Vital Signs
January 2006

The Translational Research Opportunity

Dr. Gerhardt G. SchurigDear Friends and Colleagues,
Several years ago Virginia Tech President Charles Steger issued a challenge for us to "turn up the bunson burners" as the university sought to increase its NIH research funding.  

We've made substantial progress; for example, the college has grown its NIH funding to a point where it represents about 65% of our total research funding. But we have a long way to go. 

Our college's pressing need to substantially grow its research enterprise coincides with a compelling need and fundamental question faced by our profession; that is, who is going to do the research needed to advance animal health, and who is going to pay for it?  

In July 2005, the National Research Council, which is the operating arm of the National Academies of Sciences, issued a report called "Animal Health at the Crossroads - Preventing, Detecting and Diagnosing Animal Diseases".  

Prompted by the public health, global trade and national security implications of both naturally occurring and deliberately introduced pathogens, the white paper made a number of recommendations. 

One of those involved the need to establish a "high-level, centralized, authoritative, and accountable coordinating mechanism" that would help resolve the highly fragmented approach to animal health that we now take through government agencies and the private sector. 

Another recommendation was that the federal government develop programs that unite veterinary and human researchers in integrated research programs designed to improve the "detection, diagnosis and prevention of animal and zoonotic disease encompassing both animal and human hosts." 

On another front, the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act, a federal initiative that seeks to identify $1.5 billion to increase the capacity of the nation's veterinary college's in public health and biomedical research, has garnered substantial support in the Senate and efforts are now being mobilized for the House. 

We are obviously doing what we can do to advance these national initiatives. But clearly, we can make the most dramatic progress by focusing on the activities of our own college, and put a strategy in place which will advance animal health. 

And this is what we are now going to do. It is time to begin taking concrete steps to implement a "translational research" program to achieve that goal. We are going to increase our research capacity and productivity, and our goal is simple: build support that leads to growth by increasing the relevance of what we do and the speed and efficiency with which we do it. 

Practitioners seeing cases in the field and faculty in our teaching hospitals understand the most urgent and pressing problems in clinical care and know the diagnostics tests and improved treatment protocols that are needed. And working within our laboratories we have a number of basic scientists who are conducting more fundamental explorations into the frontiers of science. 

By using administrative processes to allow more collaboration between our basic researchers and clinicians operating on the front lines of veterinary medicine, we are going to apply our resources in a way that will open new pathways to discovery, strategic growth, and ultimately, better healthcare. 

And the catalyst that will fuel this growth will be our graduate students. We are creating incentives - indeed requirements - that our graduate students incorporate translational research components into their academic work. Our graduate students will play a key role in this necessary fusion of our basic researchers and clinical scientists. We will be using other methods to enhance institutional performance and create new opportunities as well. In future editions of this publication, I will try to explain further what we mean by translational medicine and discuss how we are going to advance this concept. 

It is not so difficult to hear the clarion call for more veterinary research being sounded by government and international health agencies over the past few years; indeed, it is hard to imagine that it has been almost five years since President Steger issued that metaphorical challenge. What is not so difficult to imagine is what will happen if we fail to respond. 


Gerhardt G. Schurig

VMRCVM's 2006 General Assembly Agenda

Virginia State Capitol The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has several important initiatives on the table as the 2006 Virginia General Assembly gets underway.
Former Governor Mark Warner's proposed 2006-2008 budget included a one-time general fund appropriation of $9,022,456 to fund Virginia Tech's Host-Pathogen-Environment-Interactions (HPEI) program.
That funding will undergird a rapidly evolving initiative at the university that unites researchers from the VMRCVM, the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI), the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and others in an effort designed to make Virginia Tech a world class leader in researching and developing solutions for infectious disease threats to people, animals and plants.
"The proposed effort will support the assembly of a critical mass of world-class scientists unified by a common set of interests and goals," reads language excerpted from the 2006-2008 Decision Package Narrative Justification submitted to the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget.
The appropriation is an iteration of a major proposal originally authored by Dean Gerhardt Schurig for the university in 2003 that was ultimately recommended for funding by a gubernatorial research panel comprised of U.S. National Academy of Sciences members. Though only modest funding ($500,000 in Governor's 2004 initiative) was provided for the original proposal, the university has been strategically re-allocating internal resources in a manner designed to keep the program tracking and growing.
Also, $3.137 million in capital support in the proposed executive budget is earmarked to support the construction of a new Infectious Disease Facility at the college. The VMRCVM is preparing a National Institutes of Health grant for up to $4 million to provide matching funds for the proposed state funding. Preliminary architectural and planning documents call for the facility to be located on the northwest side of the VMRCVM's Virginia Tech campus.
Finally, Virginia Tech has introduced an amendment that will provide an additional $250,000 per year in operating support from the General Fund for the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg. Sponsored by Delegate Joe May (R-33rd) in the House of Delegates and Senator John Watkins (R-10th), the funds are designed to help the EMC remain competitive and cope with Northern Virginia's high cost-of-living expenses as it recruits new personnel and continues to build excellence in equine service, research and instruction.
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Dean Schurig Reorganizes, Establishes New Internal Governance Boards

