Vital Signs: February 2017 Vol. 6, Issue 2

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

Research excellence

Dear friends and colleagues,

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine prides itself in having a robust research program that focuses on One Health to address both animal and human health, takes laboratory findings directly to clients in a clinical setting, and has signature research programs in the areas of infectious diseases, immune and inflammatory responses, brain cancer, and regenerative medicine. In recent years, we have also expanded our clinical research activities so that we can test new and improved methods of disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment and better understand spontaneous diseases in animals that can be models of human disease. We have ongoing clinical trials in the areas of cardiology, oncology, and internal medicine that will benefit both current and future patients.

In 2014, the college formed a Collaborative Research Network to enable specialty practices in Virginia and Maryland to participate in the college’s cutting-edge research. The network is a win-win for both the veterinary college and specialty practices. While the college benefits from the experience and expertise of the specialists in our Collaborative Research Network and access to a larger pool of patients for clinical studies, our partners gain access to new technologies and therapies available at the veterinary college. Last year, the network expanded with two new members—CVCA Cardiac Care for Pets and Bush Veterinary Neurology Service—to a total of six veterinary practices. With our partners, we have made progress on a number of groundbreaking projects, such as the creation of a database to serve as a reference library for dogs with mitral valve disease and a comprehensive study on radioiodine dosing to treat hyperthyroid cats.

The college has multiple funding streams to support these efforts, including research sponsors and philanthropy. Our Veterinary Memorial Fund has also played a pivotal role in supporting clinical research. Established in the college’s early days, the fund enables pet owners and families to leave a legacy of support for research that improves the quality of health care for future generations. It accepts contributions from veterinarians and owners in memory of a pet, as well as from family and friends in memory of a person who loved animals. Over the years, these contributions have helped us develop knowledge, improve procedures, and perfect techniques that advance animal health.

The college also is well prepared to perform research in compliance with Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) regulations. Due to the high standards of our research laboratories and the thorough training of our faculty, staff, and graduate students working in these laboratories, we are able to provide the quality assurance necessary to ensure the reliability of research data. This is particularly important for pharmaceutical research to ensure the integrity of the drug development process.

Next month, we will showcase our research excellence at the 28th Annual Research Symposium, where graduate students will have an opportunity to present their research findings and learn from each other. During an evening awards banquet, we will also recognize the importance of a successful research program and celebrate individual accomplishments. This event is an annual reminder that our research efforts would not be possible without high-achieving students, faculty, staff, and research partners who are committed to advancing animal and public health.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean


Featured Stories

First-year student Ash Wells (second from left) and her teammates speak with Bill Huckle, associate professor of cell biology and pharmacology, during an integrative session in early September.

A new curriculum for 21st century veterinary medicine

Megan Graham of Princeton, West Virginia, knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian from a young age.  After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Marshall University, she completed a master’s degree in reproductive physiology at West Virginia University and worked for two years as a large animal technician at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

“I was able to get an inside look at the students as they were coming through the large animal clinic, and they really seemed to be competent and know what they were doing,” said Graham, who grew up with horses and hopes to be a large animal or mixed practice veterinarian in the future. “It really made me feel like this was going to be a good program.”

What helped convince Graham, who is now a first-year student at the veterinary college, to apply was the promise of a new Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum that integrates the basic and clinical sciences, incorporates team-based learning, allows early entry into the clinics, and introduces pass/fail grading. Graham and her peers in the Class of 2020 joined the veterinary college in August as the first cohort in the new curriculum.

Read more about the new Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum.

Held with support from the college's chapter of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association and other student organizations, the Open House features a variety of exhibits, demonstrations, and public tours of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Annual Open House set for March 25

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine will open its doors to the public during an annual Open House from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 25. Visitors will have a chance to learn about veterinary medicine and the college through tours, demonstrations, and lectures.

The Open House will take place on the veterinary college’s Blacksburg campus, located at 245 Duck Pond Drive, and will feature guided tours of its 270,000-square-foot complex, which includes the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition. Parking will be available in the large fenced commuter/graduate parking lot off Duck Pond Drive (known as “the Cage”).

For the second time, food trucks offering local and regional dining options will be available for visitors in the parking lot in front of the veterinary college. As in years past, veterinary students will also lead hour-long tours every five minutes beginning at 10 a.m. Tours require sign-up and are on a first-come, first-serve basis. The last tour departs at 2 p.m.

