Vital Signs

April 2013

My favorite time of year

Dr. Gerhardt G. SchurigDear friends and colleagues,

We are in the middle of what is not only one of the most exciting seasons for the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, but also my favorite time of the year as dean. Even though this will be my final spring as dean, rest assured that I am committed to making sure that the daily work of the college stays on track and that our relationships with alumni and friends remain strong. I understand that the applicant pool for my replacement is very strong and that the search committee has begun initial screening interviews. The goal is to have final on-campus interviews during the month of June.

In recent months, the college has continued its presence as a regional leader in the veterinary community. I spoke at the annual conferences for the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association in Roanoke, Va., in early March and the West Virginia Veterinary Medical Association in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., in mid-April. At both events, faculty and students at the college had an opportunity to network with their peers and learn the latest in veterinary medicine. I am looking forward to the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association summer conference in Ocean City, Md., in late June.

We have also celebrated accomplishments closer to home. In late March, the college hosted its Annual Research Symposium Awards and its Scholarship and Awards Banquet. For the last time as dean, I provided comments for these annual traditions, which recognize our students for their scholarship, leadership, research, and service. Many alumni, donors, and friends of the college joined us for these special occasions.

Our commencement activities on Friday, May 17, will be a capstone to another successful year at the college. In just a few short weeks, our Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, master's and Ph.D. students will be recognized for their hard work in front of friends and family. They will enter the room as students who have completed a rigorous training program and leave as future leaders in veterinary medicine, biomedical science, and public health.

The academic year may be coming to a close, but the dedication that each of you has for our veterinary college most certainly is not. I thank you for that. As your outgoing dean, I am pleased to be a part of the college at this point in its history and I look forward to seeing what lies ahead.

Best regards,

Gerhardt G. Schurig, DVM, Ph.D.

Find us on Facebook       Follow us on Twitter       Join us on LinkedIn       Watch us on YouTube


In This Issue



Featured Stories

Award-winning farrier blends art, science in equine hoof care

Travis Burns

Travis Burns, the hospital's in-house farrier, has received national and international recognition for his expertise.

Travis Burns discovered his calling at a young age. While visiting a family-owned riding stable in the Great Smoky Mountains, he watched his uncle use both blacksmithing and knowledge of equine anatomy to shoe the farm's horses.

That early fascination turned into a career for Burns and has resulted in national and international recognition for his work as a farrier at the veterinary college. The college is one of only a handful of veterinary colleges with an in-house farrier.

Burns' recent accolades have included being named an associate in the Worshipful Company of Farriers and receiving a specialty "therapeutic" endorsement from the American Farriers Association.

Read more about Travis Burns and his growing list of accomplishments.

back to contents

Researchers find virus promising for prostate cancer treatment

Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah

Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah, associate professor of virology, and college researchers have discovered that a genetically engineered Newcastle disease virus kills prostate cancer cells of all kinds, including hormone-resistant cancer cells.

A study at the veterinary college has identified a chicken-killing virus as a promising treatment for prostate cancer in humans.

Researchers have discovered that a genetically engineered Newcastle disease virus, which harms chickens but not humans, kills prostate cancer cells of all kinds, including hormone-resistant cancer cells. The work of Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah, associate professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, along with Dr. Siba Samal, associate dean and chairman of the University of Maryland's Department of Veterinary Medicine, and Shobana Raghunath, a former graduate student in Subbiah's laboratory, appears in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Virology.

"This potential treatment is available for immediate pre-clinical and clinical trials, but these are typically not done at the university level," Subbiah said. "We are looking for commercial entities that are interested in licensing the technology for human clinical trials and treatment. Newcastle disease virus has yet to be tested as a treatment for prostate cancer in patients."

Read more about this groundbreaking cancer research.

back to contents

Powerful, superconducting magnet aids clinicians and students

New MRI unit

The teaching hospital recently invested in a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit featuring a 1.5 Tesla magnet that is seven times more powerful than its predecessor.

A new piece of equipment at the veterinary college is letting clinicians and students take more detailed images of animals, both big and small.

The college's Veterinary Teaching Hospital invested almost $700,000 on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit featuring a 1.5 Tesla magnet that is seven times more powerful than its predecessor. A Tesla is a measurement based on the strength of a magnetic field.

"Our new MRI unit not only lets us take higher quality images, but also increases their speed of acquisition," said Dr. Dana Neelis, assistant professor of radiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. "Before we had the new magnet, we were limited to imaging small dogs and cats due to the size of the unit. Now we can accept any size of dog and can image certain areas on horses."

