Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Has there ever been a more vivid example of the intersection between zoonotic infectious disease, public health, economic well-being and public policy than the predicament in which we find ourselves right now? As I write this, the world is dealing with a possible global pandemic of what has been referred to by international media as "Swine Flu." Over the past few years, bound as they are to package news content in ways that make for good headlines and broadcast sound-bites, the media has similarly ordained Avian Influenza H5N1 as "Bird Flu." The problem with these "catchy" turns of phrase is that they can be inaccurate-- scientists have demonstrated that the virus causing this outbreak of influenza contains genetic components of human, avian, and swine viruses. All available evidence suggests that the virus is being passed through human-to-human transmission. Victims have not been associated with pigs, nor can the virus be transmitted to people by ingesting pork.
Yet several countries have panicked and banned imports of U.S. pork products, disrupting international trade and compounding the economic consequences that are inevitably associated with any global influenza pandemic. Egypt has ordered the depopulation of its 300,000 animal swine herd. To counter this and attempt to stabilize agricultural markets in the midst of an already serious emergency, President Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are encouraging everyone to stop referring to this virus as "Swine Flu" and begin referring to it as "Influenza A (H1N1) virus."
Whatever we end up calling this disturbing new public health threat, we know two things. First, it appears as though a genetically unique strain of influenza has emerged and it is likely we are on the path toward a worldwide pandemic that could possibly affect hundreds of millions of people. We also know the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the World Health Organization and others have been preparing for something like this for several years. Existing anti-viral drugs ñ which appear to work against this virus ñ have been produced and stockpiled. Public health crisis management plans have been created and drilled. Basic infection control strategies such as hand washing and social distancing will help contain the velocity of the contagion. Research is underway in an effort to develop a vaccine for humans. We are much better prepared to deal with this now than we were five years ago.
The second thing that seems clear is this is a clarion call for federal investment in zoonotic infectious disease research. We know that most of the recently emerging disease threats have origins in animals. For years, many of us in the scientific community have been calling upon the federal government to invest more resources in the study of animal disease, knowing that if we can develop containment measures in the animal population, we stand a better chance of protecting the human populations these infectious agents will invariably affect. Preventing disease in the animal population is the best way of avoiding its spread to humans. But as is pointed out in the April 24, 2009 edition of Science, only about $32 million of USDA's $88 billion 2007 budget was allocated for research into farm animal diseases. That amounts to about one-half of one percent.
Let's hope for two things. First, that interactions of biological organisms functioning in a natural environment do not occur in a way that makes this situation as bad as it can be; and if they do, that the preparedness actions taken over the past few years will be effective in preventing or limiting worst possible scenarios. Second, that government leaders and policy-makers will take a lesson from this and realize that focusing more resources on animal disease control prior to the making or arrival of a crisis will ultimately lead to better strategies for controlling human disease, or even better, avoid it from occurring altogether.
Gerhardt G. Schurig
In This Issue...
Meng Underscores Need for Research on Animal Pathogens as Flu Scare Unfolds
VMRCVM's 2009 Commencement Scheduled May 16
Veterinary Teaching Hospital to Launch Small Animal Outpatient Imaging Service
Second Annual Bob Duncan Memorial 5K a Success
Virginia Law Enforcement K-9 Memorial to be Dedicated
College Names Associate Department Heads
Swecker Finds His Stride in Veterinary Academia
New 16-slice Computed Tomography (CT) Scanner in Veterinary Teaching Hospital
Klein Working with Virginia Tech, Wake Forest Colleagues on Migrant Farm Worker Health Issues
Medical Records Staff Helps Safeguard Patient Care
Kaur, Singh, Among Team Members Honored with University's XCaliber Award
Dignitaries Gather for EMC Barn Dedication
Equine Medical Center Veterinarian Performs Surgery on a Dama Gazelle at the National Zoo
The rapidly developing Influenza A (H1N1) virus scare has activated a global response from the public health community and alarmed hundreds of millions of people, but there are a number of reasons why people should remain realistic and calm concerning the scope of the problem, according to Dr. X. J. Meng, a virologist who is on faculty in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.
For one thing, according to Meng, who is considered one of the world's leading experts on swine viruses, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Health Organization in Geneva have spent the past several years creating management protocols designed to deal with a global pandemic that might be caused by Avian Influenza H5N1, or "Bird Flu." Pharmaceuticals have been stockpiled, and outbreak management and risk communication plans have been developed to minimize transmission patterns and contain the scope of a potential outbreak.
