Colorado State University is testing about 600 deer and elk samples a day for chronic wasting disease, a process that will soon be speeded up even more by robotics.
Bio-Rad, the California company that installed the rapid-testing machines at CSU, said its new semiautomatic model could increase daily testing capacity of lymph and brain tissue by two to three times.
“Technicians are here installing it now, so we won’t know for a few days how it works,” said Barb Powers, director of the veterinary diagnostic laboratory at CSU, on Monday.
Even without the advanced machine, CSU has drastically cut the time that hunters must wait for test results on their animals – from months to five to seven days in most cases – through a new rapid analysis called ELISA.
More formally known as an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, the new rapid test was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week for use on mule deer.
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer and elk.
While there is no proof that CWD can be transmitted to humans who eat an infected animal, health and wildlife managers encourage hunters to test for the disease in their kills.
“The equipment CSU currently has does the testing in manual mode, having to go through a centrifuge, purified, incubated and then placed in the ELISA reader,” said Brad Crutchfield of Bio-Rad. “With the new equipment, that step is done automatically, which greatly speeds up the process.”
The new equipment comes at a cost – about $50,000 – but Powers said if it works, it will be worth it.
CSU previously verified its ELISA testing with a 10 percent cross-check against the immunohistochemical test, considered the gold standard of CWD testing before ELISA came along.
Now that the USDA has approved ELISA, the two types of tests will only be used if a deer tests positive.
The next step is to have ELISA testing licensed for elk samples, Powers said.
Robert Manwell, public affairs manager for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said Monday that it has not used ELISA yet, but in a state where hunters annually kill almost as many deer as there are in total in Colorado, it would be a huge benefit to use such a system.
Before that can happen, Crutchfield said the system must be verified as effective by the USDA on white-tailed deer.
Also on Monday, the state Division of Wildlife reported that six more deer from northwestern Colorado have tested positive for CWD.
They were found 16 miles northwest of Craig, four miles north of Craig, 10 miles south of Craig, 20 miles northwest of Meeker, 16 miles south of Hayden and just west of Green Mountain Reservoir.
Hunters now have submitted 8,000 animal heads for testing, and CWD has been found in 50, most of them in northeastern Colorado.