In one of the few documented cases of a Cavalier wearing maroon and orange, this Baldwin pup proudly sports a Virginia Tech bandana and coordinating leash.

High-tech 3-D imaging aims to understand heart disease in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

On most weekends, an empty lobby at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine is a good sign. It means there are no emergency cases coming in and no dogs are being taken in or discharged from the ICU. For once, though, a full lobby meant positive news for lovers of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel during a special weekend clinic to assess the hearts of 30 Cavaliers.

The breed has an unusually high incidence of mitral valve disease, a heart disease characterized by a malfunction in the heart’s left valve that leads to a backflow of blood. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, with the most serious cases leading to congestive heart failure and ultimately death.

Cardiology Ph.D. student Giulio Menciotti, along with fellow Ph.D. student Paula Camacho-Sierra and their advisor Michele Borgarelli, associate professor of cardiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, set up the clinic to assess the hearts of the Cavaliers using specialized software and 3-D echocardiogram — a noninvasive type of ultrasound that uses sound waves to measure heart function.

Read more about the research on Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

The Equine Medical Center held a specialized training for the new equipment on Feb. 8 in order to familiarize faculty and staff on the proper use and care of the DRS. Pictured here, Turnaround Tony, a 14-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred (now a dressage horse), is ridden by Jenny Spain and owned by Spain and Melinda Freckleton from Haymarket Veterinary Service.

Equine Medical Center’s new dynamic respiratory scope allows for mobile exams

Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia, now has a new dynamic endoscopy treatment that enables the examination of the nose, throat, larynx, and trachea while the horse is standing or moving.

Although the center has offered dynamic endoscopy treatments for years, the new dynamic respiratory scope (DRS) surpasses the image quality of previous versions and is housed in a completely mobile, less bulky unit that can be taken to the farm or racetrack to assess the horse in the training environment. It was purchased from Optomed, a veterinary technology company based in Les Ulis, France.

When in operation, a tube is passed through the nostril of the horse, fixed to the bridle and passed between the horse’s ears and down to a receiver positioned in front of the saddle. A special saddle pad with equipment packs on either side completes the ensemble.

At rest, the airway can look normal and many underlying problems in the upper airway only become obvious when the horse is in motion. Under saddle, the equipment takes into account the influence of the rider on the respiratory system and the lens in the tip of the endoscope captures live, high definition video of the function of the upper airway in real time. These images are then transmitted to a small mobile unit to be assessed by the attending veterinarian. Examinations utilizing the DRS are stress-free for the horse and provide clinicians with invaluable diagnostic information to assess poor performance and diagnose respiratory noises and other related upper airway issues.

Philanthropy plays an essential role in the growth and development of the Equine Medical Center, and equipment purchases such as this would not be possible without the generosity and support of the center’s donors.

Welcome to the College

Ben Tham
Ben Tham

Ben Tham joins college as clinical assistant professor of dermatology

Ben Tham of Raleigh, North Carolina, has joined the veterinary college as a clinical assistant professor of dermatology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Prior to joining the faculty, Tham was a dermatology resident and intern at North Carolina State University. He previously worked as an associate veterinarian in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tham completed his doctor of veterinary medicine from Universiti Putra Malaysia in Serdang Selangor, Malaysia. His research interests include allergic skin diseases and autoimmune skin diseases.

Student Spotlight

Blake Andrews “mothers” an orphaned vervet monkey, which is required 24 hours a day upon rescue. When on duty, LWC staff must wear full gowns, hats, and masks, so the monkeys do not associate humans with nurturing behaviors upon their eventual release.

No monkey business: Blake Andrews gains hands-on experience with Malawi wildlife

Blake Andrews, a third-year veterinary student from Virginia Beach, Virginia, recently traveled to Lilongwe, Malawi for a veterinary externship at the Lilongwe Wildlife Center. The externship was partially funded by a one-time international scholarship opportunity, which assisted with costs associated with airfare, food, and lodging expenses.

This past summer, I participated in a veterinary externship at the Lilongwe Wildlife Center (LWC) in Lilongwe, Malawi. As a public-corporate tracker, I am interested in pursuing a career in wildlife conservation medicine and when I came across this opportunity when searching the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) website, I thought it would be an amazing experience. I contacted the volunteer coordinator who provided me with additional information and consulted with a professor about the trip before committing to a month-long externship.