"Mortality from flu is generally not considered very high considering the high number of people who are being infected every year," said Meng, although he does believe that it could spread quickly since it appears to be a novel virus and human-to-human transmission is occurring. "But it does look like one of those bugs that has the potential of leading to a pandemic."
Meng suggested that possible reasons for the increased mortality rate associated with the Mexican cases as opposed to the American cases could be attributed to differences in the sophistication of the two healthcare systems, it could be the result of "other co-infecting or underlying diseases" that remain unclear at this time or it could be due to the very small number of cases that have been currently diagnosed in the United States.
"We have much to learn about this specific virus," said Meng, an M.D. and Ph.D virologist who frequently works with the National Institutes of Health and other organizations on infectious disease research and containment programs. "But then again, we have much to learn about many other zoonotic disease viruses."
From SARS to Bird Flu, most of the emerging diseases affecting people today come from pathogens most often associated with animals, according to Meng, who is among a growing legion of scientists trying to convince the federal government to invest more money in studying animal pathogens as part of an overall effort to protect humans from disease. According to a recent article published in Science, Meng said, only $32 million of the USDA's $88 billion budget in 2007 was allocated for farm animal disease research.
"If we can understand more about these viruses, their transmission behavior, and the mechanism of cross-species infection among animal and human populations, then we can better prepare ourselves for protecting human populations," said Meng, who recently participated in a National Institutes of Health sponsored expert workshop entitled "Cross Species Infection Workshop" in Washington D.C. that summarized the dangers and called for the need to study the animal viruses in animals such as pigs before they jump species and infect humans.
"It will likely be several days before the virus is fully characterized in the laboratory," he said. "Once that work is finished, we'll know a lot more about how to proceed with the management of this situation."
Meng said that one of the major factors that might minimize the scope of the outbreak and the spread of the virus could be related to the timing of this outbreak. Influenza viruses are "envelope viruses" that can be more efficiently transmitted in cold winter conditions that facilitate the survival of the virus, Meng said, and they typically do not do well in hot summer temperatures. "That is something that may limit the spread of this new virus," he said.
The strain of Influenza A (H1N1) virus responsible for the emerging epidemic does not normally infect people and there are only a few cases of infections in humans each year in the United States, according to Meng. Because pigs have receptors for human, avian and pig viruses, they serve as a "mixing vessel" for new viruses, he said. This particular strain is believed to include components from pig, bird and human viruses that have been combined through a process known a s genetic reassortment. Humans are likely immunologically naÔve to the new virus that has been created, which is why the danger for a potential global pandemic does exist.
Meng earned a medical doctorate from Binzhou Medical College in Binzhou, Shandong, People's Republic of China; a master of science in microbiology and immunology from the Virus Research Institute, Wuhan University College of Medicine, Wuhan, Hubei, Peoples Republic of China; and a Ph.D. in immunobiology from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Preventive Medicine at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ames, Iowa.
Prior to joining the college in 1999, Meng served as senior staff fellow of the Molecular Hepatitis Section of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
The VMRCVM will graduate 86 new veterinarians during its 26th commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 16 in Virginia Tech's Squires Student Center.
In addition to the 86 DVM degrees, the college will award seven Ph.D. and M.S. degrees and Certificates of Residency during the ceremony.
Featuring dignitaries from both Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland, the colorful pageant will include the presentation of diplomas jointly awarded by Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland at College Park, the administration of the "Veterinarian's Oath," the "Hooding Ceremony," and numerous awards and honors.
In keeping with tradition, the graduating class has invited a favorite faculty member to address them during the ceremony. Dr. David Panciera, professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, has been selected.
Dr. Tom Massie, president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, will administer the "Veterinarian's Oath" and Dr. John Paul "Jack" O'Mara, president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, will welcome the new graduates into the profession on behalf of the organized veterinary medical community.
Dr. Lindsay Turnbull, the valedictorian of the class of 2009, will be awarded the Richard B. Talbot Award, and Dr. Tanya LeRoith, will be honored as the Outstanding Young Alumna.
On Friday, May 15, the college will hold its annual Graduation Awards Luncheon. Scores of students and faculty members will be honored for their academic performance and teaching excellence during the ceremony.
