UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With COVID-19 continuing to spread around the world bringing sickness and death, a little-noticed development at Penn State’s Animal Diagnostic Laboratory takes on added significance.
With funding from the state’s Center for Poultry and Livestock Excellence, the lab was able to purchase two chicken isolators to provide the capability to study highly pathogenic viral infections of chickens under biosafety level-3 conditions.
“COVID reminded us of the impact of emerging infectious diseases on animal and human health and showed us that we need to be better prepared for mitigating such threats when they happen,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, clinical professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, who is associate director of the Animal Diagnostic Lab. “Lab capacity is absolutely critical to rapidly respond to emerging pathogens and to enable development of diagnostic tests and intervention strategies, such as vaccines.”
The chicken isolators — isolation compartments with positive- or negative-pressure operation, designed specifically for housing poultry species and designed to eliminate cross contamination during research involving multiple birds — will provide key infrastructure to not only study the pathogenesis of avian infectious diseases but also to evaluate vaccines. That capacity is critical, Kuchipudi explained, because infectious diseases remain a major threat to the poultry industry globally.
Rapid and accurate diagnosis is crucial to prevent losses to the poultry industry and to contain the spread of emerging and re-emerging avian infectious diseases, he pointed out. Currently, Kuchipudi noted, there is a limited capacity to study avian infectious diseases in Pennsylvania and to conduct in-depth investigation of any emerging infectious disease threat. This was highlighted in the recent chicken Coryza outbreak.
“At Penn State, we have excellent expertise in avian infectious disease diagnosis, established avian disease research programs, expertise in cutting-edge genomics and bioinformatics, and infrastructure including high-containment labs at biosafety level 2 and level 3,” he said. “These chicken isolators will further strengthen our ability to carry out in-depth poultry disease research in Pennsylvania.”
Penn State’s avian disease research and surveillance supports the state’s second-largest agricultural sector. Pennsylvania ranks third nationally in egg production, and the total value of the state’s poultry production — including the turkey, game bird, broiler breeder and embryo industries (for vaccine production) — was estimated to be nearly $1.7 billion in 2017.
Emerging infectious diseases continue to be a major threat to the poultry industry, Kuchipudi warned, adding that it is necessary to establish the capability to deal with emerging infectious diseases that threaten it. “We need to build our ability to gain in-depth insights into the biology of emerging infectious agents and the capacity to develop improved detection, prevention and control strategies,” he said.
–Jeff Mulhollem, Penn State University