”

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