Beginning in June 2009, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Veterinary Teaching Hospital will introduce a new outpatient advanced imaging service for surrounding small animal veterinarian practices.
The new service will provide weekly outpatient appointments for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans, and ultrasounds. The purpose is to provide a mechanism whereby a veterinarian in private practice could order advanced imaging procedures without giving up the primary care responsibility for the patient. This service will allow access to advanced imaging modalities that might not otherwise be available to general practitioners.
"The Veterinary Teaching Hospital routinely uses these advanced imaging modalities for diagnosis and to monitor treatment response. This new service will open access to these imaging procedures to our colleagues in private practice," said Dr. Gregory Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS) and a veterinary radiologist, who has been spearheading the project along with Veterinary Teaching Hospital Director Dr. Bill Pierson. "We are happy to extend the scope of our radiology center's services."
The program will work much like those in the human-health world. If a veterinarian suspects his or her patient is in need of testing more advanced than what is available in the office, they can make an appointment for the patient to be seen by the outpatient service at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The test will be performed in hospital's Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Radiology Center where a veterinary radiologist will interpret the image. The images will then be placed on a CD to be given to the owner and, within 48 hours, another copy of the images along with a report will be sent to the referring veterinarian who will then make plans for the patient's care.
While the animal will need to arrive early on the day of the imaging for pre-procedural testing and may need time afterwards to recover from the sedative or anesthesia, depending on the which imaging modality is used, overnight hospitalization will not be required.
According to Daniel, the motivation behind the service is two-fold. First, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital is constantly striving to be of assistance to local veterinarians and to provide access to state-of-the-art technology and care. Second, increasing the imaging caseload will assist the hospital in funding the diagnostic equipment used.
"This new service is a win-win for both the hospital and local clinicians," said Daniel. "The clinicians will have access to more sophisticated diagnostic equipment and the hospital will have additional revenue to help pay for our technology. We are very pleased to begin this service."
Appointment details and schedule forms will be available on the VMRCVM website later this month.
The second annual "Bob Duncan Memorial 5K" was held Saturday, April 4. All proceeds benefited the Bob Duncan Memorial Diagnostic Veterinary Pathology Scholarship. Duncan, a widely respected and much beloved veterinary pathologist on faculty, died suddenly on May 3, 2007.
"The race was a huge success," wrote Dr. Ellen Binder, an anatomic pathology resident in the college who helped to organize the race, in letter to runners and sponsors thanking them for their participation.
Over $2,000 was raised by 75 registered runners, 63 finishers, and 31 people signing up on race day, noted Binder in the letter.
Duncan joined the faculty of the VMRCVM at Virginia Tech in 1996, where he spent 11 years teaching veterinary pathology in the DVM professional program, clinical residency, and graduate degree programs in the biomedical and veterinary sciences.
The Bob Duncan Memorial Diagnostic Pathology Award has been established in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in order to honor Duncan's life and contributions. The award is presented to a fourth year veterinary student with a commitment and zeal for diagnostic veterinary pathology.
Donations to the memorial scholarship fund should be made out to "VA Tech Foundation, Inc." ("Bob Duncan Memorial" should be included on the check memo line) and forwarded to Dr. Frank Pearsall, director of development in the VMRCVM. For more information, call 231-4259.
The Virginia Law Enforcement K-9 Memorial will be dedicated on the grounds of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine on Friday, October 16 at 1 p.m.
The memorial consists of a life-size bronze German Shepherd police dog sculpted by Blacksburg artist Larry Bechtel, creator of the noted "Officer Down" statue installed in front of the Roanoke City Police Department, the Addison Caldwell statue at Virginia Tech and several other major installations.
Located adjacent to the main entrance of the college's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, it will be installed upon a granite base that will denote the names of Virginia law enforcement dogs who lost their lives in the line of duty.
An estimated 100 K-9 officers and their dogs from departments located in cities and counties across the state, as well as hundreds of others, are expected to attend the event.
The memorial seeks to honor the lives of law enforcement dogs killed in the line of duty, according to John Hoover, a Franklin County Sheriff's Department K-9 officer, certified North American Police Work Dog Association "Master Trainer" and official with the Virginia Police Work Dog Association.
"This is something we've dreamed about for a long time," said Hoover, who has been working with a committee of college officials, members of the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA), and other officers and officials for about five years on the project. "These dogs are heroes, and what they do should be recognized by everyone they help protect."
