[October 22, 2013, Kennett Square, PA] - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration awarded a grant totaling $495,000 over five years to the PADLS (Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System) Toxicology Laboratory at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center. The grant is designed to expand and improve testing of pet foods and livestock feeds during suspected contamination events.
The grant provides the Toxicology Laboratory $99,000 each year from September of 2013 through August of 2018.
The effort is part of the FDA’s Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet- LIRN) to increase the safety of human and animal health by investigating potential contamination of animal feed or animal drugs.
“We are looking for cheaper, faster, more-efficient ways to do large-scale testing,” said Lisa Murphy, VMD, Assistant Professor of Toxicology, Department of Pathobiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet).
“If something really big happens we need to find ways to make more labs able to do the testing quickly so we can remove contaminated items from market shelves,” she said.
PADLS will investigate the possibility to adapt and validate the use of a relatively inexpensive, simple-to-use handheld reader to analyze complex animal feeds and pet foods for “priority mycotoxins,” or the toxic chemical products produced by mold.
The grant-funded study will be investigating whether the equipment can be used to analyze dog food, cattle feed, and swine feed. If so, it will provide an easy method for minimally trained personnel at multiple laboratories to quickly screen large volumes of samples in the event of a suspected animal-feed contamination. The study will also look at how this testing method compares with standard methods to determine whether it would work well in a large-scale outbreak.
The testing is important to protect pets and farm animals, but also humans, as the contaminants can pass into meat and milk. Recently there have been several outbreaks of contamination of pet foods, including Salmonella, melamine and aflatoxins.
A large-scale suspected contamination can produce thousands of many different types of samples. “In investigating a poisoning, we are going a step further because we are not only identifying the substance but trying to identify the source,” Dr. Murphy said.
The FDA developed the “Vet-LIRN” system to expand the range of testing during large-scale outbreaks and contamination events. New Bolton’s PADLS laboratories can do diagnostic testing on organs and other animal samples such as vomit and feces, which are not typically tested in traditional human laboratories. The PADLS laboratories also test many types of pet food and animal feed, as well as environmental samples such as plants and soil, and even different types of baits.
For example, the PADLS toxicology lab has been working with the FDA for the past two years to test jerky pet treats from China that are suspected of causing illness in dogs.
The Vet-LIRN program is designed to expand and validate detection methods among several laboratories working in a cooperative agreement, as well as to strengthen their collaborations and integration to encourage seamless interactions during actual emergency testing. At present there are 34 laboratories throughout the United States that are part of the Vet- LIRN network. Penn Vet’s PADLS lab is the only one in Pennsylvania.
“The work we do through this grant is an effort to make sure we have a good, strong network of veterinary laboratories equipped to handle the wide variety of animal samples that are typically sent in for evaluation,” Dr. Murphy said.
The PADLS New Bolton Center Toxicology Laboratory provides full veterinary diagnostic toxicology services to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the region, including a broad spectrum of analyses for both natural and man-made toxicants that directly impact the health of animals and the safety of the human food supply. The toxicants include drugs, environmental contaminants, insecticides, rodenticides, mycotoxins, and metals. The lab continually looks for new or emerging toxicants, markers of nutritional status and chemical food contaminants.
About Penn Vet
Penn Vet is a global leader in veterinary medicine education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the only veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health Initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.
Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, seeing nearly 33,000 patients a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. In addition to treating about 6,000 patients annually, New Bolton Center includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.
For more information, visit www.vet.upenn.edu.