Veterinary college lab selected to fight emerging diseases in national partnership
Over the years, Virginia Tech Animal Laboratory Services (ViTALS), the on-site interdisciplinary diagnostic laboratory of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, has worked its way up from primarily serving the college’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital to being a part of a national system of disease testing and monitoring.
Now, ViTALS has been selected as part of the Partnership to Improve Early Detection of Emerging Diseases.
ViTALS is one of five laboratories chosen for this new partnership between the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) and the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). This partnership is designed to improve the nation’s laboratory infrastructure to better address the threat of emerging infectious diseases. ViTALS will focus on molecular diagnostics and molecular epidemiology with an emphasis on next generation sequencing to develop and evaluate diagnostics for animal and zoonotic diseases.
"To be a part of the NAHLN and NBAF partnership means recognition for what we do here at Virginia Tech. We're a small lab, but there's a lot we can do because of the expertise we have here,” said Tanya LeRoith DVM '99, director of ViTALS. NAHLN and NBAF "want to strengthen the labs so that we can detect these unusual mortality events, learn about the most recent technology, and be a point source to help other labs in the region.”
ViTALS has long been a member of NAHLN, but through this partnership, the laboratory will host a scientist for four years to assess regional disease development risk.
“This exclusive selection recognizes the stable infrastructure and recent outstanding work of our college. These diagnosticians and clinical scientists have worked to achieve challenging diagnosis in unique cases and to maintain preparedness to diagnose emerging animal diseases,” said M. Daniel Givens, dean of the veterinary college.
The new scientist will be selected within the next year and will have had training with molecular methods. With responsibilities that include communicating with NBAF, regional laboratories, and clients, the scientist will work in the college’s Collaborative Multidisciplinary Research Laboratory alongside ViTALS’ research and development team.
"All of our molecular testing is developed in the research and development side first and then brought into ViTALS. This is uncommon — many labs don’t develop tests for themselves,” said LeRoith.
One such test is the polymerase chain reaction test ViTALS developed for Theileria orientalis, a parasite spread through the bite of the Asian longhorned tick. Kevin Lahmers, clinical professor of anatomic pathology, is part of a group of researchers who have identified the emergence of T. orientalis Ikeda genotype as a cause of disease in cattle in the eastern United States. The ViTALS test has aided in tracking and controlling the tick-borne parasite, which has gone from being found in 2 percent of cattle in Virginia sales barns in 2018 to 60 percent in 2023.
“Recent work by Kevin Lahmers on Theileria orientalis Ikeda genotype is a great example of the importance of maintaining preparedness and going the extra mile to effectively diagnose the cause of unique disease presentations,” said Givens. “I look forward to the future positive diagnostic and scientific impact of this close collaboration between our diagnostic lab and NBAF.”