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Teens tour TVMDL facility, “investigate” cat’s mysterious illness

Dr. Sneed talks to students

Summer students listen to Dr. Loyd Sneed, a diagnostician at the TVMDL facility in College Station

COLLEGE STATION — What’s wrong with Bob the cat? Can Bob be saved?

On July 18, students from a Texas A&M University summer program followed a cat’s diagnostic case to learn about how the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) facility in College Station operates.

Thirty-two 8th, 9th and 10th graders from across the country toured the lab as part of a three-week course on medicine, disease and immunology. The course was sponsored by the Duke University Talent Identification Program, which identifies academically gifted students and gives them opportunities to develop their talents. The TVMDL facility taught the students a little about bacteriology, clinical pathology and molecular diagnostics.

Dr. Amy Swinford, branch chief for microbiology, walked the students through the case of “Bob the cat,” which is based on a real case submitted to the lab.

Bob’s owners noticed that he was acting strangely and not eating well. They took the cat to a veterinarian, who traced the source of the discomfort to the bones in Bob’s right legs. To narrow the diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan, the vet sent samples of Bob’s blood serum and bone to TVMDL.

The samples went to several lab sections, which the students toured.

Staff show part of TVMDL test to kids

Sarah Eide, diagnostic lab supervisor for clinical pathology, shows a hemocytometer chamber to students in the Duke TIPS program.

They also got an overview of TVMDL from Dr. Terry Hensley, assistant agency director and a veterinarian with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The students learned about crucial biosafety rules from Agency Operations Manager Jordan Brod.

In the bacteriology section, technician Kathy Gutierrez explained how the section cultures microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi to advance a diagnosis. For Bob the cat, the bacteriology section ruled out a bacterial infection.

In clinical pathology, the section’s diagnostic lab supervisor, Sarah Eide, demonstrated how the section uses advanced technology to analyze blood, body fluids and other tissues. This section determined that a tumor did not cause Bob’s illness.

In molecular genetics, diagnostician Dr. Loyd Sneed showed students how the section tests specimens for tiny amounts of genetic material that infectious microbes leave in body fluids. This section teamed up with bacteriology to figure out that Bob’s illness was caused by a specific fungal infection.

And so, the students got a lesson on how diagnostics can help alleviate an animal’s suffering. Based on the diagnosis provided by TVMDL, the vet prescribed an antifungal agent for Bob. Bob’s health is “currently improving.”

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