CORVALLIS, Ore. – Dr. Kurt Williams, a veterinary pathologist at Michigan State University, has been named director of the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the lab and its testing capabilities.
The OVDL is a state and federally funded facility whose primary purpose is to test for and diagnose animal diseases in agricultural animals and wildlife. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the OVDL started assisting with the testing of human samples as well, when Oregon’s testing capacity was severely limited.
That work continues at the lab today and Williams, who is affiliated with the veterinary diagnostic lab at Michigan State, looks forward to being involved with ongoing COVID-19 testing and to helping prepare Oregon for any future disease outbreaks.
“If you look at the arc of human history, this is not unprecedented,” he said. “Pandemics have swept through humans repeatedly, most of them coming directly from our relationships with animals. We need to be ready.”
Williams will start at the OVDL on March 1.
“He comes from a program (Michigan State) with a very large and well-funded veterinary diagnostic laboratory and we look forward to using his expertise and experience to further our goals of expanding our OVDL facilities and services,” said Dr. Susan Tornquist, dean of OSU’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, where the OVDL is housed.
Williams completed his veterinary degree at Michigan State University in 1990, followed by his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis in 2001. He is currently completing a master’s degree in journalism at Michigan State’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.
He was drawn to the OVDL position because it allows him to continue his work in diagnostic service as a pathologist, along with conducting research and teaching. He anticipates also gaining new opportunities to engage in science communication, he said.
Williams will prioritize effective science communication with the public, sharing findings and stories that demonstrate the importance of veterinary diagnostic laboratories in maintaining public health and safety for animals, people and the environment.
One of his first priorities as director will be to secure funding for an updated facility for the laboratory, with increased testing capabilities for high-level biohazards so that Oregon has the infrastructure and personnel to respond to major disease outbreaks.
“If we’re ready for the next pandemic, that means we’re also ready for a potentially less catastrophic but still regionally important outbreak in Oregon’s agriculture or natural environment,” Williams said. “We need to be ready to rumble if something hits the ground in Oregon that could potentially ripple out to impact Washington or California or the rest of the nation.”