USDA, K-State train next generation of NBAF scientists

Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 12:19 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A U.S. Department of Agriculture program has partnered with Kansas State University to give the next generation of National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility scientists a glimpse of activities in the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says through a new Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service implemented in collaboration with Kansas State University, 10 undergraduate students and recent graduates completed the NBAF Laboratorian Training Program on Aug. 7 preparing them for potential careers at NBAF, a high-containment animal disease facility with biosafety level-2, -3 and -4 capabilities.

“We believe NLTP will serve as a pipeline to develop the next generation of laboratory support for federal laboratories such as NBAF but also biocontainment facilities in academia or industry,” said Dr. Kimberly Dodd, director of the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, or FADDL, at Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the USDA reference laboratory that will transition to NBAF once the facility is complete. “These highly qualified students received valuable training to build the expertise needed for a career in infectious disease diagnostics, vaccine development and research.”

The USDA says discussions range from high-containment laboratory safety protocols and emergency procedures to immunology and virus transmission. It says according to Dr. Josh Willix, lead K-State instructor for the program, the students’ favorite topics were virus activity during lab tests, disease transmission and how diseases are diagnosed.

“They got excited any time they got to see a virus-killing cell in culture under a microscope,” Willix said. “In addition to learning an array of virological techniques, they really enjoyed specific discussions on various diseases including diagnosis and outbreaks such as Ebola.”

According to the USDA, the students had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with working within the rigors of the high-containment laboratory environment and hear from professionals supporting laboratory diagnostics at the nation’s top facilities including FADDL, K-States Biosecurity Research Institute and the College of Veterinary Medicine Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology department.

“I have always thought biosecurity was really interesting and I’ve been curious about NBAF,” said Jenna Flory, NLTP participant and senior at K-State in biological systems engineering, Baldwin City. “This is a great lab experience but my favorite part of the program was getting to hear from scientists at Plum Island, their work and how they might respond to any potential disease outbreaks in the U.S.”

The Department says the program originally was designed to be hands-on training, but coordinators adjusted it to be primarily online due to the COVID-19 pandemic by video recording lab techniques and hosting video presentations for eight weeks. It says they finished the hands-on review at the BRI in the ninth week.

“I was happy to see the students engaged and asking questions during the video presentations,” said Dr. Dana Vanlandingham, K-State’s program leader and College of Veterinary Medicine professor of diagnostic medicine/pathobiology. “I could really see their growth in understanding various diagnostic techniques over the summer.”

The USDA says Lisa Pauszek and Alexa Bracht, both FADDL microbiologists leading APHIS workforce development efforts, developed the program at the BRI in collaboration with K-State scientists in the Vanlandingham group that included Willix, Ashley Bilyeu and Susan Hettenback. It says the program was sponsored by the USDA APHIS funding.

“This team has led a tremendous effort to rapidly transition a hands-on course to a virtual experience and successfully fostered active participation and engagement for eight weeks,” Dodd said. “I’m so proud of what they accomplished.”

Dodd says the university’s proximity to NBAF, the BRI’s unique biosafety training lab and classroom and the College of Veterinary Medicine’s diagnostic laboratory made the university the best location for the program.

Flory says participants include the following:

  • Adrienne Alder, senior in medical microbiology, Bonner Springs
  • Adeline Chang, 2020 graduate in microbiology, Olathe
  • Linnea Rimmer, senior in animal sciences and industry, Overland Park
  • Theresa Quintana, senior in microbiology, Cape Coral, Florida
  • Kayla Ewell, senior in microbiology, Equality, Illinois
  • Em Knobbe, senior in animal sciences and industry, Webster Groves, Missouri
  • Natalie Allen, 2020 bachelor’s degree graduate, Marceline, Missouri

The USDA says it and K-State will host a second year of the NLTP in the summer of 2021. It says a related program, the NBAF Scientist Training Program, or NSTP, is a nationwide graduate training program supporting the development of the next generation of veterinary scientists for NBAF.

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