Proposed private CWD testing lab could face challenges

Expertise, funding could stand in the way of a local committee's plan

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A local chronic wasting disease committee is exploring the possibility of pooling local dollars to set up a CWD testing lab in Craig next hunting season.

One expert says the feasibility of setting up a portable lab depends on progress of new tests still being perfected.

"It depends on what tests end up being used," said Elizabeth Williams, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Wyoming, where CWD testing is conducted. "The test being done now requires trained technicians and a considerable amount of equipment. There might be some new tests developed this summer that could be done next fall, but at the moment it would be difficult to just set up a new lab."

Right now chronic wasting disease testing is conducted at Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming.

The test used at the two universities is the immunohstochemispry (IHC) test, which Williams estimated would cost $200,000 to set up.

A team of veterinary epidemiologists and pathologists at CSU are currently working with European researchers to see if a test used to detect bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in Europe can be used to test deer and elk for chronic wasting disease.

"We are in the process of validating these tests for our use because, although similar, BSE and CWD are not identical," said Mo Salman, director of the Animal Population Health Institute and pathologists at Colorado State University. "We are in the process of evaluating each company's test through scientific-based validation, using our own stringent protocol."

With the IHC test currently used at the CSU lab, about 240 hunter-killed specimens can be tested a day.

If perfected, the new test coined the "rapid test," being worked on by CSU experts could be a pretest for the IHC test.

The new "rapid test" could be used to determine if a sample has "potential" to carry the disease. If the test shows "potential" for CWD, then the IHC test would be used to confirm if the specimen is indeed positive or negative. If the rapid test shows no potential, then the IHC test would not even need to be conducted.

So far less than 1 percent of wild mule deer in the Motherwell Ranch area south of Hayden have been discovered to carry the disease, which indicates very few animals would need to have the IHC test if the "rapid test" was perfected and ready for utilization next hunting season.

"We're talking about going from three to five days for each hunter-killed specimen to 24 hours. This is a considerable difference," said Barbara Powers, director of the CSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. "Furthermore, up to 1,000 samples can be processed per day by one or two laboratory technicians."

Salman said the scientists hope faster techniques for CWD are on the way.

"We are hoping that together with other research we are conducting and disease control measures, a rapid method for the diagnosis of CWD in hunter-killed elk and deer will allow us to accumulate more specific information for studying the epidemiology and the pathogenesis of the disease," Salman said.

The Colorado State legislature recently approved $1.9 million in spending by the Colorado Division of Wildlife on CWD research.

Todd Malmsbury, spokesperson for the DOW, said the money will be used to increase testing capabilities at Colorado State University, increase disease surveillance and continue culling efforts.

"The division is currently evaluating different options to assist with testing in the Routt and Moffat County area," Malmsbury said. "The actual tests will be conducted at Colorado State University. The testing has to be done by trained laboratory technicians."

Right now priority continues to go to Colorado State University where the technology and personnel is in place for CWD testing.

"We have specific priorities we need to deal with and will continue to work with Colorado State University who has the ability to conduct tests," Malmsbury said.

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, who serves on the local chronic wasting disease committee and has been delegated the responsibility of researching the feasibility of getting a portable testing lab in Craig, said she thinks it is still possible to get a lab in Craig.

"I think the suggestion to privatize it was a good idea," she said. "If we partner on something like this they're more likely to place something here."

One possibility that will be explored is utilizing a laboratory at The Memorial Hospital,

Raftopoulos said.

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