Read more about the teaching hospital's new MRI capabilities.

back to contents

College to host Human-Animal Bond Symposium

Human Animal Bond Symposium

The Human-Animal Bond Symposium will feature an impressive lineup of speakers, including keynote speaker Dr. Aubrey Fine, a psychologist with more than 30 years of experience in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy.

Special and intricate connections exist in relationships between humans and animals, and the Human-Animal Bond Symposium on Friday, May 3, will serve as a gathering place to explore how those links influence fields from veterinary and human medicine to social work and beyond.

The symposium will include the Booker Willoughby Service Award Ceremony recognizing excellence in training, utilizing, and caring for service animals. Dr. Bess Pierce, director of the Center for Animal Human Relationships, organized the event.

Read more about the upcoming Human-Animal Bond Symposium.

back to contents

Astronaut offers a veterinarian's perspective from space

Dr. Richard Linnehan

Dr. Richard Linnehan visited the college on March 1 to share his experiences as a veterinarian in space.

He's traveled hundreds of miles above the Earth's surface, logged dozens of hours on space walks, and touched the Hubble Space Telescope. Plus, he's a veterinarian.

Dr. Richard Linnehan, whose career included stints at the Baltimore Zoo and the Naval Ocean Systems Center before joining NASA, visited the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine on Friday, March 1, to share his experiences as a veterinarian in space with first- and second-year students. These students, along with others in the college, listened with interest to Linnehan's story.

"Growing up, I always wanted to be a pilot and a veterinarian," said Linnehan, who was born the year Sputnik launched and who was 12 years old during Apollo 11's trip to the moon.

back to contents

SCAVMA holds Heartworm Prevention Clinic

Heartworm Prevention Clinic

SCAVMA Heartworm Prevention Clinic

The annual Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA) Heartworm Prevention Clinic was recently held at the college. The mission of the program is to fulfill veterinary students' professional requirement to establish a valid Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship. SCAVMA officer Laura Cincotti, DVM Class of 2015, coordinated the appointments. Students created a basic medical record for their dog(s) and chose the appropriate product from a list of available preventatives. SCAVMA officers and volunteers organized and set up the space, retrieved paperwork from medical records, and arranged for a Merial-supplied breakfast for the volunteers.

On the day of the clinic, students provided histories, clinician volunteers performed brief physical exams, and blood was drawn for heartworm testing (snap tests were provided by Novartis). Finally, with a negative heartworm status, students wrote prescriptions for their preventatives and then received clinician approval and signature. The final step was to have prescriptions checked for accuracy and filled by pharmacy supervisor Maureen Perry.

Heartworm preventatives were provided for over 200 dogs as part of this public health initiative made possible through the continued support of Bayer HealthCare, Elanco Animal Health, Merial Limited, Novartis Animal Health, and Zoetis Animal Health. Clinicians and staff donated their time and expertise, while Dr. Bess Pierce helped organize and engage others in the volunteer effort.

back to contents

Hokiebird statue

A HokieBird design contest is underway at the college.

Development news: College receives its own HokieBird statue

Students and faculty members have noticed a "blank" HokieBird greeting them in the commons over the last few weeks.

Here's the scoop: Clients Mike and Laura Hewitt were so pleased with the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's services to Duffy, their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, that they have donated a HokieBird to the college along with an artist's services to paint it to a design of the college's creation. Duffy visited the teaching hospital over the holidays in 2011 after he ate rat poison and again recently after consuming chocolate.

The HokieBird is a blank canvas for creative students, faculty, and staff who can submit their design ideas to Dr. Frank Pearsall, director of development. Design templates for the front and back are available by the statue, and existing examples are available online.

back to contents



Welcome to the College

Dr. Irving Coy Allen

Dr. Irving Coy Allen, assistant professor of inflammatory diseases

Dr. Irving Coy Allen joins college as assistant professor of inflammatory diseases

Dr. Irving Coy Allen of Chapel Hill, N.C., has joined the college as an assistant professor of inflammatory diseases in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. He comes to the college from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a research associate and postdoctoral fellow at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology has made several strategic hires in inflammatory diseases and immune-mediated diseases. In his new role, Allen will join the college's growing team of inflammatory disease researchers and contribute to the department's teaching efforts.

back to contents

Dr. Julie Cecere

Dr. Julie Cecere, clinical assistant professor of theriogenology

College hires Dr. Julie Cecere as theriogenologist

Dr. Julie Cecere of Blacksburg, Va., has joined the college as a clinical assistant professor of theriogenology in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. She previously worked at the college as a resident in theriogenology with a focus on small animal and equine reproduction.