Read Andrews' account of her travels and externship with Lilongwe Wildlife Center in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Alumni Corner

Lindsey McCrickard

Recent alumna Lindsey McCrickard (DVM ’11) achieves dream of global public health career

Lindsey McCrickard, who grew up in Vienna, Virginia, always thought growing up that she wanted to be an equine veterinarian. In 2004, she was accepted to Virginia Tech as an animal and poultry sciences major. While visiting the campus, McCrickard and her father stopped to look at the newly constructed Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena and met Max Bales, director of development for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Upon meeting McCrickard, Bales offered her a part-time job in the college’s development office where she worked during her undergraduate career.

Prior to graduation, McCrickard applied to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, where she was offered early acceptance based on her exceptional qualifications. During the school year and her summers, McCrickard worked in the large animal hospital to prepare for life as an equine veterinarian. However, during her second-year bacteriology class with Jennifer Hodgson, professor of microbiology in the Department of Population Health Science and associate dean for professional programs, McCrickard decided to change her track from equine to public/corporate.

“I realized that I love interacting with people and working on problems that are cross-cutting between humans and animals,” McCrickard said. “Thinking about the movement of disease within a population rather than an individual animal really spoke to me, and I felt that I could make a much greater impact focusing on public health.”

Read more about Lindsay McCrickard's work in global public health.

Video: Lauren Howard (DVM ’00) examines world’s second oldest gorilla

Vila, the world’s second oldest gorilla in a zoo, made a visit to the vet for a medical exam, full diagnostic workup, and lots of TLC in early February. For Lauren Howard (DVM ’00), associate director of veterinary services at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, it was just another day at the office.

Read more about Vila’s medical exam.

Call for submissions from college alumni and friends

Alumni and friends,

We want to hear from you! We are now accepting submissions for a new feature section of our news magazine, TRACKS, in an effort to connect you with other alumni and friends of the college and highlight your accomplishments.

Please submit your name, class year, and any recent accomplishments or successes you would like to share, such as awards, honors, leadership roles in professional organizations, establishment of a new practice, etc. to our ticketing system at

Thank you for your dedication and continual support of the veterinary college — we look forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,
Lynn Blevins, Director of Alumni Relations

Around the College

Alumni, faculty participate in 2017 Virginia Veterinary Conference

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine maintained a strong presence at the 2017 Virginia Veterinary Conference. Held at the Hotel Roanoke this month, the conference was organized by the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and included lectures, meetings, and an awards ceremony featuring college faculty and alumni. The conference attracted more than 360 veterinarians, veterinary students, and licensed veterinary technicians. The college had a booth with faculty volunteers who promoted the college’s programs and activities.

College connects with alumni, friends at North American Veterinary Community Conference

The college hosted a reception for alumni and friends at the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC) Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Feb. 7. Presented by the veterinary college and the Alumni Society, the event attracted 65 participants who reconnected with classmates and faculty and learned about the latest at the college. The college also had an exhibit booth for visitors and alumni to learn about college programs and activities. Congratulations are in order for Susy Horowitz (DVM ’91) for winning the Fitbit from the drawing at the college’s NAVC conference booth.

Students experience day of learning at the CDC

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) invited representatives from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine for Veterinary Students Day on Jan. 22-23 at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. This year’s event focused on the theme of “the Secret Life of Pets and Vets” and featured speakers on emerging zoonotic and infectious diseases, global health challenges and strategies, One Health, migration and health, environmental health, career and training opportunities, and epidemiology in action. The students also had an opportunity to hear from Class of 1992 alumna Julia Murphy, who is the state public health veterinarian for Virginia and president of the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, during a Q&A panel with public health experts.

Pictured, left to right: Marta Zlotnick ’19; Shruthi Ganesh ’19; Kevin Pelzer, professor of production management medicine and epidemiology; Kimberly Wingfield ’19; Laura Parkhurst ’20; Evymarie Prado-Sanchez ’19; Tierra Price ’20; Armaghan Nasim ’20; Samantha Talley ’20; Katherine Ronk ’18; and Angela Ives ’20.

Mario Dance (DVM '90) discusses diversity and inclusion for Black History Month

Mario Dance (DVM '90) returned to his alma mater to speak about diversity and inclusion to faculty, staff, and students on Feb. 21. Dance, who was the first African American male graduate of the veterinary college, was invited by Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE) to celebrate Black History Month. He is currently a full-time clinician in the lab animal program at Virginia Commonwealth University and consultant to many private practices and other universities. Although his presentation focused on racial diversity, Dance spoke openly about his faith and how it has helped him understand diversity and inclusion and deal with obstacles he has faced in his professional career. Pictured here, Dance (center) is reunited with his former instructors Phil Sponenberg (left), professor of pathology and genetics, and W. Edward Monroe (right), professor of internal medicine and chair of the college's Community and Diversity Committee.

