A look inside CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory
The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) is a national facility crucial in protecting Australia's livestock industry from exotic animal disease threats.
27 July 2007 | Updated 30 May 2012
[Voice Over (VO)] CSIRO Livestock Industries’ Australian Animal Health Laboratory is a national centre for animal health research.
Our staff conduct research to create new vaccines, diagnostic tests and treatments to protect animals from disease.
Major diseases of livestock, aquaculture animals, and wildlife, are studied, often in collaboration with state agriculture departments and other research organisations.
The laboratory, known as AAHL, plays a major role in diagnostic testing.
[Mike Bond, Director of Programs, Animal Health Australia] AAHL plays a really important role to keep Australia free from disease, that’s emergency animal diseases that we don’t have in Australia. It enables us to diagnose suspect cases very quickly and it provides accurate, rapid diagnosis which enables us to respond quickly. And that’s just of such crucial importance in the containing the spread of an exotic disease.
[VO] In the last twenty years AAHL has diagnosed outbreaks of Newcastle disease and avian influenza in poultry.
Perhaps more importantly, AAHL has helped to protect billions of dollars in trade, by providing evidence that Australia is free from animal diseases such as scrapie, foot and mouth disease, and classical swine fever.
And AAHL has also played a vital role in identifying newly emerging disease threats, such as Australian Bat Lyssavirus, a relative of the dreaded rabies, and Hendra virus, which can kill people and horses.
[Mike Bond] Well it’s interesting to remember that 75 per cent of emerging diseases of humans have originated in animals. And so the work that is done at AAHL is directly relevant to human health and so it has a broader benefit to the Australian community.
[VO] Scientists are also helping to improve the sustainability of Australian livestock farming through better understanding of diseases.
We are developing the next generation of vaccines and treatments that in the future will protect the health of production animals. These new methods focus on boosting and guiding the animal’s own immune system to fight disease.
Another important aspect of our work involves providing advice on animal diseases and biocontainment to other government agencies, and training veterinarians in recognising foreign animal diseases.
Opened in 1985 at a cost of over $150 million dollars, AAHL was specially designed to allow animal disease research to be safely carried out.
We have laboratories for the study of animal diseases common to Australia, and secure laboratories for research and diagnosis of overseas animal diseases.
[Bob Biddle, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Federal Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry] AAHL is the only BSL4 laboratory which means its equipped to provide a high level of confidence in its ability to contain diseases, foreign animal diseases, within its walls when its working on those agents.
[VO] The secure area is held at lower air pressure than the outside world, and this ensures that infectious agents are kept inside the laboratory.
Although most of these agents are harmless to humans they must be contained within the building to protect our animal population.
When a disease-agent is unknown, and potentially harmful to humans, scientists wear full body suits, with their own air supply.
When leaving the secure area, staff must remove and leave behind their laboratory clothes, and shower out through an airlock as part of a safety procedure. Once on the outside, staff must not have contact with livestock animals for seven days.
Everything within the secure box is treated before it leaves. The air is filtered, all sewage is heat-treated and solid waste is incinerated.
Equipment leaving the secure area is sterilised by autoclave or gas decontamination. Information is transmitted from the secure area to the outside by fax or computer network.
AAHL plays a key role in providing vital information and tools for the diagnosis and control of animal diseases.
As a national facility, the laboratory is preparing Australia to cope with an animal disease outbreak, and helping to improve the sustainability of Australia’s livestock industries through developing disease treatments and vaccines.
[Mike Bond] It’s a facility we can be proud of.