N.Y. Gov. Pataki announces $50 million state grant to upgrade Cornell animal disease testing center

Standing before a bank of television cameras with people lining the hallways and balcony at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine's Veterinary Education Center, New York Gov. George Pataki announced Aug. 14 a grant of $50 million in funding for a state-of-the-art renovation and consolidation of the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC) at the college.

The AHDC is a land-grant facility that conducts more than a million diagnostic tests annually on animals with diseases or other conditions. AHDC services all counties in New York as well as many other states and Canada.

The AHDC, which is run by Cornell and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM), is the state's sole provider of comprehensive diagnostic testing for infectious diseases and other conditions in food- and fiber-producing, companion, performance, zoo, exotic and wildlife animals. Cornell mainly handles testing, diagnoses and research, while the NYSDAM largely collects samples from around the state, including live bird markets.

For 100 years, the role of testing and diagnosing has fallen to Cornell, but the facilities are not good enough for the 21st century, Pataki said.

The governor commented that today people routinely travel across continents, increasing the possibilities for new infections and diseases. Also, a majority of infectious diseases - including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) and the recent H5N1 strain of avian flu - are threats to both animals and humans.

With these concerns, it is no surprise that Cornell and state officials have planned an $80 million renovation of the existing center. Cornell will add $24 million and will seek the remaining $6 million from private and government sources.

"You have the brain power, you have the education, you have the commitment, and now what you need are the resources," Pataki said.

This state-of-the-art Animal Health Diagnostic Center will play a critical role in our efforts to detect and prevent the spread of dangerous pathogens. ... The new facility also will continue to support the economic well-being of New York's animal industry, he said.

Cornell President David J. Skorton said, "By strengthening, in such a crucial way, Cornell's research and service, this new facility will have a profound influence not only on the state's well-being and economy, but also on the significance of New York's animal and human health research to the nation and the world."

When veterinarians around the Northeast and other parts of the United States and Canada need to determine the cause of certain illnesses in sick animals, they send their samples to Cornells Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC).

As the only facility of its kind in the state, the AHDC provides a wide range of specialized diagnostic testing services for all animal industries, including livestock, equine, companion, wildlife and exotic animals. And its importance to the region is increasing.

In addition to helping veterinarians, the lab provides diagnostic services to zoos, government entities and academic and corporate research facilities that need to verify cause of death or infection for studies they conduct.

While the lab does not handle human samples, it can run close to 700 different diagnostic tests for both infectious and non-infectious diseases, endocrine disorders and toxins. Its technicians perform pathogen detection tests, serological tests to detect antibodies, molecular tests to detect microbial DNA, analytical chemistry tests to monitor body systems, milk quality tests, and tests for nutritional status and toxin exposure. The lab conducts close to a million tests a year.

The AHDC works in partnership with state agencies, providing diagnostic services for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Among many other roles, the AHDC also provides testing for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to detect avian influenza, chronic wasting disease, classical swine fever and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease).

The current center includes overcrowded labs and office spaces in a dozen buildings scattered across campus and Ithaca.

The announced $50 million in capital funding will be used to build a new 100,000-plus-square-foot center, pending review. Also pending municipal approvals, construction is scheduled to begin in early 2008.

The redesign also will include an upgrade of the lab's outdated biocontainment facilities to Bio-Safety Level 3, making it an invaluable resource in the Northeast. The upgrade to Level 3 will enable the center to work even more closely on such highly contagious agents as West Nile virus, anthrax and E. coli. The new laboratories will provide research and testing services to protect New York's animal agriculture against such foreign animal diseases as avian flu, foot-and-mouth disease, Exotic Newcastle disease and swine flu. Ongoing testing and research for BSE and chronic wasting disease will continue, while the upgrades will allow the center to handle new diseases.

Media Contact

Simeon Moss