Hokie-Wahoo love story featured in Roanoke Times began at veterinary clinic

Their love story began 10 years ago at a veterinary clinic. Alumna Ellen Gunter (DVM '06), veterinarian at Smyth County Animal Hospital in Marion, Virginia, and her husband Aaron are Hokie-Wahoo sweethearts featured in a Roanoke Times piece on Valentine Day weekend.

Read more in the Roanoke Times.

Mardi Gras-themed Casino Night raises $8,300 for Compassionate Care Fund

A Mardi Gras-themed charity event gave veterinary students an opportunity to help animals in need once again. Student organizers collected $8,300 at the Fifth Annual Casino Night fundraiser on Jan. 28 to benefit the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Compassionate Care Fund. Sponsored by veterinary student organizations Alpha Psi, Omega Tau Sigma, and the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, event proceeds will help provide financial support when an animal’s owners are either unknown or cannot meet the financial needs of treatment. The support is also limited to hospital cases where a successful outcome and good quality of life are likely.

Awards & Activities

Phil Sponenberg

Phil Sponenberg named 2017 Distinguished Virginia Veterinarian

D. Phillip Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, has been named the Distinguished Virginia Veterinarian by the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association.

Presented at the Virginia Veterinary Conference at the Hotel Roanoke in February, the prestigious award acknowledges an individual who, by his/her actions, bring recognition to veterinary medicine in Virginia. Sponenberg, who joined the college in 1981, is one of only a handful of faculty members at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine who have received this distinction.

After earning both a bachelor’s degree and a doctor of veterinary medicine from Texas A&M University, Sponenberg completed a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine from Cornell University. He has been a featured speaker both nationally and internationally on the topic of breed conservation and genetics and has research interests in genetics of domesticated animals, coat color genetics, conservation of rare breeds of livestock, diagnostic pathology, and reproductive pathology.

Kayla Williams with Dean Cyril Clarke

Kayla Williams named February Staff Member of the Month

Kayla Williams served as a surgery technician in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s surgery section for three years before becoming a large animal veterinary technician last month. During that time, she has been a helping hand to students, house officers, faculty, and staff.

“She has led our section with excellent patient care and tremendous technical skills,” her nominator wrote. “These skills have allowed tasks to get accomplished efficiently but have also allowed moments of teaching and clarity to students exceling in day one competencies.”

Her nominator added that Williams has gone “above and beyond her daily routine” by adapting new technical skills, such as serum preparation for infection into canine patients, and helping to coordinate clinical trials within the surgery section. A multi-tasker, Williams has served both soft tissue and orthopedic patients. “Kayla practices hospital protocol with biosecurity measures and maintains professional manner in all of her duties,” her nominator wrote. “She serves as a leader within the surgery ward and we appreciate her kindness through it all.”

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

More Awards & Activities

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) in Leesburg, Virginia, held a continuing education day for veterinarians on Jan. 27. The 62 attendees, which included both local equine veterinary specialists and veterinarians from as far away as Ohio and California, received six hours of continuing education credit during the day centered on advanced imaging, including the use of the center’s new high-definition CT scanner. Speakers included EMC faculty members Jen Barrett, James Brown, and Krista Estell, as well as Greg Daniels, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences; Damiano Furtuna of Photobiolab, Italy (representing Epica Medical Innovations, creator of the Pegaso CT scanner); and Chris Kawcak, professor of orthopedics at Colorado State University.

Bill Huckle, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, has edited a book titled Molecular Biology of Placental Development and Disease, published in January 2017 by Elsevier as Volume 145 of Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science (P.M. Conn, Series Editor). The book features chapters contributed by investigators from Canada, France, Japan, and Australia as well as the U.S., including the veterinary college’s own Shireen Hafez and Huckle. Graduate student Kristobal Gudenschwager and anatomic pathologist Tom Cecere provided the artwork that adorns the book’s cover.

Susan West Marmagas, associate professor of practice in the Department of Population Health Sciences, was quoted in in an article that explains how “Cancer Rates Are Dropping – But Not in Rural Appalachia.”