Arial View of VMRCVM In an effort to create efficiencies in the college's internal governance system, Dean Gerhardt Schurig has made some strategic changes in the college's management boards.
"I believe this new operating structure will assist the college in achieving its institutional goals more rapidly by improving the quality of the information that is available to our leadership teams and by creating a more strategically focused organizational culture," said Schurig in a January 13 internal memorandum detailing the changes.
The Executive Board, which consists of program managers and department heads, will remain the chief administrative body of the College and provide strategic planning and overall direction of the goals and objectives of the College. However, the EB will meet less frequently and play a smaller role in the day-to-day operations of the college.
Schurig has established smaller, more focused groups to consider and manage issues related to more specific areas of operations. These new bodies include the Clinical Board, the Department Head Board and the Administrative Board.
The Clinical Board will deal with all strategic issues related to hospital function, services, staffing and funding. It will include the dean, the heads of the Departments of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS) and Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS), the VTH director, the EMC director and the assistant dean for administration.
The Department Head Board will deal with all issues closely related to faculty activities, including the evaluation process, time distribution, compensations/expectations, priorities, nominations, and related areas. It will include the dean, the DLACS head, the DSACS head, the head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP), and the assistant dean for administration.
The Administrative Board will deal with all programmatic issues affecting research, professional, undergraduate and graduate student education. This board will include the dean, the associate dean for research and graduate studies, the associate dean for academic affairs, and the associate dean - Maryland campus.
The new boards will meet monthly with narrowly tailored agendas that will be dealt with in sixty to ninety minutes, according to Dean Schurig. Agenda items will come from the board members and the dean's office will determine the meeting agendas.
Schurig said the changes have been made in order to enhance and improve the quality and the speed of the leadership team's decision-making processes. Under the former system, he said, the variety and the complexity of issues often required substantial background discussions which tended to create unfocused meetings that were not as productive as they could be.
The EB will continue to exist with its current composition of members; however, with substantial work on issues already accomplished by the new boards, the role of the EB will be more informational and evaluative rather than decision-making. College Council will continue to exist with the current composition and will meet two times per semester.
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VMRCVM Fully Engaged with VVMA Meeting at Hotel Roanoke

Hotel RoanokeFeaturing keynote remarks from USDA-APHIS Administrator Dr. Ron Dehaven and dozens of continuing education presentations from 31 noted experts from both veterinary academia and private practice, the "Virginia Veterinary Conference" will be held February 2-4, 2006 at the historic Hotel Roanoke, in Roanoke Virginia.
VVMA leaders expect about 400 people to participate in the three-day meeting, which is the 112th annual meeting of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA).
Several faculty members from the college will be making presentations at the meeting and two others have served on the conference planning committee.
Dr. William "Ed" Monroe, professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS), will present "Interactive Case Discussion: Endocrine/Internal Medicine" on Friday, February 3 at 1:40 p.m., and Dr. Michael Leib, the C.R. Roberts Professor of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, DSACS, will follow that with "Chronic Vomiting Cases: An Interactive Presentation" at 3:50 p.m. Dr. Anne Zajac, professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, will present "A New Approach to Deworming Small Ruminants: the Famacha System" on Friday, February 3 at 2:30 p.m.
Two professors have served on the 2006 Conference Committee: Dr. Otto Lanz, associate professor, DSACS, and Dr. W. D. Whittier, professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.
The VMRCVM Alumni Society Auction and Mentors and Students Reception will be held on Friday, February 3, at 5:30 p.m.
Dr. Henry Childers, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), will present the keynote address during the Saturday evening banquet on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.
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Researcher Exploring Malignant Melanoma in Horses

