Students Help Keep Humans and Animals Safe in Unique Lab

Students working in the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) serve the public, industry, and government agencies

Students working in the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) serve the public, industry, and government agencies ()

One of the most active service centers at UConn Storrs is the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL). In addition to its popular tick testing, the CVMDL can perform over 160 different types of diagnostic tests and pathology services on pets, livestock, and wildlife.

Housed in the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, the CVMDL supports detection and surveillance efforts locally, nationally, and globally to track potentially harmful animal and human diseases. It’s also a unique training ground for students interested in the study of disease in animals and humans.

The expansive services offered by the CVMDL means the lab works with a variety of clients and collaborators, including veterinarians, members of the agricultural industry, wildlife officers, state and federal agencies, and residents. Due to the demand for the lab’s services, there are many opportunities for students to work in the CVMDL to assist with carrying out its vital work addressing disease concerns.

Several students have gained hands-on experience in the CVMDL, including Brewster Curry ‘24 (CAHNR) and Jessica Savage ‘23 (CAHNR), pathobiology majors who say that working in the facility gave them a chance to delve deeper into their interests.

For Curry, the interest to study human and animal diseases originated from his experiences during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when he was serving in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Italy.

“In the early stages of the pandemic, we were tasked with shipping test kits from the Italian government to the United States to help combat the virus,” says Curry. “We moved millions of test kits and, at the time, I didn’t fully understand their value, but the experience stayed with me.”

After his military service ended and Curry looked to return to school, he found UConn’s pathobiology major and the opportunity to work in the CVMDL during an open house event.

“Coming into pathobiology and starting in the CVMDL helped me better appreciate the impact of my experience in Italy. I realized how important diagnostics can be in helping people make informed decisions about public health and animal welfare,” says Curry. “I’ve become more aware of the interconnectedness between animal and human health and the environment. I’m looking forward to staying on this path and continuing into graduate school.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also affected Jessica Savage ‘23 (CAHNR), who chose pathobiology as a track to later attend veterinary school and explore a career as an animal surgeon. She came to the CVMDL for hands-on learning because during COVID, opportunities were limited or non-existent due to pandemic restrictions.

“When classes were remote is when I took anatomy and physiology,” says Savage. “This meant the lab that was previously hands-on was now online modules. I didn’t get to do dissections to get a firsthand look at the anatomy of different species or get a sense of the tissues of various organs.”

Working in the CVMDL presented Savage a chance to supplement her online learning experience. Savage worked in the CVMDL’s necropsy section, performing postmortem examinations of companion and farm animals as well as animals from zoos and aquariums.

“I feel I had an incredible advantage when applying to vet school because I worked in necropsy. I have familiarity with many different species of animals, handled surgical tools and equipment, and worked as part of a team,” says Savage. “I’ve also been able to meet and work with people who have similar interests and closely with other students who are on comparable career paths. They’re a great resource to have.”

Savage is now studying at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine after graduating from UConn in spring 2023.

The CVMDL is a collaborative environment and students work closely with each other and the pathologists, microbiologists, technicians, and staff. Students can be at any skill level and do not have to have previous laboratory experience or be in the pathobiology major.

“I was nervous when I started,” Curry recalled. “My background was in logistics, and I had no laboratory skills at all walking in there. I quickly found everyone there to be incredibly helpful and happy to and walk me through things I wasn’t certain about,” says Curry.

The CVMDL processes over 60,000 tests each year. The facility’s capabilities continue to grow and expand amid the increasing need to detect emergent pathogens and prepare for potential outbreaks of disease.

“The CVMDL is a critical resource to Connecticut residents, New England, and beyond,” says director and professor of pathobiology, Guillermo Risatti. “The diagnostic testing we carry out here is an essential tool that provides information to enhance disease surveillance and response. We are grateful to have a new generation of scientists learning valuable skills as they move forward in their paths.”

CVMDL is the only diagnostic laboratory in New England to be accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD) and is a member of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN).

This work relates to the CAHNR’s Strategic Vision area focused on Enhancing Health and Well-Being Locally, Nationally, and Globally.

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