On Tuesday, March 29, the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) hosted staff from the Texas Legislature and the Legislative Budget Board at the College Station laboratory. The attendees discussed the functions of the diagnostic lab, received an in-depth tour of the Histopathology Section that performs Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing, and visited the new, 90,000-square-foot laboratory under construction.
From the Legislative Budget Board, Analyst John Newton and Analyst Emily Toesing; Emily Howell, House Appropriations analyst; and Julian Whitley, district director for Representative Kyle Kacal, all attended the program. Two representatives from the Texas A&M AgriLife external relations office accompanied the visitors: Joe Cox, assistant vice chancellor for external relations, and Cristina Cornejo, program coordinator.
The group received a brief agency overview from TVMDL Director Bruce L. Akey, DVM, MS, before taking a detailed look at the Histopathology Laboratory. This section has taken the brunt of the impact from the CWD outbreak and subsequent ramp up in deer testing that began when TVMDL detected the first CWD positive captive deer in Texas in July of 2015. In the section, Laboratory Supervisor Alexis Templeton and Branch Chief R. Jay Hoffman, DVM, PhD, led the group through the multiple steps involved in preparing a CWD sample for veterinary pathologists to review.
“While historically we have tested an average of 15,000 samples a year, submissions have increased to more than 20,000 in just the last six months,” said Dr. Akey. “This uptick in samples resulted in our need to purchase a new, $48,000 tissue processor, add a temporary technician trained in CWD sample preparation, and other increased expenses. We wanted to display to our visitors how an outbreak can affect the laboratory from the administrative staff to those that work with samples in the lab. This is a prime example of the critical role TVMDL plays in both detection and response to disease outbreaks that threaten the multi-billion dollar animal industry in the state.”
Following the CWD discussion, the group travelled to the construction site of the new agency headquarters, located on Agronomy Road. The new space, while still under construction, provides a stark contrast to the current working conditions in the existing laboratory. Visitors were able to see the many improvements built-in to the new design, such as an improved necropsy suite and more flexible laboratory layouts.
“This facility will vastly improve upon working conditions, from better environmental control that will make for more suitable working conditions, to a large training area where we can host visiting scientists studying our test methods,” Dr. Akey said. “We wanted to show these representatives the in-process product that resulted from the Texas Legislature approving and the Texas A&M System supporting our need for a new building with high-quality biosafety standards.”
Given the rapid movement of people, animals and products around the world, the ability of TVMDL to conduct surveillance for both common diseases as well as potentially devastating foreign diseases such as Foot-and-Mouth and Avian Influenza is critical to protecting animal and human health, food safety and security as well as the economic well-being of thousands of Texans.
For more information on TVMDL’s testing services, visit tvmdl.tamu.edu.