Grants to improve animal disease detection

A researcher wearing a face mask and protective eyewear and gloves in a laboratory.
A researcher working at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.

The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) at Washington State University was awarded more than $475,000 in Farm Bill funding for a pair of projects designed to enhance the early detection and response to animal diseases.

As a member of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), a partnership of more than 60 federal, state and university-associated animal health laboratories throughout the United States, WADDL plays a critical role in detecting animal disease, combating outbreaks and protecting the nation’s food supply. 

The grants, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), will help WADDL implement a new notification system that will allow it and other laboratories in the NAHLN system across the U.S. to alert local, state, and federal agencies of testing results more efficiently and quickly.

The funding will also improve WADDL’s ability to detect emerging aquatic diseases. 

New alert notification system

APHIS awarded WADDL $128,260 to develop and implement the new electronic notification system. Dr. Timothy Baszler, executive director of WADDL, said WADDL and other NAHLN labs act as a first alert for animal health emergencies and outbreaks of diseases like avian flu, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (known more commonly as mad cow disease), foot and mouth disease and others, including emerging diseases.

If such a disease were detected, WADDL would immediately notify the appropriate animal health regulatory agencies at the state and federal levels and potentially other labs in the network. However, since many of the facilities and agencies use incompatible information systems, communication is often conducted by telephone or email, which can be slow, inefficient and not optimally secure. The new notification system will send automatic secure electronic notifications. 

“These are diseases that could devastate animal populations and really ruin our international trade,” Baszler said. “With this new notification system, we will be able to send electronic messages out across the country to state and federal regulatory officials so they can take action as quickly as possible.” 

Detecting aquatic diseases

WADDL also received a $350,000 grant to improve the processes of detecting emerging aquatic diseases. In 2019, WADDL was awarded a NAHLN enhancement grant to develop a methodology for aquatic pathogen discovery. While the project was a success, some processes, like detection speed, need to be improved before the technology can be deployed in a real‐world outbreak situation. The new grant will allow will provide funding to test and integrate new molecular technologies for rapid detection.

“First, we obtained the capability to detect emerging aquatic diseases, and now we are refining the workflow to make disease detection and response very rapid,” Dr. Chrissy Eckstrand, a pathologist at WADDL and project lead, said. 

Eckstrand said the project will help protect the nation’s aquaculture industry, and once developed, it can also be applied to livestock and other animals.

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