ChiliMalignant melanoma is a dangerous, aggressive form of cancer and approximately 54,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, according to the American Cancer Society. Interestingly, there are many similarities between malignant melanoma in horses and malignant melanoma in people.
Recognizing the extraordinary opportunity for translational research that the disease represents, Dr. John Robertson, director of the college's Center for Comparative Oncology (CeCO), has been looking at one experimental treatment.
During a recent presentation he made before a regional meeting of the American Cancer Society in Roanoke, Robertson detailed some of the work he is doing with the use of Frankincense oil as a possible treatment for malignant melanoma in horses.
The risk factors for malignant melanoma in people and horses are very similar, according to Robertson. In people, they include pale complexion and hair, exposure to excessive sunlight and sunburns and aging. Horses at risk also have a pale coat of grey to white and there seems to be a correlation to aging, which could be a result of chronic exposure to sunlight, he said. In each, the disease is an infiltrated pigmented malignancy that is difficult to manage. Conventional therapies include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and surgery.
The disease often affects horses with the development of lesions on the lips, neck and perineal area.
During his presentation, Robertson detailed the story of Chili, a handsome, 11-year old Thoroughbred and champion jumper that was diagnosed with multi-centric malignant melanoma at the age of seven. Told by her local practitioner that there was not much that could be done for Chili and aware of an interest Dr. Robertson had in evaluating an experimental therapy, Chili's owner contacted Dr. Robertson and asked if he would work with Chili.
That experimental therapy involved the use of frankincense oil, a compound known as a valuable treatment for wounds for more than 2,000 years, and one people are reminded of every Christmas when they recall the Gifts of the Magi that were brought to the Christ-child.
Frankincense oil is a fragrant botanical oil distillate made from fermented plants, explains Robertson, who adds that it contains hundreds of constituents, including boswellic acid, a component that is known to have anti-neoplastic properties. Scientists have demonstrated that the oil has potent anti-inflammatory effects and anti-tumor properties when evaluated in tissue culture with tumors such as astrocytomas, melanomas, and fibrosarcomas. Furthermore, he said, it appears to have fairly selective anti-tumor activity and does not appear to disrupt normal cells. But much about how it affects actual cancer patients is unknown.
Chili's experimental protocol involved daily injections of medicinal grade, sterile frankincense oil directly into his tumors and the application of oil on topical tumors, while Chili's comfort and well-being was carefully maintained through pain and nutritional management, including copious amounts of his favorite peeled baby carrots and peppermints.
The lesions were observed, measured, photographed, and periodically biopsied, according to Robertson. Those tumor biopsies demonstrated that some small tumor cells were destroyed by the treatment and those treated topically were reduced in size. Unfortunately, however, Chili passed away on October 18, 2005 as a result of the progressive and relentless growth of the non-treated tumors.
Chili's involvement with CeCO and the experimental protocol did result in some important achievements, according to Robertson.
"I think this research on frankincense oil suggests that this ancient medicine may have significant modern uses for chemotherapy of non-resectable malignancies," said Robertson, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP). "This research showed that equine melanomas respond to this therapy."
Information gleaned from this Phase I-II National Cancer Institute (NCI) format clinical trial has supported the development of three new grant applications and helped in the treatment of five additional horses, Robertson said.
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2006 Research Days Scheduled

Graduate Research Translational research will be the theme of faculty and graduate student presentations featured during the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's 2006 Research Symposium on Tuesday, May 23rd and Wednesday May 24th, 2006.
During the two-day symposium, graduate students working in the basic and clinical sciences provide a series of 15-minute research presentations that are judged by teams of faculty members. Faculty members also typically present overviews of significant research underway in their laboratories during the event.
This year, consistent with the college' strategic decision to emphasize translational research programs, faculty-members and post-docs will be asked to present their research in the context of how it currently relates or could be transformed to relate more toward translational research.
Translational research is viewed as research that integrates basic and clinical research in a way that more rapidly solves real-world problems using university research.
The college is developing strength in this area by fostering more collaboration between scientists conducting clinical research and scientists conducting basic research, and by creating incentives for graduate students to pursue translational research projects.
This will be the college's 18th annual research symposium.
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Dr. Leib prepares for his InterviewA production crew from CNN in Atlanta recently visited the VMRCVM's Virginia Tech campus to interview Dr. Michael Leib, the C.R. Roberts Clinical Professor of Veterinary Medicine.
The effort was led by Atlanta-based producer Pia Mandran and a two-person technical crew. Correspondent Greg Hunter, who recently joined CNN after working with ABC's "Good Morning America" flew down from New York to conduct the actual interview.
CNN was gathering information about common items that can cause life-threatening gastrointestinal obstructions in dogs. Leib, who is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM), was selected for the interview because of his international reputation as a veterinary gastroenterologist and his expertise in endoscopy.
"I think this event is a good illustration of the excellence we have on our college's faculty," said VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig. "I think this also reminds us of the important role that private support plays in helping us recruit and retain high-quality faculty members."
The piece is expected to air in February on "The Paula Zahn Show," which runs week-nights at 8 p.m. EST on CNN.
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VMRCVM Evaluating Viability of College Park Campus for SA CE

