April 27, 2022
Public health, clinical labs play vital role in keeping people safe, healthy
The work of Minnesota’s Public Health Laboratory and its many partner labs around the state earned praise and recognition from Gov. Tim Walz Monday as he toured the laboratory in St. Paul and presented a proclamation declaring April 24-30 as Lab Professionals Week in Minnesota.
“Laboratory professionals play a critical but often unseen role in the overall health of Minnesotans,” reads the proclamation issued by Gov. Walz. “For over 150 years, laboratory professionals around the state have worked to make sure that medical conditions are identified and quickly reported, our food and water is safe to eat and drink; our lakes, rivers, soil, and air are safe for us to work and play; and community health threats are quickly identified and stopped,” it continues. “The State of Minnesota honors the tireless dedication, resilience, sacrifice, reliability, determinedness, and flexibility of these professionals in their desire and enduring sense of duty to keep Minnesotans safe and healthy.”
The Public Health Laboratory (PHL) at the Minnesota Department of Health has been noted often for its pioneering work in developing new newborn screening methods and follow-up to ensure medical care delivery, the use of next-generation DNA sequencing to detect disease outbreaks, and in detecting low levels of chemical contaminants in the environment. It provides support to other state and national laboratories, serving as a response laboratory for chemical hazards, vaccine preventable diseases, antibiotic resistance, and radiation.
That status is the result of strong collaboration with laboratory partners in the state and region, said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.
“The Public Health Laboratory’s emphasis on quality partnerships with stakeholders is one of the many reasons Minnesota is considered a leader in public health,” Commissioner Malcolm said. “Each year we continue to nurture and build those partnerships as a way to strengthen public health across the state and the country.”
During his tour, Governor Walz saw first-hand those areas of the lab where staff first used Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE), a kind of DNA fingerprinting, and later, whole genome sequencing, to help determine the source of foodborne outbreaks; where vitamin E acetate was found to be the source of severe lung injuries from adulterated vaping cartridges; and where Minnesota is on track to be the first state to screen all infants for congenital cytomegalovirus – the most common viral infection in newborns that can cause a range of health problems, from liver damage to hearing loss and intellectual disabilities.
How PHL Helps Keep Minnesotans Safe
The PHL is part of a network of labs throughout the state that provides answers to Minnesotans every day. Laboratory professionals are behind the scenes at all of these labs, identifying infectious diseases, rare genetic conditions, and toxic chemicals that can make people sick. Samples for testing come from a wide variety of collectors to the PHL to detect, investigate, monitor, prevent, and control public health threats. The COVID pandemic response is just one example of how critical laboratory professionals and their partnerships with each other are to the health of Minnesotans.
Environmental Risks: In collaboration with environmental health programs at county, state and federal agencies, the PHL analyzes samples of air, water, soil and vegetation as well as biological specimens such as urine and blood from people and animals for the presence of public health hazards radiation, chemical and bacterial contaminants.
Viruses, Bacteria and other Pathogens: In collaboration with acute disease epidemiology programs at MDH, as well as counties, other states and research institutions, the PHL monitors and responds to public health threats. Through the analysis of human specimens (stool, blood, serum, urine, etc.) for bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses and other infectious disease agents, the PHL and acute disease epidemiology programs can detect a disease outbreak, focus a disease outbreak investigation and plan an effective public health intervention.
Emerging Threats: The PHL also collaborates with clinical labs and veterinary diagnostic labs to identify trends such as anti-microbial resistance, the emergence of new diseases such as West Nile Virus and the re-emergence of serious diseases such as tuberculosis. In some cases, when clinical labs submit specimens to the PHL for additional testing and characterization, this can help physicians solve a medical mystery for a single patient, but more often this sharing of information between labs helps epidemiologists and clinicians find connections between cases that helps them determine what’s making people sick across the state.
Technical Support: In collaboration with hospitals, clinics and diagnostic labs in the state, the PHL provides reference and confirmatory testing of specimens, and employs both classic bench and state-of-the-art techniques not available in most labs. This technical assistance extends and increases the testing capability of Minnesota hospitals, clinics and diagnostic labs. For example, the PHL is the only facility in the state that does rabies testing and serves as a referral center for specimens sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.
The PHL also regularly provides training for laboratorians in clinical labs around the state to help them identify rare pathogens of concern that may have public health implications.
More information can be found at: About the Public Health Laboratory.