Theriogenology is the branch of veterinary medicine concerned with animal reproduction and obstetrics. Although Cecere will focus much of her attention on small animal theriogenology, she will also deal with large animal reproduction related to horses, pigs, and camelids.

back to contents



College opens its doors to public for Annual Open House

Open House

The veterinary college offered tours, demonstrations, and lectures for the public during its Annual Open House on Saturday, April 6. The offerings included a guided tour of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition, family-friendly events such as a Teddy Bear Repair Clinic and an anatomy lesson featuring painted horses, and demonstrations on horseshoe making and police dogs. The Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association hosted the Annual Open House with assistance from several other student organizations. Members of the college's service fraternity, Omega Tau Sigma, also collected donations of dog food and dog toys for the Friends of Montgomery County Animal Care and Control.

View a photo gallery of the 2013 Annual Open House on Facebook.

back to contents


Omega Tau Sigma hosts Easter egg hunt

Easter egg hunt

Families with young children had a chance to celebrate the arrival of spring at the veterinary college on Saturday, March 30. Omega Tau Sigma, the college's veterinary service fraternity, hosted an Easter egg hunt that featured games, a rabbit-handling demonstration, and a visit from the Easter Bunny.

View a photo gallery of this year's Easter egg hunt on Facebook.

back to contents


Students recognized for hard work at Spring Awards Luncheon

Spring Awards Luncheon

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine recognized its award-winning students at a Spring Awards Luncheon on Friday, March 29. Dean Gerhardt Schurig, who participated in his final awards luncheon as outgoing dean, provided opening remarks for the ceremony. Dozens of student award-winners were recognized for their scholarship, leadership, research, and community outreach. Many donors who provided the financial resources for student scholarships also participated in the day's festivities.

back to contents



Awards & Activities

24th Annual Research Symposium held

Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig

Dean Gerhardt Schurig was awarded the 2013 Zoetis Award for Research Excellence during the 24th Annual Research Symposium.

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine showcased its research excellence and recognized outstanding researchers at the 24th Annual Research Symposium on Thursday, March 21. The symposium drew 58 graduate students, of whom 40 gave poster presentations and 18 gave oral presentations. Dr. Dwight Bowman, professor of parasitology from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, served as keynote speaker at the symposium.

During the awards ceremony, Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the college, was awarded the 2013 Zoetis Award for Research Excellence for his work in developing vaccines against bovine brucellosis, a zoonotic disease that causes reproductive problems in cattle and undulant fever in humans.

Read more about the Annual Research Symposium.

back to contents

Rachel Baum

Rachel Baum, the college's Outstanding Graduating Student

Rachel Baum named 2013 Outstanding Graduating Student

Rachel Baum of Gaithersburg, Md., has been named as the Outstanding Graduating Student in the veterinary college for the 2012-13 academic year.

Baum received her bachelor's degree in biology from St. Mary's College of Maryland and will receive her doctor of veterinary medicine degree in May. In addition, she plans to earn a master's degree in public health from Virginia Tech in the fall.

back to contents

Dr. Zenny Ng

Dr. Zenny Ng, recipient of the 2013 Graduate Student Service Excellence Award

Dr. Zenny Ng receives Outstanding Student Service Excellence Award

Dr. Zenithson "Zenny" Ng of Rockaway, N.J., a third-year clinical master's student at the veterinary college, has received the 2013 Graduate Student Service Excellence Award by the Graduate School at Virginia Tech.

During his time at the college, Ng has focused his master's degree in human-animal bond studies and pioneered a number of animal-assisted activities through the Center for Animal Human Relationships, including the Paws for a Cause and Books to Barks reading programs at the Blacksburg library and the Virginia Tech Helping PAWS therapy animal program.

Read more about Ng's commitment to service.

back to contents

Terry Lawrence

Terry Lawrence, recipient of Virginia Tech's 2013 Staff Career Achievement Award

Terry Lawrence receives Staff Career Achievement Award

Terry Lawrence, retired graphic designer and medical illustrator for the veterinary college, received Virginia Tech's 2013 Staff Career Achievement Award. After retiring in 2012 after 26 years of service, Lawrence now works part-time for the college.

Among Lawrence's many achievements were designing the college's logo, providing the original concept drawing and design of the "Running Together" statue that greets visitors when they enter the college complex, and designing and producing the college's VM Magazine, internal newsletters, countless brochures, floor displays, and banners. Lawrence also held a number of leadership positions in the college's staff association, including serving as a staff senator and representing the Staff Senate on the University Council.