Valerie Ragan director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, traveled to Alexandria, Virginia to participate in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program Scientific Review. There were over 200 participants from 30 countries represented. Ragan gave a presentation entitled “One Health Surveillance for Brucellosis in Armenia.”

Cassidy Rist, assistant professor of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, gave an invited lecture on “Disease Ecology in a Changing World” for the Lifelong Learning Institute Global Change Seminar Series on Thursday, Feb. 23.

John Rossmeisl, professor of neurology and neurosurgery in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, is the co-investigator on a new five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health on the use of high-frequency irreversible electroporation (H-FIRE) to treat glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Led by Rafael Davalos, the L. Preston Wade Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, the project will culminate in a “combinatorial brain cancer therapy capable of surpassing conventional glioblastoma treatments through its ability to selectively target the tumor bulk, as well as the infiltrative cancer cells extending beyond the tumor margin.” Rossmeisl’s contributions to the project account for $479,000 of the total award.

D. Phillip Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, participated in numerous invited plenary talks and lectures over the past year:

  • “Dexter Cattle, the American Perspective.” Beryl Rutherford Memorial Lecture. Dexter Cattle Society. Bristol, United Kingdom. July 22, 2016.
  • “Recursos Zoogenéticos Locales y su Potencial en la Agricultura Sostenible (Local breeds of livestock and their potential for use in sustainable agriculture).” XXV Congreso Panamericano de Ciencias Veterinarias. Panama City, Panama, Oct. 6, 2016.
  • “Biodiversidad de Recursos Zoogenéticos en Iberoamérica (Biodiversity of livestock breeds in Latin America).” XXV Congreso Panamericano de Ciencias Veterinarias. Panama City, Panama, Oct. 6, 2016.
  • “Ganadería Tradicional y Recursos Genéticos en los EEUU en un Ambiente Tecnologico. (Traditional Livestock Production and Genetic Resources in the United States’ Technological Environment).” XVII Simposio Iberoamericano sobre Conservación y Utilización de Recursos Zoogenéticos. Corrientes, Argentina, Nov. 9, 2016
  • “La Genética de Pelajes Equinos. (Genetics of Horse Coat Color).” Facultad de Ciencias Veterinarias. Universidad Nacional de Noreste. Corrientes, Argentina. Nov. 9, 2016.
  • “Recursos Zoogenéticos Locales y su Potencial en la Agricultura Sostenible (Local breeds of livestock and their potential for use in sustainable agriculture).” Universidad de Granma, Facultad de Ciencias Veterinarias. Bayamo, Cuba. Dec. 15, 2016.

Ben Tham, clinical assistant professor of dermatology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, provided continuing education for Roanoke-area veterinarians at the Hotel Roanoke on Feb. 7.

Upcoming Events

March 7, 2017Equine Medical Center Tuesday Talks: “The 1-2-3’s of Foal Care and Advances in Dummy Foal Syndrome” by Krista Estell
Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center — Leesburg, VA
March 8 — 12, 2017 — 2017 AAVMC Annual Conference & Iverson Bell Symposium
Washington, D.C.
March 16, 2017 — 28th Annual Research Symposium and Awards Banquet
VA-MD Vet Med — Blacksburg, VA
March 25, 2017VA-MD Vet Med Annual Open House
Blacksburg, VA
April 4, 2017Equine Medical Center Tuesday Talks: “What to Expect When You Arrive at the Hospital” with Elizabeth MacDonald
Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center — Leesburg, VA
April 7, 2017 — DVM Spring Awards Ceremony and Luncheon
The Inn at Virginia Tech — Blacksburg, VA
April 8, 2017The Big Event at Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA
April 23, 2017 — Spring Dog Wash
VA-MD Vet Med — Blacksburg, VA
May 11 — 12, 2017Spring 2017 Commencement Ceremonies
Virginia Tech Campus — Blacksburg, VA


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

  • Dean: Cyril R. Clarke
  • Assistant Dean for Advancement: Alison Wainwright Davitt
  • Managing Editor: Michael Sutphin
  • Web Editors: Alison Elward, Tiffany Tran
  • Assistant Editor: Kelsey Foster
  • Contributors: Lynn Blevins, Alison Elward, Kelsey Foster, Sharon Peart, Mindy Quigley, Megan Riveros, Michael Sutphin
  • Photography/Videography: Kate Baker, Lynn Blevins, Alison Elward, Matt Gentry, Kevin Pelzer, Mindy Quigley, Megan Riveros, Michael Sutphin, Nathaniel White, Helen Zhang, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
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