Lab Matters Spring 2019 - Page 36

MEMBERSHIP The Laboratory District: Protecting the Nation’s Capital by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer Washington, DC—part local/state jurisdiction, part federal city, part tourist magnet—is “very different now than it was 20 years ago,” says Anthony Tran, DrPH, MPH, D(ABMM), head of the District of Columbia (DC) Public Health Laboratory. A new crop of businesses, new ballpark, changing neighborhoods and Michelin-starred restaurants give the area a “Manhattan-esque” vibe says Tran, a former Midtown Manhattanite himself. But just as the city has changed, so too has its public health laboratory, now housed in a cutting-edge, 6.5-year-old building near L’Enfant Plaza. Unlike most public health laboratories (PHLs), the DC laboratory is not part of its jurisdiction’s health agency. Instead, it is a division of the laboratory-focused DC Department of Forensic Sciences, which also includes the Forensic Science Laboratory and Crime Scene Sciences Division. In recent years, DC PHL has done everything from testing a raccoon that attacked a US park ranger (it was positive for rabies) to processing “near-record numbers” of unknown white powders to analyzing an unusual sheen on the Potomac River (caused by turbine oil). But its bread-and-butter work is disease surveillance, controlled substances testing and diagnostic and reference testing on behalf of the DC Department of Health (DC Health) and area clinics and hospitals. Facility In 2012, the laboratory moved into a brand-new glass, steel and concrete building across the street from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) DC office and just blocks away from the US Capitol, White House, FBI headquarters and dozens of other high-profile federal landmarks. The facility is a 15-minute walk from the District Wharf—a $2 billion revitalization of DC’s Southwest Waterfront—and from the acclaimed Arena Stage theater, where the laboratory hosts large-scale events. 34 LAB MATTERS Spring 2019 The staff of the DC Public Health Laboratory. Photo: DC PHL fellowship, based at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Hospitals. At the conclusion of his fellowship, he became a diplomate of the American Board of Medical Microbiology and took a position at the New York City PHL, where he oversaw laboratory operations and provided technical input into all scientific areas. In 2016, Tran returned to Washington to fill the newly vacated director’s post at DC PHL. Staff The 351,000-square-foot building boasts two BSL-3 suites and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum certification—the highest level possible. It sports such ecofriendly components as a green roof, waterless urinals and a system of external glass panels that auto-adjust to regulate the building’s sun exposure and internal temperature. A multi-tiered security system includes outdoor barricades (concealed in benches and planters), 24-hour camera surveillance, iris scans, electronic badges and physical door locks. The PHL occupies 33,539 square feet of the eight-story building, taking up the fourth floor and parts of the second floor. Director Tran was born in Washington, DC, and raised in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland. He earned a BS in medical technology from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and went to work for the National Institutes of Health testing specimens from patients enrolled in clinical research studies. After gaining an MPH from University of Maryland College Park, Tran became APHL’s HIV/STD/TB Program manager and also worked in the association’s global health areas for over seven years. Tran left APHL to continue his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a DrPH. Following graduation, Tran secured a coveted American Society for Microbiology Committee on Postdoctoral Education Programs The laboratory has 34.5 FTEs, including a scientific staff of 10 chemists and 17 medical technologists. It also supports a laboratory/epidemiology coordinator who splits her time between the PHL and the DC Health, and employs three contract chemists and two contract medical technologists. Revenue The laboratory’s $5.6 million annual budget comes from a combination of city funds (60.2%) and federal grants (39.8%). Testing Owing to its physical and organizational position, the laboratory has a unique and broad portfolio encompassing “all the PHL stuff an urban jurisdiction requires.” That means no dairy testing, but ability to check for contamination at public spray parks in summertime. The laboratory participates in the PulseNet foodborne disease surveillance network, Antimicrobial Resistance Laboratory Network, Laboratory Response Network (LRN) for biological pathogens (Tier 1 capabilities), LRN for chemical agents (Level 2), CaliciNet, OutbreakNet Enhanced, FluNet and ArboNet. Among other things, it has ability to confirm infection with Ebola virus and other emerging pathogens, to measure trace elements in environmental samples, to identify pathogens in foods and to analyze law enforcement seizures for novel street drugs. PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org