ISU-UI collaboration accelerates testing of COVID-19 samples

Testing inside Veterinary Diagnostic Lab

Iowa State's Veterinary Diagnostic Lab is sharing its extraction techniques and tools to expand testing capacity at the State Hygienic Laboratory. 

AMES, Iowa – In response to the rapid spread of COVID-19, Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is helping expand testing capacity to expedite test results at the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa.

The collaboration between the two labs has significantly increased the hygienic lab’s ability to run more tests simultaneously. Rodger Main, director of operations for the diagnostic laboratory at Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says the VDL shared its extraction techniques, instrumentation and the reagents needed for analysis.

Iowa State’s VDL provides state-of-the art molecular diagnostic assays that detect infectious agents of livestock, poultry and pets. It processes upwards of 90,000 cases each year and conducts more than 1.25 million tests annually to ensure the safety of the country’s food supply. Dr. Karen Harmon, clinical associate professor in the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, says the hygienic lab is now able to run a significantly greater volume of tests.

“This means the hygienic lab is in a much better position to ramp up testing as needed,” Harmon said. “To have the opportunity to help a human testing lab in this way has been very rewarding for us.”  

VDL Executive Director Pat Halbur says the lab is often at the forefront of diagnosing emerging diseases in veterinary medicine, and this is a natural opportunity to utilize the same tools and techniques for human medicine.

“It’s our mission to protect animal and public health, and we want to do everything we can to assist during this global pandemic,” Halbur said. “This is a good example of Iowans coming together to find solutions to our most pressing problems.”

The collaboration between VDL and the hygienic lab was facilitated by leaders in Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

"We're incredibly grateful to Governor Reynolds, IEDA and Iowa State for helping us supplement our equipment inventory," said Mike Pentella, director of the State Hygienic Laboratory. "With our staff working around the clock, this will allow us to deliver results for more tests more quickly, allowing for the best possible outcomes for Iowans."