The nationally known Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (WVDL), part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides testing and diagnostic services for the state’s animals – primarily farm animals – and works to limit the spread of disease in the U.S. and across the world.
“We get hundreds of samples shipped in here every day,” says Dr. Phil Bochsler, director of the WVDL. “Our yearly total number of tests we do is above 400,000, so we’re a very busy lab, and I’m very proud of our staff.”
Disease Control And Prevention
WVDL has two facilities, with its main location at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an additional location in Barron that serves the commercial poultry and dairy industries. To streamline its procedures, the WVDL’s services are consolidated into three laboratory sections: microbiology, pathology/toxicology and virology.
The microbiology section tests for bacterial, parasitic and fungal diseases using animal tissues, swabs, milk and urine. This section performed testing for the poultry industry during the Midwest’s avian influenza outbreak in 2015.
“We used molecular diagnostics to get same-day results for the testing during that epidemic,” Bochsler says. “In addition to infected premises, we also did testing for premises that were not infected with avian influenza but needed to move product. For instance, we would test a sampling of eggs from an egg-laying company to show that they were disease-free, and then they could move the product to market.”
The WVDL’s pathology team examines animals and tissue specimens to provide disease diagnostics, while toxicology tests for poisons and other toxic substances in animal tissues, feeds and other samples. Finally, the virology section works to discover viruses and the presence of antibodies against viruses in tissues, serum, feces and other samples.
“Our mission here is really clear,” Bochsler says. “We provide vital information to our clients about animal disease, and there is a great deal of job satisfaction for me because I know the work we are doing is going to benefit someone, somewhere, who needs this information. It’s very fulfilling work.”
WVDL Ensures Safe Exports
Because most of today’s cow reproduction occurs through artificial insemination, bull semen is transported across state lines and exported to other countries, all of which have specific requirements that must be met before the product is allowed in.
For example, Genex Cooperative, headquartered in Shawano, submits semen from its herd of more than 800 breeding bulls to be tested. Ultimately, the semen is sold domestically and to more than 65 other countries. Each year, Genex collects approximately 12 million units of semen, all of which must be declared disease-free.
“We need to ensure the product is safe,” says Glen Gilbert, Genex vice president of production. “We have a testing program to make sure that the product is free of any disease that could be sexually transmitted out to the cow population.”
That’s where WVDL comes in. According to Gilbert, WVDL is at the “top of the list” when Genex chooses a testing facility to work with.
“WVDL is very critical in performing these tests for us,” Gilbert says. “They have the ability to perform the tests accurately with good internal quality control. The scientific staff they have – virologists, bacteriologists – utilize the most cutting-edge technologies available for diagnosing diseases. In fact, we send a lot of our testing samples from our other facilities to Wisconsin because we know we get good, reliable tests.”