A five-year private fund-raising campaign that sought to raise the money to build the memorial was capped off last spring when an anonymous donor stepped forward with a $45,000 gift.
"Our college is honored to partner with the law enforcement community on this project," said VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig. "We're often so involved with animals as pets that we forget about the very critical role that working and service animals play in society every day. Veterinarians have an important responsibility to keep these animals healthy and vital."
Details about the ceremony are still being finalized, but speakers are expected to include Schurig, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, a special guest speaker from the national law enforcement community and others.
The two clinical departments in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine have recently announced additions to their administrative rosters. Both the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences now have associate department heads.
Dr. Terry Swecker, an associate professor of production management medicine and clinical nutrition, has been named to the new position in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.
"I am pleased to welcome Dr. Swecker to this new and important position and look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to move our department and college forward," said Dr. David Hodgson, head of the department "As there is no salary or administrative loading associated with these appointments, I am indeed most appreciative he has accepted this increased administrative role."
Dr. Karen Inzana, a professor of neurology, has been appointed to the same position in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.
"Dr. Inzana's 20 years experience and her proven leadership within the VMRCVM will be of great benefit to the small animal faculty and to the college," said Dr. Gregory Daniel, head of the department. "I am very confident in her abilities to effectively do the job and I am happy to have her assistance."
The duties of this position are primarily to assist the head of the department in the discharge of his or her responsibilities and to provide continuity of leadership within the department and college, according to Hodgson. In addition, the associate department head may exercise all powers and has all responsibilities of the head of the department during the absence of the department head for a period of five days or more, or as otherwise directed.
Swecker received his D.V.M. in 1984 and his Ph.D. in 1990 from the VMRCVM. Prior to joining the college faculty in 1990, Swecker was an associate veterinarian in Troutville, Va. He is board certified as a diplomate by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Inzana received her DVM in 1980 from The University of Tennessee and her master's degree in 1985 and her Ph.D. in 1988 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Inzana has been with the college since 1989. She is board certified as a diplomate in the College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
Probably the only thing that trumps Dr. Terry Swecker's boundless enthusiasm for all things "Hokie Nation" is his absolute dedication to his profession.
Swecker, associate department head in the VMRCVM's Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS), is one of the college's "home-grown" success stories.
After graduating as a member of the college's charter class in 1984 and working in private practice for a while, he returned to Blacksburg and earned one of the first Ph.D. degrees ever awarded by the college. From there, he accepted a tenure-track position focused on clinical nutrition and began his career in veterinary academia.
While he admits to being frustrated by the chronic funding issues that beset higher education, he says it is a career that has provided him with the intrinsic rewards of helping animals, teaching students, discovering new approaches, and engaging with folks from throughout the agricultural community.
In addition to his involvement with the college's leadership team and his duties as a professor, he is actively engaged with the many issues facing veterinary medicine and the organized veterinary medical community.
Take, for example, the well-documented, shortage of veterinarians in rural America. Swecker takes a pragmatic, "free-market" approach to dealing with the problems. He's not sure that getting veterinarians (and physicians for that matter) to "parachute in" and serve out a debt-repayment tenure before they migrate to greener fields is the answer.
Instead, he believes in identifying bright and talented youth at the middle school and high school level and cultivating them throughout a long-term training and interest program will likely produce a higher yield.
He believes localities, possibly crafting economic development incentive packages in collaboration with state, federal, and even private sector partners, need to serve as the primary drivers in recruiting veterinarians, just as they should with doctors and dentists.
"It's getting attention at the federal level," said Swecker, a native of Stuart's Draft, Va., "but I think the true solution is going to be interested citizens at the local level making those commitments."
He thinks some of the strategies he has discussed with colleagues through his association with the national Academy of Rural Veterinarians make a great deal of sense. Those involve providing a base of economic, cultural, and social support that will recruit and attract these professionals to commit to a rural area on a long-term basis.
"When you're in a rural community you are more than the veterinarian," notes Swecker. "You're going to be on the school board. You are going to be on the bank board. You are the trusted public health professional in the community."
"It's not just pulling calves or treating sick animals," he continued. "It's really your contributions as a health professional in the community. And we need to somehow get the localities to help us promote that option."
