The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), USDA, Department of Energy (DOE), DoD, and Departments of Commerce and Justice, and the EPA operate or fund clinical, environmental, forensic, and research laboratories. Federal laboratories provide reference testing and are often involved with the development of new technologies, as well as the transfer of these technologies to other laboratories. Many federal laboratories collaborate with international partners and serve as reference centers for specialized testing. Federal laboratories often provide training, confirmatory testing, and reference materials for other governmental laboratories.
The DHHS laboratories that are associated with disease detection, control, and surveillance activities are found at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC, and FDA.The NIH, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, conducts research on acute and chronic diseases, develops new therapies and immunizations, and develops new laboratory and diagnostic technologies for many infectious and noninfectious diseases and health conditions. Much of the NIH work is done through extramural grants and contracts with universities, private companies, and other governmental organizations.The CDC's laboratories focus on infectious diseases, occupational diseases, and environmental causes of diseases. The CDC specialized laboratories are in Colorado, Ohio, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico, in addition to its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The CDC has led the development of rapid national laboratory reporting systems that have been successfully used to identify multistate outbreaks of diseases ( Bean et al., 1992; Hutwagner et al., 1997). CDC-based scientists have developed and used new technologies to identify outbreaks of disease in cooperation with state and local public health laboratories. One such example of the successful application of a new technology is known as PulseNet (discussed in Chapters 3 and 5; http:// www.cdc.gov/pulsenet/). PulseNet is a national network of public health laboratories that perform DNA "fingerprinting'' of foodborne pathogens and clinical isolates to allow matching of isolates. This epidemiological typing method is the basis for detecting clusters of disease that are geographically diffuse, and for linking bacteria found in a specific food to bacteria found in one or more persons with a particular disease. PulseNet permits recognition of outbreaks that previously went undetected. A multistate outbreak of listeriosis in 2000 was identified only after the isolates of Listeria monocytogenes were tested by using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and determined to all have a common PulseNet pattern (CDC, 2000).
FDA laboratories focus primarily on monitoring the food supply and ensuring the purity and potency of drugs and other pharmaceuticals. These regulatory laboratories frequently become involved in the investigation of food contamination (including ground beef, poultry) and the adulteration of drugs. FDA maintains regional laboratories in Washington, New York, Colorado, Michigan, Kansas, California, Georgia, and Arkansas, as well as specialized laboratories in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Massachusetts. The FDA laboratories provide testing to support investigation and compliance activities. FDA's Electronic Laboratory Exchange Network (eLEXNET) is a Web-based system for real-time sharing of laboratory data derived from foods. This system allows public health officials to compare laboratory findings and to identify outbreaks earlier.
The USDA operates laboratories that support many of their regulatory, monitoring, and investigative programs. USDA laboratories conduct research on animal and plant diseases and provide testing of animals and agricultural products. The USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) located in Ames, Iowa, tests for domestic and foreign animal diseases, and function as the primary animal disease reference laboratory. The NVSL provides diagnostic support for disease control and eradication programs, import and export testing of animals, and laboratory certification for selected animal diseases. Diseases, such as anthrax, rabies, brucellosis, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), may impact both animals and humans and, therefore, constitute priorities at this laboratory. A former USDA laboratory, the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL), which is located on Plum Island off Long Island, New York, was recently transferred to the Department of Homeland
Security after supporting years of research on some of the most dangerous animal pathogens.
The DOE oversees the operation of 25 DOE national laboratories, many of which were established to support the production, use, and response to nuclear materials. After the end of the Cold War, the focus of some of the DOE laboratories shifted to other projects, including the Human Genome Project and the development of technologies and assays to support homeland security initiatives. The DOE national laboratories develop new technologies for countering biologic and chemical threats, including systems for the detection, modeling, and response to terrorist attacks (see www-ed.fnal.gov/doe/ doc_labs.html).
The DoD has established laboratories worldwide in locations such as Peru, Indonesia, Egypt, Thailand, and Kenya. DoD laboratories serve the needs of the armed forces and function as screening or sentinel laboratories for infectious diseases. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) has the capability to detect unusual biological agents that often require advanced testing techniques. This laboratory, located in Maryland, is a member of the Laboratory Response Network (LRN; discussed later) and one of a few laboratories worldwide that can isolate and identify the most dangerous human agents, such as Ebola, smallpox and Marburg viruses.
The EPA operates 10 regional environmental testing laboratories across the United States. These laboratories have a research and environmental monitoring mission: they analyze air, drinking water, ground water, surface water, soil, sediment, and hazardous materials for biological, chemical, and radiological materials that are toxic to the environment. EPA develops standard methods for the analysis of environmental samples. EPA maintains large databases of environmental monitoring data produced by its own laboratories and others. Its Office of Research and Development (ORD) directs laboratory activities at 12 locations, including the National Center for Environmental Assessment in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Although the capability and capacity of the federal laboratories described above is large, this capacity was challenged by the volume of environmental and clinical samples generated during the 2001 anthrax postal attack. The distribution of anthrax spores in mail during October 2001 led to an unprecedented demand for quality testing throughout the United States owing to discovery of real and suspected contaminations. Although few of the more than 125,000 environmental samples tested contained B. anthracis, the existing network of public and commercial laboratories was barely able to meet the demands for testing, and there were significant delays caused by the sheer volume of samples.The concept of a high-throughput laboratory capable of testing thousands of biologic, chemical, or radiological samples would require the laboratory to be equipped with the latest automated instrumentation and supported with an efficient LIMS (Layne and Beugelsdijk, 2003). The establishment of high-throughput laboratories to support the nation's homeland security needs is a reasonable concept, especially if the major federal partners were to colocate resources on a national interagency homeland security laboratory campus.
Was this article helpful?