After a long wait, Wyoming to move ahead with bio-safety lab |

After a long wait, Wyoming to move ahead with bio-safety lab

Nicole Kukuchka
for Tri-State Livestock News

Wyoming’s state veterinary lab passed an important milestone this month that will allow researchers to better study brucellosis and other infectious diseases.

Biosafety level three is a federal designation that was hard-won at the Laramie location, where five years ago the University of Wyoming started construction on an addition for more diagnostics and research.

“I am ready to start on this yesterday,” says Will Laegreid, lab director.

The college’s board of trustees voted Aug. 5 to move ahead on the BSL-3 design. It was decided at the meeting that the university would pay for needed updates and the attorney general’s office would continue to work through legal issues, specifically liability, says Chad Baldwin, director of communications.

“This field is a rapidly developing area. There are a lot of great opportunities out there in this area. Our agronomy and ag systems technology students are in excellent demand with ample career opportunities available, but this degree will give students expertise in both areas.” Marshall, SDSU associated dean and director of academic programs

The project, which is attached to a functional traditional state veterinary lab stalled out when officials could not agree on how to meet federal standards in the design.

“It’s been a frustrating period,” Baldwin says. “We have had researchers who want to be using a lab for research and haven’t been able to.”

During the waiting period, some work was contracted out.

BSL-3 is a federal designation for labs that handle infectious diseases, and in Wyoming, the priority brucellosis. Other diseases of interest are plague, tularemia, and Q fever.

Federal standards affect the safety of both researchers and the public. BSL-3 certification will permit more immediate field investigation and better collection of samples.

The new lab will also work with other agencies, including the Wyoming livestock board and public health. An epidemiologist has joined the university faculty which includes pathologists, toxicologists, virologists, bacteriologists and parasitologists.

Laegreid said principal investigators are PhD-level researchers, often with a veterinarian degree or a medical degree.

Staff will wear full face shields and respirators during some of their work.

The bio security space will have both a research function and a diagnostic function, Laegreid says.

“It’s as much about the procedures as it is about the facilities,” he says. “You can’t do one without the other. The goal is to allow people to work safely with these infectious agents.”

Take a post-mortem brucellosis suspect for example. In the future, that specimen will be routed through the BSL-3 post mortem exam room, fully-contained and away from other work.

“Currently, we would do it, but it would basically shut down our operation,” Laegreid says.

In a typical year, the lab sees 100 cases a day and more than 60 mammal species as well as birds and reptiles.

“We are in the six figures in terms of how many tests we run per year,” Laegreid says.

A single case may involve multiple animals and many more samples.

“Most of our case load is domestic livestock, but we get a little bit of everything,” Laegreid says.

The lab has been busy dealing with tularemia cases this year because of a robust rabbit population. It’s a zoonotic disease that also affects people and pets.

An example of the kinds of changes that will equip the lab with better bio security is a filtering system that screens viruses and bacteria.

“One way we contain these organisms is by passing all of the air through HEPA filters,” Laegreid says.

Officials hope to have a working design come September. It’s too early to have a completion date, Laegreid says.

After having lost so much time sifting through politics, the first area of emphasis for research will be improving diagnostics and vaccines for brucellosis.

Says Laegreid: “There’s a lot of things that need doing.”

The state legislature appropriates $100,000 a year for brucellosis research.