Read more about Lawrence's career and accomplishments.

back to contents

Zoetis Scholars

2013 Zoetis Scholars

Ten students recognized as Zoetis Scholars

Ten second- and third-year veterinary students with a broad range of professional interests each received a $2,000 scholarship from Zoetis and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Applicants were evaluated based on several criteria, including academic excellence, professional interests, financial need, diversity, leadership and potential for contribution to the veterinary profession.

Read more about this year's Zoetis Scholars.

back to contents

Awards & Accolades

Dr. Sabrina Barry, clinical assistant professor of small animal surgery, achieved diplomate status with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Casey Carbaugh, third-year veterinary student, won the Virginia Tech Education Abroad 2013 Photo Contest in the "Hokies Abroad" category. She was one of eight students in a clinical training program this summer at various campuses of Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in India. Her travels included field visits to exotic animal farms, wildlife sanctuaries, and elephant reserves.

Dr. Clayton Caswell, assistant professor of bacteriology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received a travel award for early career scientists from the American Society of Microbiology. This will allow Caswell to attend the Federation of European Microbiology Societies' Congress of European Microbiologists in July 21-25 in Leipzig, Germany.

Dr. Marion Ehrich, professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, has been named the Alumna of the Year at South Dakota State University. Ehrich graduated from South Dakota State in 1968 and joined the veterinary college in 1980. She was also recently named associate editor for the journal Neurotoxicology.

Dr. Robin Fontenot, clinical instructor of large animal surgery, achieved diplomate status with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Dr. Mark Freeman, assistant professor of community practice, achieved diplomate status with the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, specializing in canine and feline practice.

Dr. Natalia Henao-Guerrero, assistant professor of anesthesiology, was a member of the first graduating class of the Diversity Ally Certificate Program, offered by Virginia Tech's Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Henao-Guerrero completed 26 hours of training including core and elective courses in many areas, including harassment prevention, generational differences, multicultural conflict dynamics, and recruiting underrepresented graduate students.

Alice Houk, graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was awarded the Byrd-Dunn Award for the best graduate student presentation at the Southeastern Society of Parasitologists meeting in Bowling Green, Ky., on April 10-12. Her presentation was "Cystoisospora canis—a model for Apicomplexan tissue cyst reactivation." This regional society is considered the premier regional society in the American Society of Parasitologists.

Gail Kibler, computer systems engineer, was chosen as the college's Staff Member of the Month for April.

Dr. Geraldine Magnin-Bissel, research scientist and analytical chemist in the Toxicology Diagnostic Laboratory, was recently awarded certification by the American Board of Toxicology. This certification is a recognized asset as the college applies for accreditation by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians.

Dr. X.J. Meng, professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was named a Scholar of the Week by the Office of the Vice President for Research at Virginia Tech.

The Graduate School at Virginia Tech has recognized Dr. Shobana Raghunath and Dr. Noah Pavlisko as the college's 2012-2013 Outstanding Doctoral Student and Outstanding Master's Student, respectively. Dr. Raghunath has completed her final year as a doctoral student in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Southern California. Dr. Pavlisko is a resident in anesthesia and master's student in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Amy Smith, instructor in the Department of Population Health Sciences, was named a Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week.

Nate Tyler, support center technician, was chosen as the college's Staff Member of the Month for March.

Dr. William Dee Whittier, professor of production management medicine, received the 2013 Cattle Industry Service Award from the Virginia Cattleman's Association.

Ph.D. student Dan Youngstrom was selected to receive the Seventh Annual Storm Cat Career Development Award, a $15,000 grant designed as an early boost to an individual considering a career in equine research. The award is underwritten by Mrs. Lucy Young Hamilton, a Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation board member whose family stood the retired champion stallion, Storm Cat, at Overbrook Farm. Youngstrom's research at the Marion DuPont-Scott Equine Medical Center, deals with optimizing tendon regeneration using a unique bio-reactor method of stem cell maturation and differentiation which mimics fetal development of stem cells.

The Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign awarded the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine a Distinguished Achievement Award for the highest increase in total dollar contributions from 2011 to 2012.

back to contents



The college's commons area will be renovated during the summer of 2013 with a new design and furniture as the first phase of the library-commons renovation. The Vet Med Café and commons will be closed this summer for the renovation beginning May 20 and will reopen prior to the fall semester. The second phase will occur in the summer of 2015.

The Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine hosted 14 students from the University of Maryland Pre-Vet Society on a tour of the veterinary college's Blacksburg campus on April 5-6. The tour included presentations by the college's admissions staff, a tour of the college, sitting in on problem solving classes, and dinner with veterinary students from Maryland. Dean Gerhardt Schurig welcomed the group to the campus.

