In the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak, real-time communication with state, federal, and other animal health entities is imperative. Although technology, such as videoconferencing, exists that would allow collaboration with agencies geographically separated, implementing that technology within a laboratory setting has been a challenge. Recently, the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) participated in a pilot program that aims to solve the issue of real-time videoconferencing within a laboratory.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has developed a videoconferencing and multimedia network through the Multi-laboratory International Collaborative Environment (MICE) project. The project looks to tackle the problem of installing videoconferencing technology within a laboratory and allowing personnel to communicate with other agencies while adhering to biosafety regulations.
Currently, personnel must leave the laboratory, remove their protective gear, and decontaminate before they are able to communicate with other entities in real-time. Developing the ability for personnel to communicate while still in the laboratory may allow for more accurate and efficient collaboration; essential attributes during a foreign animal disease outbreak.
During the pilot program, TVMDL professionals from the necropsy, pathology, and molecular diagnostics sections at the College Station and Amarillo laboratories spent half a day participating in a simulation. The simulation demonstrated real-time communication between the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and the Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI). Participating entities simulated real-time collaboration on various diseases, with an emphasis on high-consequence foreign animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, new or emerging diseases and suspected bioterrorism incidents. This enhances TVMDL’s ability for early detection and therefore protection of Texas’ multi-billion dollar livestock and poultry industry, food safety as well public health.
Prior to the simulation, cameras were installed in offices and laboratories. Afterwards, TVMDL professionals conducted virtual training in their respective laboratory sections and simulated testing processes. In College Station, Molecular Diagnostics Assistant Section Head Megan Schroeder, PhD, provided an overview of PCR setup and analysis at the College Station laboratory.
“[Videoconferencing is] useful for providing virtual training to scientists at other locations, as well as sharing diagnostic testing results in real-time,” Schroeder said. “[This] could be useful in determining next step processes in potential outbreak situations.”
Also at the College Station laboratory, Pathology Branch Chief Jay Hoffman, DVM, PhD and Eric Snook, DVM, PhD, demonstrated TVMDL’s necropsy and pathology services. Guy Sheppard, DVM, simulated the process of assisting a veterinarian treating feedlot cattle that were displaying signs of a vesicular disease.
At the TVMDL Amarillo laboratory, Resident Director Gayman Helman, DVM, PhD, performed a partial necropsy during the simulation. During the procedure, images, audio, and video were transmitted to remotely connected entities.
“This technology allows agencies like TVMDL to collaborate with a variety of local, state and federal facilities on any number of activities from teaching and training to sharing real time diagnostic results,” Helman said. “Groups from around this country and the world can interact in real time without ever leaving their lab or office.”
In addition to cameras installed in the laboratory, the MICE network allows for collaboration through other avenues, such as microscope cameras and tablet computers. Entities can view multiple datasets to determine the best course of action in resolving a disease outbreak.
Once the MICE project is completed, S&T will transition routine operations to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Currently, the MICE project is recruiting more entities to join the network.
To learn more about TVMDL’s services, visit tvmdl.tamu.edu or call 1.888.646.5623.