Swecker's perspective on national issues facing the profession has been honed through his work on the American Veterinary Medical Association's Council on Education, which sets the international standards of veterinary education through its role as accrediting agent for the United States' colleges of veterinary medicine and others.
Swecker says he was "recruited" to serve on that body by Dr. H. Fred Trout, one of the VMRCVM's founding faculty members, but his role is the result of a national election. He's been inspired by the "overwhelming passion" for training the next generation of veterinarians that he has seen in both his colleagues on the council as well as within the many academic leaders he has worked with throughout veterinary academia.
He says he's pleased to see organizations like the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) taking the proactive role they are in developing a strategic plan for veterinary medical education in the future, but he has concerns about structural issues that may constrain effective change.
"I think one of the largest challenges for the profession is we're trying to develop a national strategy yet we fund each one of these veterinary schools on a state-by-state basis," he said.
Swecker also serves on the board of directors of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, and has been active with a number of other organizations such as the Virginia Academy of Food Animal Practice. In this age of animal activism, he says, the veterinary profession must serve as a reasoned and articulate voice or the development of sound public policy regarding animals in society could be jeopardized.
Settled in at the mid-point of his career and driven by rewards perhaps unique to those who serve as a professor in a college of veterinary medicine, Swecker finds himself in a good place.
"Tom Massie, one of my former mentees, is now the president of the VVMA," he said. "And I couldn't be prouder of his accomplishments and his leadership and what he's doing."
A new Toshiba Aquilion 16-slice Computed Tomography (CT) scanner that will significantly improve imaging quality and speed has been installed in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Radiology Center.
CT scans provide high-resolution cross-sectional anatomical images. Patients are placed on a table that moves through a circular opening in the scanner, called the gantry, while an x-ray tube emits rays as it spins 360 degrees. A detector array measures the energy of x-rays that pass through the anatomic area of interest and cross-sectional images are generated from this data.
With the new scanner, which is approximately five times faster than its predecessor, the average scanning time is so rapid patients can be examined under sedation rather than general anesthesia. Moving structures such as the lungs, heart and blood vessels can also be more accurately assessed.
"We can scan the entire chest of a dog in approximately 20 seconds with very thin slices and very high detail," explains Dr. Jeri Jones, an associate professor and radiologist in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS).
The scanner is linked to an image analysis workstation, automatic contrast injector, laser imager and an off-site storage server. The image analysis workstation is used to create two and three dimensional images which significantly help the radiologists with their diagnosis and clinicians with their treatment plans. The automatic contrast injector enables the patients to be injected with a contrasting material to allow their blood vessels and arteries to be imaged.
The most common anatomic regions currently imaged with the hospital's CT scanner are the spine and head. However, the scanner is also used for imaging the musculoskeletal system, abdomen, and chest. Faculty members are in the process of developing a new protocol which will enable them to image abnormalities of the heart.
"We now have the ability to look inside our patients with a non-invasive technique that is very fast, so we don't always have to put them under anesthesia." said Jones. "This new technology is especially helpful for determining the extent of disease involvement and planning treatments in complex anatomic regions. The ability to create three-dimensional displays also makes the CT findings more understandable for our clients so they can make more informed decisions."
Migrant farm workers play a critical role in the nation's agricultural economy, particularly in the southeast.
Yet these workers face a cornucopia of hazards, ranging from chemical toxins to dangerous farm equipment, as they toil in the fields, according to Dr. Brad Klein, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
Klein is one of several faculty participating in an emerging, collaborative effort mounted by a group of researchers in the social, medical, engineering, and biological sciences at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University.
"The goal of our group is to take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the sociological, ergonomic, and biological foundations of the physical and mental health challenges faced by these agricultural workers," said Klein, a neuroscientist who has studied how environmental toxins such as agricultural pesticides affect the brain and nervous system.
Language and cross-cultural issues experienced by many Latino migrant farm workers can include isolation from family, hesitation to seek traditional healthcare avenues, limited access to affordable healthcare, and ability to interpret health and safety protocols, according to Klein.
Chronic exposure to fertilizers and pesticides represent another major threat to health and well-being on the farm, he said. Organophosphates and pyrethroids, as well as exposure to metals such as zinc, copper and others can contribute to neurological dysfunction.
Organic threats are also present. For example, workers can develop green tobacco sickness, a disorder that causes weakness, dizziness, abdominal cramping, nausea, respiration and circulatory problems from handling wet tobacco when toxic amounts of nicotine are absorbed through their skin, he said.
