3rd Workshop for Heads of Laboratories
The third EPPO Workshop for Heads of plant pest diagnostic laboratories was organized at the Plant Pathology Research Centre, Rome at the kind invitation of Ms Barba, Head of the Centre. The meeting was attended by 25 heads or deputy heads of laboratories from 18 EPPO countries and from Georgia (currently in process of becoming the 51st EPPO member). Ms Barba welcomed the participants and presented the Italian plant pest diagnostic network and in particular the current programme of development of official protocols including their validation.
The programme of the Workshop consisted of three sessions on the following topics:
- Flexible Scope
- National reference laboratories
There was also an opportunity to discuss topics linked to the daily challenges faced by heads of laboratories such as:
- How to establish an internal quality programme and report the results
- Issues linked to the validation of different batches of reagents
- How to address the gaps in plant health skills
This session allowed participants to present and compare their experiences.
Participants - View more pictures >
Presentations from different laboratories on their approach to Flexible scope were made and all participants briefly stated the situation in their country. This showed that, when granted, flexible scope can be established at different levels (e.g. flexible scope with a recognized method; possibility within the flexible scope to adopt, adapt and/or develop new tests; flexibility on all diagnostic activities, see different presentations). Given this heterogeneity of approach the Workshop considered that regional harmonization is essential and noted the first attempt made by the Panel on Diagnostics and Quality Assurance with the discussion paper on flexible scope.
The Workshop discussed the answer received from the European Cooperation for Accreditation (EA) on this discussion paper. Participants suggested that in order to have a fruitful discussion and make progress on this issue, a joint meeting with representatives of plant health laboratories and accreditation bodies would be needed and urged the EPPO Secretariat to make contact with the EA to organize such a meeting. The Workshop participants agreed with EA that the diagnosis of new/emerging pests cannot be covered under accreditation and suggested that the discussion paper should be amended to reflect this.
Q-bank is a database on quarantine pests which originally started as the result of a Dutch project to strengthen the plant health infrastructure. Q-bank was launched in 2010 and further developed in the framework of the EU project QBOL. Since 2012, a European steering committee and a group of European curators is in charge of its maintenance (for more information see http://www.q-bank.eu/). The Dutch NPPO presented a request to the EPPO Council that this database could be hosted within EPPO in the future. The EPPO Executive Committee recommended that the Workshop of Heads of Laboratories should consider the potential benefits of a project to bring Q-bank into the framework of EPPO in the medium term and integrate the valuable data from Q-bank into EPPO systems over a longer timeframe. A questionnaire on the use of the database and their needs was sent to all laboratories involved in official diagnostics. The results of the survey were presented by the EPPO Secretariat who recalled that progress on the integration would still be dependent on identifying sources of funding for the project.
The Workshop emphasised the importance of certain data contained in Q-bank and the maintenance of this data. The use of this data is seen as key to the work of laboratories, in particular reference laboratories in the EPPO region.
The Workshop agreed with results of the survey that the focus for integration into the EPPO system is:
- DNA sequences for blasting
- Protocols for barcoding
- Where to find biological material
Other types of information currently present in Q-bank such as geographical distribution, host plants, keys, pictures… are readily available in EPPO datasets (e.g. the EPPO global database, EPPO diagnostic protocols).
The Workshop supported that a project for integration of Q-bank data is proposed to the EPPO Council in order to ensure long-term sustainability of access to the data. This should include possible alternative technical solutions for transfer, maintenance and tools to access the data and an estimation of costs.
In the short-term, safeguarding the data in a format that is accessible is essential. There is a risk that this is lost. This should be taken into account when establishing the project. A steering group should be established and several experts have already indicated willingness to participate. An initial project proposal should be prepared by April 2016.
National reference laboratories
Presentations from different National Reference Laboratory on their different roles were given.
The Workshop noted the plans from EPPO to produce guidelines for National Reference Laboratories and suggested that, given the current developments in this area, the development could be postponed to 2018.
The Workshop noted that several laboratories organize interlaboratory comparisons at national level. It recommended that laboratories should be encouraged to open these to other EPPO laboratories whenever possible. Priority should be given to laboratories performing official diagnostic activities and especially those under accreditation.
The EPPO Secretariat noted that several Heads of laboratories made reference to validation activities in their laboratories. The EPPO Secretariat urged Heads of laboratories to encourage their teams to enter validation data in the EPPO database on diagnostic expertise and was available to provide support if necessary.
Other recommendations from the Workshop
A Workshop on Accreditation, focussing on issues such as the practical organization of Proficiency Testing, evaluation and reporting of staff competence, should be organized. It was also suggested that it could start with an introductory day for those with less experience of accreditation. This Workshop could also include a half-day session for discussions where experts exchange information with colleagues on different challenges there are currently facing. If possible, this should be incorporated in the Work-programme for 2017.
The issue of validation of reagents was considered an important topic for further discussion with specific concern for national reference laboratories that supervise a network of authorized laboratories.
Next meeting of Workshop for Heads of plant pest diagnostic laboratories: it was agreed that the 18-month frequency for this meetings had been valuable to date. However, the next meetings should be organized on a needs basis. It was recommended that the EPPO Secretariat should consult the Heads of laboratories in one year time to plan the next meeting which should tentatively be included in the 2017 calendar.