College Park CampusVeterinary Teaching Hospital Director Dr. Bob Martin and Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences Head Dr. Greg Troy recently traveled to the College Park campus where they evaluated the facilities in the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center.
The college executives were specifically looking at whether or not existing facilities were suitable to support future continuing education activities for small animal continuing education programming that might eventually be held on the College Park campus.
"We need to continually look for new ways to provide meaningful services for our Maryland based constituents," said Dean Schurig. "Clearly there is a need for quality small animal CE in the area, and our task is to see whether or not we have the facilities available and the resources to mount this effort."
Opened in 1990, the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center houses faculty offices, conferencing facilities and research laboratories for the college's Maryland faculty; however, the facility was never designed to support any kind of clinical program.
The facility does have, however, several spaces in the research area that were designed to support surgical procedures accomplished as part of research activities. These areas would have to be renovated with an eye toward their new application, and animal holding facilities would need to be developed that would be in accordance with appropriate regulatory authorities.
The pair have authored a report and made some recommendations to the Dean.
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Careers in Veterinary Medicine Program to be Presented

For the 15th consecutive year, "Careers in Veterinary Medicine," a 4-H series that provides a glimpse of the modern veterinary profession, will be presented at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) on the Virginia Tech campus from February 6 - March 20.
Sponsored by Seven Seas Veterinary Services, the VMRCVM, the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) and the Montgomery County 4-H Extension Office, the course will be held on Monday evenings from 7-8 p.m.
The program provides registrants with an opportunity to learn about a variety of topics in the profession and culminates with a guided tour of the veterinary college complex at Virginia Tech. The program is again being coordinated by Dr. Keath Marx (VMRCVM, '89), owner of Seven Seas Veterinary Services.
"Veterinary medicine is playing an ever-growing role in the world we live in," said Dr. Keath Marx, who has led the course for the past 15 years. "I think it's important that we help children learn as much as they can about this profession as they begin thinking about what they want to do with the rest of their lives."
Pre-registration is requested but not required, provided that the maximum class size is not exceeded, and class size is limited to 40 children. Adult escorts or sponsors are invited if space is available at each of the events. Registrants need not be current members of 4-H.
Scheduled topics and speakers include:
  • February 6- "Introduction," Dr. Keath L Marx, Seven Seas Veterinary Services.
  • February 13 - "Small Animal Cardiology and Ophthalmology," Dr. Christopher Paige, resident in cardiology, and Dr. Jamie Schorling, resident in ophthalmology, VMRCVM.
  • February 20 - "Aquatic Veterinary Medicine for Fish and Horseshoe Crabs," Dr. Stephen A Smith, professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMRCVM. (this class to be held at the Aquatic Lab at Price's Fork Research Center)
  • February 27 - "Radiology and Ultrasound," Dr. Tonya Tromblee and Dr. Chris Ober, residents in radiology, VMRCVM.
  • March 6 - "Veterinary Epidemiology Protecting American Agriculture," Dr. Lynette Tobias, Veterinary Medical Officer, USDA/APHIS.
  • March 13 - "Equine Endoscopy (Upper Airway, Gastrointestinal Tract and Joints)," Dr. R. Scott Pleasant, associate professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and Director of Equine Extension, and Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons, VMRCVM.
  • March 20 - Tour of Veterinary Hospital and College, Ted Smusz, Communications, VMRCVM.

