Science - September 19, 2012

Wider scope for animal disease research in Lelystad

The Central Veterinary Institute (CVI) will have a new research facility for communicable animal diseases which can affect humans. State secretary Henk Bleker officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony of this high containment unit on 17 September.

The first pile was driven in by hand
With research being carried out currently into communicable animal diseases, safety requirements at the CVI are high. Visitors to the institute on 17 September, among whom were state secretary Henk Bleker, were not allowed into the area where a new facility for animal disease research will be built. They would have to put on khaki clothes and remain in quarantine for 72 hours were they to be allowed in. So they remained in the party tent, where Bleker kicked off the start of the work with a push on a knob.
The new facility has even higher safety requirements, as infectious viruses and bacteria which can also affect humans will be studied there, such as the Q-fever bacteria. 'This calls for extra safety measures for the personnel,' explains CVI director Andre Bianchi. The new high containment unit costs eight million euros to build. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation contributes five million euros, and the remainder comes from the Flevoland provincial government, the municipality of Lelystad and an EU-fund. The facility is scheduled to be ready at the end of next year.
It will be the national facility for research into zoonoses, communicable diseases which can be transmitted to humans. A new aspect is that pharmaceutical companies will be allowed to use the facility. In this way, its construction is in line with the Castellum programme in which the CVI works together with, among others, the Utrecht faculty of veterinary medicine, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and the company MSD Animal Health to develop new medicines to combat communicable animal diseases. The new facility would attract pharmaceutical companies to Lelystad, a reason why the provincial government and the municipality are keen to contribute to its setup. Whether more money will come from the top sectors for this field of veterinary research is still unsure.
A zoonose which springs to mind is the Q-fever, which has had widespread consequences for public health in The Netherlands. But the CVI will also look into new animal diseases which can suddenly pose a danger to animals and humans. In this respect, the institute is studying the West Nijl virus, which has spread rapidly throughout the United States in the last few years, claiming thousands of human victims. The institute is also keeping an eye on the parrot disease, which has a bacterium which spreads via birds and also affects humans. During an epidemic, the CVI develops fast and highly responsive laboratory tests to identify a disease, knowledge about the spread of the pathogen and methods to combat it.

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