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(L-R) Photo of Ed McCauley, Devin Dreeshen and Baljit Singh announcing the finalization of two grant agreements, worth $3.44 million. // Photo courtesy of the UCalgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

U of C VetMed receives $3.44 million to open new lab and boost research

By Nikayla Goddard, November 17 2020—

The University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine faculty (UCVM) received $3.44 million in funding that will allow the faculty to build their own bacteriology lab, hire new positions and subsidize livestock diagnostics. The grant includes $2.04 million from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and $1.4 million from the Strategic Research and Development Program.

Dr. Jennifer Davies, director of the Diagnostic Services Unit, a veterinary pathologist and senior instructor, spoke with the Gauntlet about the value of the grant to UCVM and how the money will be utilized. 

The Diagnostic Services Unit takes in what Davies calls “case materials” from around the province from veterinarians in order to determine why animals have died. This can help inform veterinarian decisions on treatments and dealing with remaining herd or flock animals to protect animal health and welfare, as well as allowing the unit to identify changes in new or old disease trends and spread. The unit has been operating in that capacity for about 10 years, with the “primary mandate to take in that case material really to support teaching and research endeavours in UCVM,” Davies said. “The expansion that we are about to undergo in partnership with the government of Alberta helps to expand that mandate.”

With the new funding, UCVM will be able to hire two veterinary professionals, an anatomic pathologist and clinical bacteriologist, two technical positions, a new technologist in the histology and bacteriology labs, and an administrative support in the Diagnostic Services Unit, for a total of five new hires. 

The lab usually has to send bacteriology to other labs out of province, which takes more time and thereby can affect results, as the tissue may decompose or the bacteria may die, as well as subjecting the samples to out-of-province fees. With the grant, they will be able to build their own bacteriology lab and fill it with new equipment, just down the hall from their pre-existing post-mortem facility on the Spyhill Campus.

“It will allow us to create an entire new part of our service,” Davies said. “This is probably one of the most exciting things that’s happening here.” 

President and vice-chancellor of UCalgary Dr. Edward McCauley released the following statement:

“With this new support from the provincial and federal governments, UCVM will set new standards of excellence in efficient diagnostics, animal welfare and food production. By supporting livestock health and combatting antibiotic resistance, we are also benefiting human health and environmental health as interconnected elements.”

In addition to the benefit of having this local lab, the grant will also allow them to provide subsidized livestock diagnostics of the pathology and bacteriology samples that will come into the lab, thereby reducing fees on producers and making testing more accessible. 

“We are grateful for this significant investment,” said Dr. Baljit Singh, dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in a statement. “This is a major step forward as UCVM looks to position our Diagnostic Services Unit as a center of veterinary diagnostic excellence in order to support Alberta’s farmers, ranchers, and livestock industry.”

“It’s so very important I think what we’re doing for livestock in the province and our ability to expand these in province services, but also to offer them at a subsidized rate, removing that financial barrier,” Davies continued. “But we anticipate this is going to increase the case load through our lab and one of the really unique features about having this type of facility embedded within an academic institution is we’re able to take that case material and really translate it into educational material for our students. I think there will be a tremendous amount of experiential learning that has been offered to our veterinary students.”

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