Bioterror studies draw veterinary lab

Branden Peterson

The University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is seeking to join the fight against bioterror risks through involvement in a federal animal disease diagnosis and surveillance program linking some of the country’s best laboratories.

Created last year, the National Animal Health Laboratory Network currently links 12 laboratories actively studying bioterrorism agents, new animal pathogens and other human and animal diseases surfacing around the globe.

Being part of the network would mean extra funding and research capabilities for the lab.

College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Jeffrey Klausner said the U.S. Department of Agriculture overlooked the laboratory last year.

Being one of the most agriculturally focused states in the country, Minnesota deserves better, he said.

“It wasn’t an open, competitive process,” he said. “Minnesota should have a state-of-the-art facility and should be considered as part of this program.”

Klausner said the next move is gaining support from Minnesota’s national government representatives as well as USDA administrators.

“Our next step is to let people in D.C. know that we would add significant value to the program,” Klausner said. “We need to protect animals in Minnesota. It’s very important to the state.”

Rallying support and awareness has been a goal of business trips to Washington by Klausner and Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory director Jim Collins.

Conversations with the state’s senators and representatives so far have been positive, they said.

“They’re going to be critical in helping us get the funding,” Collins said.

President George W. Bush has pledged approximately $16 million, Collins said. If the lab is accepted into the program, he’s hoping for $2 million of those funds.

Allocated money could be used to bring the laboratory to bio-safety level three. That move would permit the facility to experiment with more dangerous pathogens than are currently allowed.

On top of playing a hand in protecting Americans and their animals from dangerous pathogens, receiving money from the federal government would be a welcome boost to the laboratory, Collins said.

“We’re looking for resources wherever we can get them,” he said.

Despite increasing the number of tests for several years, the laboratory has not seen a funding increase in six years.

Branden Peterson covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]