Realizing a Technological Vision in Alameda County , California
by Nancy Maddox , MPH , writer
Alameda County , CA , like many communities in The Golden State , has been inhabited by an evolving mix of peoples through the centuries . First came the Ohlone Native Americans , who hunted on the lands surrounding modern-day San Francisco Bay . They were followed , in turn , by Spanish colonists , Mexican ranchers and a motley mix of American and Asian settlers . In 1853 , Alameda County was officially established , carved from portions of adjacent Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties .
From the beginning , the county has had a symbiotic relationship with its neighbor on the other side of San Francisco Bay . In the late 18th and early 19th centuries , Alameda County was a ferry and trolley car suburb of “ Fog City .” Since 1933 , after the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge linked the two jurisdictions , commuters can travel back and forth entirely by car or bus ( or by underwater tube since 1967 ). Today , said Mark Pandori , PhD , HCLD ( ABB ), director of the Alameda County Public Health Laboratory , the county has its own , multi-faceted identity , although it remains linked to San Francisco . Sky high housing prices , for example , are driving many San Franciscans into East Bay , as the urban area immediately east of San Francisco Bay is known . Rents in Oakland — Alameda County ’ s county seat and the largest East Bay city — are rising faster than anywhere else in the country . Yet even with the rising cost of living , Alameda County ’ s population is “ perhaps more diverse than any other Bay Area county ,” said Pandori , with large African-American , Asian , Latino and LGBTQ communities . The presence of the University of California ( UC ) at Berkeley , the prestigious flagship campus of the UC system , adds to the mix .
What ’ s interesting is beyond the heavily urbanized zone , we have a huge rural zone east of the Oakland Hills .
Pandori said this diverse and peripatetic population of about 1.5 million makes TB , HIV and sexually transmitted disease ( STD ) testing priorities for the public health laboratory . “ But what ’ s interesting ,” he said , “ is that beyond the heavily urbanized zone , we have a huge rural zone east of the Oakland Hills . There ’ s quite a lot of rabies out there — recently , all in bats — and some Lymecontaining ticks in the southern end of the county .” The laboratory tests for the rabies and speciates the ticks . The rural zone — easily over half of Alameda County ’ s 821-square-mile area — is also home to a budding wine industry and , importantly , a number of aquifers , wells , lakes and streams . Testing these local waters , plus swimming pool water , supplies a major portion of the laboratory ’ s business .
When Pandori assumed the directorship of the county ’ s public health laboratory , he came with a “ technological vision ” that skewed toward advanced molecular testing . Almost three years later , much of that vision has been realized , with a heavy laboratory emphasis on PCR testing and whole genome sequencing ( WGS ).
The Alameda County Public Health Laboratory occupies one of the most distinctive laboratory facilities in the country — a three-story concrete , steel and glass edifice outfitted with an exoskeleton of latticework festooned with “ gigantic shock absorbers ,” which encircle the building . The unusual structure is the most visible sign of the subterranean Hayward Fault line that lies a mere 500 yards from the laboratory .
Alameda County Public Health Laboratory
The building was erected in 2014 in a “ pretty wooded glade ” at the base of the Oakland Hills , just “ a stone ’ s throw away ” from the acclaimed Oakland Zoo and even nearer to Interstate 580 , a major freeway traversing northern California . The county coroner takes up the first floor ; the public health laboratory , the second floor ; and the country crime lab , the third floor . Because of the crime lab , said Pandori , the security is “ absolutely through the roof ,” requiring entry through four separate cardkey-locked doors just to reach the public health laboratory . Once inside , however , visitors find the 13,000-square-foot facility has all the bells and whistles a modern public health laboratory demands , including one BSL-3 suite ( currently certified as 2 +). The laboratory , said Pandori , is “ gorgeous .”
Pandori was born in Philadelphia , but raised mostly in San Jose , CA . He earned a BS in genetics from UC – Berkeley , and then decamped to Boston University , where he developed HIV assays for a year . After that stint , Pandori returned to the West Coast , earning a PhD in biomedical sciences from UC-San Diego under the tutelage of John Guatelli , MD , and Douglas Richman , MD , two stars of the HIV research community . A post-doctoral fellowship with Harvard Medical School took him back to the East Coast , where he conducted viral engineering for gene therapy at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center , a teaching hospital for the medical school . Pandori then worked as a post-doc and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School for six years , before another cross-country trip to California , where , in 2005 , he became chief microbiologist for the San Francisco Department of Public Health , working under the direction of Sally Liska , DrPH . In 2009 , he gained a joint position as associate clinical professor of laboratory medicine at UC-San Francisco . And in 2010 , after Liska ’ s retirement , he assumed the position of laboratory director . The twin lures of a brand new laboratory and the opportunity to work with an esteemed colleague , Erica Pan , MD , drew him to his current post in the Alameda County Department of Public Health Laboratory in mid-2014 .
In addition to Pandori , the laboratory employs 10 people , including five full time microbiologists ( one at the PhD level ), a laboratory supervisor ( who is also a DVM ), two laboratory technicians and two administrators . Altogether , seven of the staff members are state-certified public health microbiologists . There is currently one open microbiology position .
The laboratory ’ s revenue comes from a mix of county general funds , grants and billed laboratory tests .
LAB MATTERS Spring 2017
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