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Nation's Laboratory Response Network Marks First Decade of Protecting Public Health

SILVER SPRING, Md., March 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Laboratory Response Network (LRN), the national laboratory system charged with protecting the public in health emergencies, will mark its first decade at its national meeting in Orlando, Florida, April 1-3, 2009.

Founded in 1999 by the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to test for agents of bioterrorism, the Laboratory Response Network has evolved to become the nation's laboratory resource for response to emerging infectious diseases, toxic spills, natural disasters, chemical terrorism and other public health threats.

LRN member laboratories conduct confirmatory testing of specimens referred by clinical laboratories, law enforcement agencies, the armed forces and other partner agencies. The results of their analysis determine emergency response measures.

The first trial of the LRN came in 2001. "Two weeks after the state of Florida finished training its laboratorians in emergency response measures, a Florida LRN reference lab identified Bacillus anthracis, the index case for the anthrax events of 2001, in a clinical specimen," remembers APHL Executive Director Scott Becker. "That day the concept of a national, rapid response laboratory network proved its worth."

In subsequent years, the LRN's portfolio expanded in response to outbreaks of SARS, monkey pox and avian influenza. Its productivity level was high. In one twelve-month period during 2006, over 5,000 tests for unknown substances were performed by state public health laboratories. A diverse membership of state and local public health labs, veterinary, agricultural, military labs, water and food testing laboratories tackled the workload using standardized methods and tests to assure accuracy and consistency across the network.

In 2003, the LRN added a chemical component, the Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Terrorism Preparedness, or LRN-C. Sixty-two state, territorial and metropolitan public health laboratories at three levels of capability now participate in the LRN-C.

Development of a radiological component of the LRN awaits availability of funding. Currently the CDC is pursuing newer and more rapid methods to analyze clinical specimens for radioactive materials.

"The gap in radiological capability is a serious concern," stated APHL President Frances Downes, DrPH, director of the Michigan Public Health Laboratory. "As a laboratory first responder, the LRN must position itself strategically to respond to emerging threats, whether they be the next SARS or chemical terrorism or a dirty bomb. We can't assume that the threats of the next ten years will all be biological."

The Association of Public Health Laboratories is a national non-profit located in Silver Spring, MD, that is dedicated to working with members to strengthen governmental laboratories with a public health mandate. By promoting effective programs and public policy, APHL strives to provide public health laboratories with the resources and infrastructure needed to protect the health of US residents and to prevent and control disease globally.

SOURCE Association of Public Health Laboratories
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