The group, led by Tom Arcury, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and director of the Center for Worker Health at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, plans to present a periodic series of informational events in the future. They have applied for a grant to hold a major conference in Winston-Salem, N.C. next year, and ultimately, they would like to establish a permanent Migrant Health Worker Center for the southeastern United States that is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), according to Klein.
Other Virginia Tech faculty members participating in the program include Maury Nussbaum, Ph.D., professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (DISE); Michael Agnew, Ph.D., assistant professor, DISE; and Jeffrey Bloomquist, Ph.D., professor, Department of Entomology. Other Wake Forest University faculty members participating in the program include Sara Quandt, Ph.D., Joe Grzywacz, Ph.D., and Tim Howard.
Anyone who has ever sought the care of a physician knows the importance of medical records. These documents serve as roadmaps to your health. They tell your doctors where you have been and help them decide the next direction to take. The same is true in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians rely on these records to help them make important decisions for their patientsópatients that cannot speak for themselves. In the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Cheryl Clark and a staff of five others are responsible for overseeing and maintaining these important documents.
"A complete and accurate medical record provides a necessary continuum of information for good patient care," explains Clark. In any given day, she and her staff will assemble, review, and distribute to clinicians between 50 and 80 records. In total, the hospital has generated over 101,000 records since it opened its doors 29 years ago. These confidential records are housed both in the hospital and in a secure, on-campus Virginia Tech facility.
Keeping all these files organized and categorized is no easy task. Clark and her staff must review every chart as it comes in to make sure they are complete, have all the correct diagnostic and procedure codes, and have been signed by the proper clinician. They are then responsible for entering all the information into the hospital's database. In addition, they also support clinical research studies currently underway in the college through information management.
"Managing the large volume of records our hospital generates requires a great deal of attention to detail and an understanding of the need of medical records to meet the high standards of legal sufficiency," said Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
While every day is usually filled with a flurry of activity, Clark notes it also filled with rewards. "I really enjoy interacting with the faculty, staff, and students with the common purpose of providing animal health care," she said. "Besides, where else can you go to work and get doggie kisses?"
A team of three faculty members, including two from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and two graduate students at Virginia Tech received the university's 2009 XCaliber Award for excellence as a team on a large-scale project.
Dr. Taranjit Kaur, an assistant professor, and Dr. Jatinder Singh, an adjunct research assistant professor, both in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, were recognized for their innovative approaches to teaching using technologies as they designed, developed and deployed the P.L.U.G. (Portable Laboratory on Uncommon Grounds), a prototype laboratory that facilitates bioinformatics research in isolated settings around the world.
Other members of the team included Matthew Lutz, assistant professor of interior design, Nathan King, a graduate student in industrial design, and David Bradley Clark II, a graduate student in architecture, all in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.
Established in 1996 by Office of the Provost, the XCaliber Award (shorthand for exceptional, high caliber work) is presented annually by the Virginia Tech Center for Innovation in Learning to recognize individual faculty members or teams of faculty and staff who integrate technology in teaching and learning. The award celebrates innovative, student-centered approaches to learning activities. Awardees receive a cash award and are called upon to demonstrate their work.
The selection committee noted that authentic learning contexts are a hallmark of student-centered teaching, and this project serves as a perfect example.
During the design phase, students within the School of Architecture and Design collaboratively devised and fabricated the P.L.U.G. prototype through the use of computer-aided manufacturing based upon real-life specifications provided by faculty and students in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. This design incorporates highly technical data collection and transmission equipment that is now being deployed in the field by faculty and students performing chimpanzee research in remote areas of Tanzania.
More than 150 dignitaries and guests turned out for the dedication ceremony of the Paul R. Fout Barn on the campus of Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center.
Fout, a renowned horse breeder and trainer who passed away in 2005, left a legacy of enduring contributions to the horse industry and many special friendships.
Peggy Steinman, a longtime friend of Fout's and co-chair of the Equine Medical Center Council, was the impetus behind the construction of the barn.
"Mr. Fout was a giant in the local horse community and a strong advocate for the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center," Steinman said. "His support and guidance in the equine industry was invaluable, as was the assistance he provided to the center. Naming this barn in his memory will permanently honor him and highlight his importance to the center. This is a fitting tribute."
