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Dec. 15, 2021

Diagnosing the COVID of tomorrow

The Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Q&A with veterinarian and virologist Kimberly Dodd


Michigan State University is one of the top 100 research universities in the world and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, widely regarded as among the top research-intensive institutions in North America. The following story highlights one of the many examples of MSU’s research excellence and innovation.


Kimberly Dodd is the director of the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and an associate professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Dodd is an internationally recognized expert on laboratory diagnostics and outbreak response for emerging infectious diseases.


Q: What kind of research is done at the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory?

Kimberly Dodd Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
Kimberly Dodd

A: At the VDL, our research is focused on enhancing our diagnostic services to support our core mission — to protect animal and public health in Michigan and beyond. We perform testing for infectious diseases of livestock, horses, poultry, companion animals and wildlife, including zoonotic diseases such as West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis and SARS-CoV-2, as well as vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Our Clinical Pathology group supports patients at the MSU Veterinary Medical Center. We also have nationally and internationally recognized expertise in endocrinology, cancer diagnosis and prognosis and toxicology.

Q: What makes the VDL unique?


A: The VDL has two aspects that are truly exceptional. First, our 135 faculty and staff members have diverse expertise in pathology, endocrinology, toxicology, nutrition, bacteriology, virology, parasitology and immunology, that together make the VDL an international resource. We receive samples from every corner of Michigan, all 50 states and more than 25 countries. The other is the facility itself: The state-of-the art laboratory has extensive Biosafety Level-3 capabilities allowing us to work with potentially zoonotic diseases (spread from animals to humans) and high-consequence pathogens.

Q: How is the VDL involved in One Health?


A: At its simplest, One Health is a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to improve health for humans, animals and the environment at a local, national and global level. We know that the vast majority of new diseases in humans emerge from an animal reservoir, so the study of zoonotic diseases is a One Health priority area of study. As a veterinary diagnostic lab that receives hundreds of thousands of samples a year, and with extensive BSL-3 capabilities, we are uniquely positioned to build a One Health approach to detect and identify emerging disease threats.


Q: How is the VDL preparing to diagnose the next Disease X?
A: Over the last two years, we’ve seen how a virus can upend our lives, and it’s reminded us that emerging diseases can have dire consequences the next COVID, or Disease X, could impact humans or animals or both. With a new global appreciation for the value of forward-looking diagnostics, we have a unique opportunity today to harness advancements in laboratory technologies with the rapid evolution in computational capabilities. Together, we can create a platform to help us detect and identify disease threats before they cause widespread disease.
Look at it this way current diagnostics are largely focused on looking for known disease. It’s cold and flu season, and so if you are sneezing and coughing, you will likely be tested for the flu and for COVID. If both are negative, we may assume it’s a bad cold and prescribe rest. But what if we had a diagnostic testing platform that could not only detect the flu or COVID, but also provide real-time information on COVID variants, helping our global response efforts? And in the cases where the sample is negative for known diseases, what if we were able to identify other possible disease-causing agents in the sample, including ones that are currently unknown? This creates the potential to identify Disease X at the earliest stages before we see outbreaks in our animal or human populations.


Leading efforts to discover new diagnostic capabilities is a priority for the VDL and will require a truly cross-disciplinary approach with our colleagues not only in the College of Veterinary Medicine, but across colleges at MSU. With the university’s strong emphasis on research, education and innovation, we have an opportunity to create positive change with global impact. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish. 


By: Kimberly Dodd and Emilie Lorditch