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Urgent need for new Vetertinary Diagnostic Lab facility

By Staff | Mar 23, 2018

Receiving staff at Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory process an average of 300 cases each morning to prepare them for testing.



AMES – Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (VDL) is facing some infrastructure challenges and questions have been raised if the current facility could handle a major outbreak.

Rodger Main, professor and director of operation for the ISU VDL, said the facility serves to protect animal and human health, and advances Iowa’s $32 billion animal agriculture economy as well as the state of Iowa’s official veterinary diagnostic lab.

“It is Iowa’s only fully accredited and full service veterinary diagnostic lab,” he said.

The complexity of and demand for the ISU VDL’s state-of-the-art diagnostic services has continued to grow and evolve along with Iowa animal agriculture’s export centric industries, according to Main.

The lab, which opened in 1976, has grown from 11 faculty and 20 staff to approximately 25 faculty and 125 technical staff.

Main said the ISU VDL processes more than 70,000 to 80,000 diagnostic case submissions and conducts approximately 1.25 million diagnostic assays each year.

Through this growth, the ISU VDL has only received a few updates to the facility.

“Minimal expansion of this space has occurred to accommodate the growth since the building was initially occupied in 1976,” he said.

Main said an extensive study of the ISU VDL’s facilities was conducted in the fall of 2012 after significant infrastructure related concerns were raised by two third-party audits of the lab by accredited bodies.

“Biosafety, biocontainment and the quantity and quality of space are the primary concerns as it relates to the ISU VDL’s ability to sustainability respond to a trade or human health impacting disease affecting Iowa’s meat, milk, poultry and egg industries,” he said. “The current facility infrastructure constrains, options and needs have been well described in a formal needs assessment and subsequent planning study that examined current and long-term programmatic space needs, critical sample flow processes and identified functional adjacencies needed between laboratory sections.”

The net result of this five-year study and analysis is the Iowa Board of Regents’ current $124 million capital projects proposal request to build a new stand-alone ISU VDL Building on the ISU College of Veterinary complex.

The current proposal, according to Main, calls for $20 million per year over a five-year period – totaling $100 million – from the state of Iowa and the remaining $24 million from private donations and university sources.

Main said Gov. Kim Reynolds has put forth her support of the proposed project by including the funding of the new ISU VDL at $20 million a year for five years beginning in fiscal year 2020 through fiscal year 2024 in the draft budget she put forth earlier in the legislative session.

“The Iowa Board of Regents and other supporters of this project has been asking legislators to include $5 million of funds to initiate the formal facility planning process for this project in the fiscal year 2019 budget,” he said.

State funds for such state-owned infrastructure projects typically originate from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.

“Receiving such funds for planning in fiscal year 2019 would be of tremendous help in getting this much-needed infrastructure project for Iowa’s agricultural industries moving forward and aid ISU in the significant fund raising efforts with this project,” he said.

ISU VDL’s national recognized leadership in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and a viable 21st century veterinary diagnostic laboratory facility are needed in Iowa, Main said, in order to capitalize on the opportunities and meet the challenges ahead.

“The existing model of having a globally-recognized veterinary diagnostic laboratory co-mingling space with a working food animal hospital has long outlived its usefulness,” he said. “A stand-alone veterinary diagnostic facility, built to meet modern day biocontainment and biosafety expectations, is needed to meet the demands of modern animal agriculture (and) better prepare Iowa’s export centric agriculture industries for tomorrow.”

Iowa’s animal agriculture industries generate $10,487 of direct economic output for each of Iowa’s 3.107 million people.

Iowa, Main said, is a larger importer of animals and exporter of value added food products including pork, beef, poultry, milk and eggs.

He pointed to a recent economic study, conducted by Schulz et al in 2017 (http://bit.ly/2HsyLIz) whose findings suggest ISU VDL’s contribution to the scale of Iowa’s animal agriculture economies generates approximately $31 million in tax revenues during normal years and could be worth up to $194 million during an animal health emergency. An example would be introduction or emergence of a trade-impacting disease.

This study, he said, would suggest a one- to two-year payback on the proposed multi-generational $124 million infrastructure investment that serves to aid in maintaining a state-of-the-art veterinary diagnostic laboratory in Iowa.

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