Dr. John Clifford, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief veterinary officer, visited third-year public and corporate vet med students on March 27. During Dr. Valerie Ragan's problem-solving class, the students went over a case study of a possible BSE outbreak and conducted mock interviews with the press.

Dr. Marion Ehrich is currently serving as a permanent member of a scientific advisory panel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In recent months, she has been part of open hearings on problem formulation for the environmental fate and ecological risk assessment for atrazine (June 2012), prioritizing the university of endocrine disruptor screening program chemicals using computational toxicology tools (January 2013), and performance data needs assessment for products claiming efficacy against invertebrate pests (March 2013). Dr. Ehrich also attended the annual meeting for the Institute of Life Sciences in Miami in January. She serves on multiple committees for the institute, including its Research Foundation Board of Trustees.

The veterinary college was well represented at the Society of Toxicology meeting held in San Antonio, Texas, on March 9-14. Presentations were made by Dr. Bernard Jortner, professor emeritus of pathology, and Geraldine Magnin-Bissel, laboratory and research manager, with co-authors Z. Zhou from Luna Nanoworks and Dr. Marion Ehrich from the veterinary college, in a session on "New insights into organophosphate-induced neurotoxicity: Pathology, mode of action, modulation, and protection." Posters were presented by graduate student Javiera Bahamonde (with co-authors Dr. Bonnie Brenseke and Dr. M. Renee Prater of the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine) and by Department of Chemical Engineering postdoctoral associate Era Jain (with co-authors Dr. Marion Ehrich, Padmavathy Rajagopalan and T.M. Murali). In addition, the veterinary college sponsored a breakfast for past veterinary and graduate students, former faculty, friends, and presenters that was attended by 21 scientists.

Dr. Tracy McCracken, assistant director of education and training at the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, participated in the USAID Livestock Emergency Guidelines overview held in Washington, D.C. and networked with international organizations about potentially hosting veterinary students abroad. She also presented a lecture on "International Livestock Trends and Global Food Security" to veterinary students at the University of Pennsylvania and met with faculty there to discuss collaboration on training opportunities.

Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, traveled to Armenia as part of the center's grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agriculture Service to initiate the DVM/MPH practicum for Cassie Wedd, a fourth-year veterinary student in the public and corporate track. Wedd, who is also in the college's Master of Public Health program, spent a month in Armenia conducting research on the understanding of zoonotic disease transmission at the human-animal interface. Ragan introduced her to USDA and Armenian Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health officials and finalized the planning of the project while there. Ragan also worked with the Ministry of Agriculture task force working to develop initial protocols for livestock disease prevention and response, initiated as a follow up to a workshop she conducted in Armenia in December 2012.

Following a request from the World Bank, Dr. Valerie Ragan met with the rector of the Kyrgyz Agricultural University in Washington, D.C. to discuss a potential veterinary college "twinning," focusing on the curriculum related to the functions of national veterinary services. Agreement was reached on a joint proposal to move forward on curriculum review and an initial scoping assessment.

Dr. Valerie Ragan worked with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Pan American Health Organization, and the Chief Veterinary Officer of Trinidad to finalize plans for Mike Neafsey, a fourth-year public and corporate track veterinary student and MPH student, to conduct his practicum there in April. He will spend a month in Trinidad to assist the Trinidad's Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs in obtaining baseline data to inform and make recommendations towards the development of a national brucellosis surveillance and eradication program. FAO has agreed to fund his travel.

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, director of global health initiatives at the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, represented the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Committee for International Veterinary Affairs in Schaumburg, Ill., on April 8-9. Dr. Vroegindewey also gave presentations on "One Health" opportunities, international disasters, and global sustainable livestock production at the Student AVMA Annual Symposium in Baton Rouge, La., on April 22-23 and presented a series of lectures on career transition at the Midwest Veterinary Conference in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 22.


Connect with the College

Find us on Facebook       Follow us on Twitter       Join us on LinkedIn       Watch us on YouTube


Upcoming Events

back to contents



Vital Signs is published throughout the year by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dean: Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig
Produced By: Office of Public Relations and Communications
Director: Sherrie Whaley
Content Editor: Michael Sutphin
Web Editor: Alison Elward
Contributors: Alison Elward, Michael Sutphin, Sherrie Whaley
Contributing Photographers: Alison Elward, Terry Lawrence, Michael Sutphin, Sherrie Whaley, Amanda Loman

  VMRCVM home VA-MD Vet Med Home