The University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory recently began working with MU Health Care to provide COVID-19 testing. With the MU Health Care testing site exceeding its capacity due to an increasing number of coronavirus cases, Shuping Zhang, BVS, PhD, DACVM, director of the VMDL, said it was time for the veterinary lab to start providing this service. “MU Health reached out to us for collaboration,” said Zhang. “With our participation, projected testing capacity is up to about 1,500 more tests per day, or around 8,500 per week.”
There were many steps taken to make this possible for the VMDL. Equipment had to be moved to MU Health Care’s Mizzou North facility and calibrated, multiple software systems had to be downloaded to interpret results, and assets had to be validated and checked to make sure the COVID testing site would be up to par. Zhang said the lab tested multiple COVID samples to make sure they were providing correct results. “We used samples that have tested either positive or negative by another testing system. Then we had our staff test these samples blindly, and make sure that our results are exactly the same or similar to the previous investigative results from other testing systems. If not, we had to figure out why, and this is called test validation,” said Zhang. “We also had to figure out what the detection limit is for our testing system, which means how sensitive our test is. We had to find what is the lowest viral level we can detect.”
The faculty and staff members who will conduct the tests have taken proficiency tests to make sure they are able to conduct the tests safely and as accurately as possible. The VMDL will be pulling one faculty and three staff from three of its individual sections to actually conduct the tests.
Zhang says the Molecular Diagnostic Section of the VMDL has played an instrumental role in validating the PCR test. Section head, Solomon “Wole” Odemuyiwa, DVM, MSC, PhD, DACVM, helped with interpreting results, troubleshooting, and making sure that the test validation meets lab accreditation requirements, Zhang said. “Normally the test validation would take at least four weeks, but we have finished everything in a week and a half,” Zhang said. “Dr. Odemuyiwa and the staff worked day and night for this past week to get this going.”
Zhang said many people may not understand that the VMDL does a lot of work in public health and is fully equipped to manage this task. “We not only protect animal health, animal agriculture and food security, but we also do a lot of work in public health. The VMDL is fully accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD), certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as certified by the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) as a level one lab, which is the highest level,” said Zhang. “We actually have a lot of strength and capabilities in testing samples. We have experience in dealing with and responding to a large-scale disease outbreak.”
By Nick Childress