Spotlight Equine: UK's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center

Construction crews have been hard at work at the corner of Newtown Pike and Citation Boulevard for months with the rapid expansion of the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center (LDDC). Center Director Craig Carter, DVM, PhD, admits that while the expansion is exciting, the activity probably also stimulates curiosity among Lexington residents about the purpose of the LDDC.

The LDDC, along with the Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville, was built by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in the early 1970s as a way to monitor disease outbreaks in farm animals. The labs were purchased by the University of Kentucky and Murray State University, respectively, and their missions continue to be service-oriented.

The LDDC helps control livestock illnesses by offering tests to help veterinarians diagnose and treat diseases. The center's staff work with the state veterinarian's office to track the incidence and spread of disease in all species of animals. The new Laboratory Information Management System disease tracking system allows veterinarians and farmers to stay abreast of local disease patterns. The lab has seven faculty members who specialize in pathology, clinical toxicology, virology, and epidemiology.

"Vets out there do a good job of diagnosing an animal that's sick" Carter said, "but what they (don't have is) a lab to submit testing samples to. It's too expensive and they can't confirm a diagnosis...We're the vet's vet. We're the one standing shoulder-to-shoulder with (the veterinarians) in the field."

The LDDC takes samples from veterinarians and provides them with more specific information about animals' illnesses. For example, a veterinarian might diagnose an animal with a bacterial infection, and if antibiotics do not work, the LDDC can run tests to determine the type of bacteria causing the problem and the drugs to efficiently treat it.

The other method used to control disease is to conduct necropsies on farm, companion, and wild animals in an effort to learn the cause of death and prevent the spread of illness in a population. A necropsy is the animal equivalent to a human autopsy. The LDDC has the largest equine necropsy load in the world due to its proximity to so many breeding farms.

Carter equates the necropsy process to the animal version of "CSI," noting that it is conducted for the protection of living animals. There are no limits to the species that the LDDC examines. Some of the most unusual animals to arrive at the LDDC include snakes, camels, bison, a piranha, and a baby elephant.

Carter emphasized the LDDC is a "life lab."

"Everything we do is to save lives. The (information gained from the) loss of one animal might save 10 or 20 or 100," Carter said. The LDDC handles 3,000 necropsies and 60,000 clinical cases per year and is in the midst of a $28.5-million expansion that will double or triple the workspace in some departments. The American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians recently awarded national accreditation to the lab, "a gold star" in Carter's words, for its testing procedures for all species. In recent years the LDDC has also become a site for research. There are about 12 research projects currently underway, including several focusing on equine issues such as wobbler syndrome, contracted foal syndrome, contagious equine metritis, Lawsonia intracellularis, and uterine artery rupture, among others.

Alan Loynachan, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVP, is an anatomic veterinary diagnostic pathologist and assistant professor at the LDDC. He particularly enjoys the opportunities for collaborative research projects involving other universities and a range of species. Loynachan is involved in several projects dealing with horses and pigs.

Loynachan completed his residency at the center in 2007 and was excited to return as an assistant professor. One of Loynachan’s favorite tasks is working with the three pathology residents studying at the LDDC. The LDDC typically accepts one veterinarian each year into its three-year residency program, after which they are eligible to become board-certified pathologists.

"It provides an opportunity to serve not just the horse industry, but Kentucky agriculture in general...As a diagnostic lab, it is on the frontier of detecting disease," he said.

For more information about the LDDC, visit its Web site at or call 859/253-0571.

Natalie Voss is a UK equine communications intern and undergraduate student in equine science and management.

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