Lab Matters Fall 2017 - Page 34

member spotlight Nebraska Public Health Laboratory: A Horse of a Different Color By Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer The Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), says Director Peter Iwen, PhD, D(ABMM), is “unique compared to other public health labs.” Following reorganization in 1997, the laboratory moved to the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) campus in Omaha, under the directorship of Steven Hinrichs, MD, and it continues under the university’s administrative support today. While NPHL staff are UNMC employees, most funding is received through contractual agreements with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NE-DHHS). “In this arrangement,” said Iwen, “federal grant dollars flow through NE-DHHS via contracts that are executed to obtain fiscal support for the laboratory.” A second distinctive feature of the NPHL is its workload: the laboratory performs only human testing and other highly specialized epidemiological services. Although NPHL coordinates routine STD, viral, fungal, bacterial, TB and parasite testing, much of this work is contracted out as fee-for-service testing through laboratories at Nebraska Medicine (NM), the academically-affiliated hospital on the UNMC campus. Basically, said Iwen, “NPHL performs clinical testing or manages the shipment of specimens for testing that the hospital laboratory does not perform.” The advantages of this arrangement for NM and NPHL include decreased costs for routine testing, due to the increased economies of scale achieved by combining test volumes, plus the opportunity for NPHL scientists to do collaborative research and to teach at UNMC—major benefits in a “fiscally reserved” state whose cattle population outnumbers its 1.9 million residents. Facility NPHL is one of 95 laboratories in the Durham Research Center II tower, sited on the western edge of the UNMC campus, five miles west of the Missouri River, which separates Nebraska 32 LAB MATTERS Fall 2017 NPHL staff. Back row (l to r): Karen Stiles, Amanda Heeg, Tony Sambol, Peter Iwen, David Moran, Amanda Bartling, Emily McCutchen, and Kacie Flaherty. Front row (l to r): Vicki Herrera, Sarah Trotter, Roxanne Alter, and Bin Li. Photo: NPHL from Iowa. The 30,000-square-foot facility—which includes offices and ancillary spaces, a BSL-3 containment suite, a biological and chemical terrorism preparedness laboratory and multiple BSL-2 laboratories—takes up a portion of the top floor of the eight- story building, which opened in 2009. Specimens enter the building through a dedicated, ground-level receiving dock or via courier services coordinated with UNMC Regional Pathology Services. Director Iwen was reared 30 miles north of Fargo, ND, in a farming community of about 400 people. Although his father, grandfather and great grandfather were small-town “druggists,” he aspired to study horticulture at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo. His career goals changed, however, when, as a sophomore, he discovered the field of microbiology. Iwen subsequently majored in bacteriology, unfazed by having no clear idea “what to do after graduation.” Fortunately, a former NDSU advisor connected him with a colleague at UNMC, which led to Iwen and his wife to Omaha in 1978, where he began his UNMC career as a mycology researcher. Iwen soon discovered that as a UNMC employee, he could work full time to support his growing family and take graduate classes for free. This perk allowed him to complete a master’s degree and work in the hospital’s clinical microbiology laboratory on weekends to obtain ASCP microbiology certification. “The master’s degree and certification allowed me to move into a teaching position on campus,” Iwen said, which was followed by enrollment in the infectious diseases doctoral program. He was awarded his PhD at about the same time the events around 9/11 unfolded, and Iwen was soon tapped to serve as the university’s first campus biosafety officer and associate director of NPHL. When Hinrichs segued from NPHL director to chair of UNMC’s Department of Pathology and Microbiology in 2009, Iwen took over the empty post. He said, “Steve is my boss and continues to provide unwavering support for NPHL.” In addition to directing NPHL, Iwen is a microbiology professor. At the June annual meeting of the American PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org