Classes will be held in the VMRCVM's Classroom 102, which is located across from the Veterinary Medicine Library. Attendees will enter via the Veterinary Teaching Hospital entrance and proceed to the left down the hall to the classroom.
For more information, contact Michelle Adcock at or call 540-382-5790.
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Popular CE Programs in SA Surgery Scheduled for March, May

Small Animal SurgeryMore and more veterinarians are electing to refer major surgeries to veterinary surgeons board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
But for those general practitioners that still maintain a significant surgical caseload, staying current with the many changes occurring in veterinary surgery is an important task.
The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has recently announced plans to offer two major animal surgery continuing education programs.
Small Animal Soft Tissue Surgery will be offered March 6-8, 2006 and Intensive Small Animal Orthopedic Surgery will be offered May 15-17.
Each is an intensive three-day event that involves extensive lecture and laboratory experiences, each offers 24 contact hours of education and 2.4 CEU's, and the fee for each is $3750, which includes all educational activities, hand-outs and textbooks, lodging, and hospitality.
VMRCVM faculty leading the soft tissue program include Veterinary Teaching Hospital Director Dr. Robert Martin, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS), American College of Veterinary Practitioners; Dr. Don Waldron, Diplomate, ACVS, American College of Veterinary Practitioners; and Dr. Otto Lanz, Diplomate, ACVS.
VMRCVM faculty leading the orthopedic program include Drs. Martin and Dr. Lanz.
For more information about the program, contact Ms. Anne Cinsavich at 540-231-5261 or email her at
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Wake Forest Radiation Oncology Director Visits CECO

John Robertson VMD, PhD Dr. Edward Shaw, professor and chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, recently spent a day on campus working with Dr. John Robertson, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology who directs the Center for Comparative Oncology (CeCO).
Shaw has been working with Robertson on work that is evaluating the efficacy of using Frankincense oil in the treatment of equine melanoma.
"I find both the differences and similarities between human and equine melanoma quite fascinating to see," wrote Shaw in a communication to Robertson.
Shaw, who also directs the Clinical Research Program at Wake Forest University's Comprehensive Cancer Center, also discussed mutual areas of emphasis in terms of manuscripts, grants and funding for 2006 during the visit with Robertson.
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Alumni Gather at College Park for Terps, Hokies Hoops

Hokies Played TerpsAbout 50 members of the college's Alumni Society gathered on January 21st to watch the Terps square off against the Hokies in ACC basketball action.
Tickets were made available for purchase for those alumni who eventually watched the Terps top the Hokies 81-72 in the sold-out 17,950-seat Comcast Center at College Park. Earlier a dinner and reception was held at the University of Maryland's Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center.
Comcast Center announcers recognized the VMRCVM alumni on both the public address system and on the center's television system, according to Dr. Doug Graham, president-elect of the VMRCVM's Alumni Society.
The college is trying to schedule more Maryland and northern Virginia based alumni activities in view of the fact that hundreds of alums are now practicing in those areas, according to VMRCVM Director of Alumni Relations and Student Affairs Lynn Young.
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Diamond Pet Foods Dog Food Recall

Diamond RecallVirginia and Maryland are two of the 23 states affected by the product recall of aflatoxin contaminated dog food by Meta, Missouri based Diamond Pet Foods.
Some estimates suggest at least 100 animals are believed to have succumbed to liver problems caused by dog food that was produced at the firm's Gaston, South Carolina facility and an unknown number of dogs have been sickened.
Clinical signs of aflatoxicosis include loss of appetite, yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin, vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, the animal can experience liver failure and die. If an animal has ingested Diamond Pet Food products and is showing some of these clinical signs, owners are advised to take the animal to a veterinarian for evaluation.
Only some Diamond brand dog food is believed to be affected by the aflatoxin contamination, and VMRCVM officials advise animal owners to follow the instructions provided by the company by contacting the Diamond Pet Foods Customer Information Center toll-free at 1-866-214-6945 or by visiting their web site at in order to ascertain the safety of Diamond products that they may be using. The information center is open between 8 a.m. and 12 a.m. EST.
Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin, or fungal toxin, produced by the organism Aspergillus flavus. Aspergillus is a mold that most commonly grows on corn grown during the dry and arid conditions of a drought, according to Dr. Dennis Blodgett, a veterinary toxicologist who is board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology. Testing for aflatoxin is frequently done at mills and at feed manufacturing sites; however, contaminated corn can occasionally slip through the system because the toxin has been known to accumulate in "hot-spots" in a batch, thereby evading detection through random sampling.
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Public Presentation on Equine Coat Color

Moon's Mega Legacy A public presentation on "Equine Color Genetics" will be made on Tuesday, February 7, 2006 at 7 p.m. in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Heritage Room, which is located on the far left hand side of the building as visitors enter the complex.
The presentation is offered as part of a "Tuesday Evening Equine Talks" lecture series and will feature Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg, professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.
Dr. Sponenberg is a member of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and is internationally regarded for the work he is doing for the preservation of endangered breeds of livestock.
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