In 2001, Canada created a laboratory network, known as the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network (CPHLN), to strengthen the linkages between federal and provincial public health laboratories. This Canadian network is modeled after the LRN in the United States. The CPHLN has been providing responses to naturally occurring infections and deliberate releases of biologic agents and toxins. The CPHLN coordinates pathogen detection and infectious disease prevention activities, as well as conducts laboratory-based surveillance and early warning systems for emerging pathogens and bioterrorism threats.
The National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) is part of a national strategy in the United States to coordinate the nation's federal, state, and academic animal health laboratories. The USDA has taken the lead in the development of this network, which includes agriculture and animal health laboratories operated by state agricultural agencies and those associated with veterinary teaching facilities. The facilities and professional expertise of NAHLN members allows authorities to better respond to animal health emergencies that might include a bioterrorist event, the emergence of a new domestic animal disease, or the appearance of a foreign animal disease that could threaten the nation's food supply and public health. Because many of the biologic agents that cause the greatest concern as terrorist agents infect both humans and animals, the role of veterinarians in the early detection of disease is very important. The NAHLN currently consists of 44 laboratories in 37 states. An effort is underway to deploy standardized testing methods in member laboratories and to improve the information technology system used by member laboratories to track test requests and report results.The U.S.Animal Health Association (USAHA) and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD) have members who participate in the NAHLH and contribute expertise to protect animals and public health.
The National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) is an agricultural laboratory network that provides detection, identification, and reporting of pests and pathogens that have been deliberately or accidentally introduced into agricultural systems. The primary concern of this network is food security and the economic threats to the nation's food supplies. The NPDN includes five regional centers located at Cornell University, Michigan State, Kansas State, University of Florida at Gainesville, and the University of California at Davis. The NPDN recently implemented a new database that helps with required reporting to state and national agencies. A Web-based plant diagnostic system using digital photography allows laboratories to share images with specialists in remote locations.
The Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) is a network of state and federal laboratories that are committed to analyzing food samples in the event of a biological, chemical, or radiological terrorist attack in the United States. The federal partners in the FERN include the FDA, USDA, CDC, and EPA. As of May 2005, there are 99 laboratories in FERN, representing 44 states and Puerto Rico. Twenty-six federal laboratories, 68 state laboratories, and five local laboratories are enrolled in FERN. The mission of FERN is to integrate the nation's food testing laboratories for the detection of threat agents in food while using standardized diagnostic protocols and procedures. Of the 99 laboratories in FERN, there are 64 that perform chemical tests on food, 64 that perform biological tests on food, and 25 that perform radiological tests on food. These laboratories strengthen preparedness and provide surge capacity. The FDA and USDA jointly share the leadership within FERN and have been working to obtain federal funds that can be made available to support further development of the network.
The data capture and information exchange system for FERN is the eLEXNET, is an integrated, secure system designed for use by multiple governmental agencies involved in food safety activities. Laboratories report test results and public health officials assess risks and analyze trends in food-borne diseases. eLEXNET has GIS reporting functions and uses HL7 data exchanges between laboratories. Similar to those in LRN, participants in FERN receive training on the latest equipment and are required to participate in proficiency testing programs. eLEXNET provides the necessary infrastructure for an early warning system that can identify potentially hazardous foods and share laboratory reports in a timely manner. As of January 2005,113 federal, state, and local laboratories in all 50 states have joined the eLEXNET system. About 90 laboratories actively exchange data by using eLEXNET.
The Radiological Emergency Analytical Laboratory Network (REALnet) is a national network of radiological laboratories that are capable of responding to the needs for radiological testing after a terrorist attack. Academic, commercial, military, federal, state, and local laboratories participate in REALnet. These laboratories serve as a science and technology asset for the Department of Homeland Security. REALnet is modeled after the LRN and FERN and includes a Web-based database containing information on the capabilities, capacity, and competence of member laboratories. Information on accreditation, certification, and performance testing is also maintained. Standards, guidelines, and laboratory procedures are developed and distributed by REALnet. Gaps in the standards are being addressed by appropriate standards development organizations. Internet-based tools, such as bulletin boards and list servers, are used to promote the exchange of information. The system provides links to other resources that would be useful during an emergency caused by the release of a radioactive material.
The expansion of laboratory networks designed to produce test results in response to an act of terrorism or other public health emergency has led to increased sharing of laboratory results. Coordination and integration of the various networks has not always been a priority. Duplicate systems and overlapping missions suggest that an integrated consortium of laboratory networks could provide timely results for early detection and response to acts of terrorism. The networks need to agree on standardized tests and policies that would promote a timely response no matter which network is reporting results. An overall system to ensure that laboratory capacity will be available to test clinical (human and animal) specimens and environmental samples, including food and water, does not exist.
Laboratories that can perform screening, monitoring, and definitive testing are needed for each class of specimen.Although laboratory information systems have been developed for capturing and sharing data, the diverse systems are not fully compatible with each other. Failure to standardize nomenclatures and use recognized data transmission protocols make sharing of large quantities of data for surveillance purposes problematic.
In an effort to improve coordination among laboratory networks, the Department of Homeland Security is working to integrate these networks through the creation of the Integrated Consortium of Laboratory Networks (ICLN). The ICLN employs the LRN model for coordinating laboratory assets for terrorism among federal, state, local, and scientific partners. A memorandum of agreement was signed in 2005 by the USDA, DoD, DOE, DHHS, EPA, and the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice, and Interior to form the ICLN. These federal agencies will collaborate to ensure that laboratory resources available within each agency can be used to respond to terrorist events and other national emergencies.
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