Canadian Poultry Magazine

Features Health Research
New Pathobiology Lab for U of G


November 30, 1999
By By Jim Knisley

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Two hundred and fifty researchers, technicians and educators, and their equipment, have moved into their new $62-million Pathobiology and Animal Health Laboratory at the University of Guelph.

The building was officially opened in Oct. 7, with delicate equipment and people arriving in stages after the official opening.

The veterinarians and researchers will utilize state-of-the-art equipment to diagnose and study a range of animal diseases and pathogenic organisms, including bird flu, SARS, E. coli, West Nile virus and others. 

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The 126,000-square-foot, four-storey building contains a 120-seat lecture theatre, flexible laboratory space, seminar rooms, teaching labs and office space.

The federal and provincial governments provided $62 million for the project. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) contributed $37 million, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) kicked in $25 million.

“The health and safety of Ontarians and a safe food supply are top priorities,” said Carol Mitchell, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.

The provincial government “is pleased to provide funding to the University of Guelph to help support ongoing research activities that preserve consumer confidence, protect against animal disease and demonstrate our commitment to a competitive and sustainable agri-food industry,” she said during the opening ceremony.

University of Guelph president Alastair Summerlee said the facility puts the university at the forefront of improving the health of animals, people and the environment.

“Current and future scientists will make and share discoveries that will improve the health and well-being of animals, people and the planet,” he said. “This new building will further our ability to identify both the risks we face and the potential benefits and treatments that can be realized by taking an integrated approach to these questions.”

Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) Dean Elizabeth Stone said veterinarians are a link between animal health and human health. They have information and expertise about health relationships among humans, animals and the environment.

About 75 per cent of new and emerging diseases are transmitted from animals to humans and back again. “Animal health researchers play an important role in identifying, controlling and understanding this phenomenon,” Stone said.

The University of Guelph Animal Health Laboratory (AHL), which is housed in the new complex, helps maintain healthy animals and safe food in Ontario by providing specialized diagnostic services for OMAFRA, veterinarians and public and private sector agencies.

The new lab includes open-concept space that encourages cross-training and staff sharing. The improved facilities also allow for better control of pathogenic organisms, Stone said. “This will greatly improve our biosecurity and bio-containment, to protect both our staff and our clients.”

The new building fulfils a key component of the veterinary college’s strategic vision, as the college approaches its 150th birthday in 2012. Key initiatives include the OVC Health Sciences Centre, with its Companion Animal Medical Complex, Large Animal Medical Complex, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre, animal cancer centre, Equine Sports Medicine and Reproduction Centre, and large-animal isolation unit.

The facility has two main components. The pathobiology area is on the first two floors and involves research and teaching as part of the Ontario Veterinary College. The third and fourth floors of the structure are dedicated to offices and laboratories for college researchers and faculty members.

A part of the first floor is dedicated to the post-mortem suite. In that suite scientists will do diagnostic work. Testing will be carried out on specimens and samples to detect disease. Early detection of animal diseases, such as avian influenza, is crucial to prevent the spread within farm animal populations and the potential infection of people.

Following a tour of the building, Mitchell was very impressed.

She said OMAFRA and the university working together to provide laboratory services is a powerful partnership in the campaign against “the many animal diseases that can significantly impact public health and our province’s economy.”

The provincial government is committed to maintain Ontario’s reputation for safe, high-quality food and recognized that new, more modern facilities were needed.

“To really address the threat of animal disease we knew that Ontario needed new infrastructure,” she said. “So we were very pleased and very proud to support their animal health facility.”

Mitchell is confident the facility will allow faster identification of and response to disease outbreaks. The province will provide $5 million in annual funding for the lab’s diagnostic services.

Stone added: “This new building represents out commitment in bricks and mortar to the expanding role of veterinarians in the health of the province and the nation.” The new facilities will enhance Guelph’s ability to move animal and human health care forward and “to provide global leadership through research and education.”