During the ceremony Shelley Duke, chair of the EMC Council, profiled the center's achievements and heralded the contributions that Fout made to the EMC and the industryDuke also told the guests that the Equine Medical Center was in the midst of a "Silver Anniversary" celebration.
Guests also heard from Founding EMC Director Dr. G. Frederick Fregin, who now resides in Texas, Dr. Betsy Flanagan, Virginia Tech's Vice President of Development and University Relations, and Dr. Nat White, Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director of the Equine Medical Center.
A 13-minute video profiling Fout's life and equine pursuits was presented prior to a a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the unveiling of a brick pedestal and commemorative bronze plaque. A reception capped off the festivities.
During his 60-year career, Fout found much success in his equine pursuits. He served as general manager and former chairman of the Middleburg Spring Races, designed Glenwood Park's Alfred Hunt course, published equine-related magazines, and with a group of other buyers in the 1970s, purchased the Middleburg Training Center, which leases stalls to racehorse trainers.
But his greatest legacy is most likely related to his achievements in training racehorses. His horses won over 200 races and more than $4 million in prizes. One of his biggest success stories was Colstar, a thoroughbred he trained for Mrs. Steinman. Colstar won 11 out of 18 races and more than $1 million in prize money, including the Flower Bowl Invitational Handicap at Belmont Park in 2000.
Fout approved the design of the new barn before his death, acknowledging the benefit of adding space to move horses in and out of the hospital quickly, thereby freeing up space for critical care cases and other emergent needs within the main hospital.
The new barn is an open-air facility and includes 12 horse stalls, a nurses' station, and three work areas. It will primarily be utilized for elective cases as well as a place to house and care for outpatients.
Because dama gazelles are a critically endangered species, it was good news last fall that "Sayda", a dama gazelle at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., became pregnant with her first calf.
Unfortunately, the birthing process was a difficult one and, despite assistance, not only did the baby not survive, but Sayda suffered complications in the form of a tear in the soft tissues of her reproductive tract.
In order to restore Sayda to full health ó and help assure that she would be able to successfully carry and deliver offspring in the future ó veterinary specialists at the National Zoo contacted Dr. Jennifer Brown, clinical assistant professor of surgery at Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center.
Brown and Dr. James Brown, a surgical resident and equine reproduction specialist (the two Dr. Browns are not related) provided valuable consultation and surgical services for Sayda.
"Given our location in northern Virginia, which is not really very far from the National Zoo, we were able to examine this patient within just a few hours of receiving a call from one of the zoo's veterinarians," Jennifer Brown noted. "Even though we specialize in horses at the Equine Medical Center, we are familiar with other species, and we could see that the surgery needed for this gazelle would be essentially the same as it would be for a horse."
National Zoo veterinarians initiated pre-operative treatments on Sayda; they anesthetized the gazelle to allow Jennifer Brown to perform the surgery to repair the soft tissue injury. The procedure took about two hours.
"We're working to provide the best in veterinary care to save each individual animal at the National Zoo and to help save this critically endangered species," said Dr. Katharine Hope, associate veterinarian at the National Zoo. "Dama gazelles are the focus of a new conservation project here; we're working to increase the population in captivity, expand research efforts at the Zoo and in the wild, as well as educate governments, aid agencies, and citizens about the importance of wildlife conservation."
While Sayda's calf did not survive, another dama gazelle at the National Zoo, Adara, gave birth to a healthy female dama gazelle calf last November 2.
With his expertise in equine reproduction, James Brown was on hand during the anesthetic procedure to help evaluate Sayda's future ability to carry and deliver another baby. With a flexible endoscope, James Brown was able to examine Sayda's reproductive tract, which looked to be in good condition, except for some mild scarring.
"For the most part, everything looked fine for Sayda," James Brown noted. "Of course, we can't guarantee that she will be able to have another baby, but the prognosis looks good. We'd certainly hope that she'll be able to have additional offspring; that would be great news all around."
The National Zoo plays an integral role in understanding the fundamental reproductive biology of the dama gazelle, and veterinarians there are in the process of developing optimum techniques for sperm cryopreservation. The overall goal is to use this information to develop assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination to promote genetic management of this species.
The Zoo's world-renowned reproductive science team is working to solve the puzzle of how to successfully artificially inseminate dama gazelles in captivity in order to increase the population of the species and return them to their native habitat.