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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your dedication and continual support of the veterinary college — we look forward to hearing from you!
Lynn Blevins, Director of Alumni Relations
Around the College
Awards & Activities
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 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.”
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 FiveThirtyEight.com 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.
- March 7, 2017 —Equine 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, 2017 — VA-MD Vet Med Annual Open House
- Blacksburg, VA
- April 4, 2017 —Equine 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, 2017 — The Big Event at Virginia Tech
- Blacksburg, VA
- April 23, 2017 — Spring Dog Wash
- VA-MD Vet Med — Blacksburg, VA
- May 11 — 12, 2017 — Spring 2017 Commencement Ceremonies
- Virginia Tech Campus — Blacksburg, VA
For More Upcoming Events…
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