Vital Signs

January 2011

The Year of the Vet

World Veterinary Year

2011 has been designated World Veterinary Year.

Dear friends and colleagues,

Welcome, VMRCVM supporters, to the Year of the Vet. The modern veterinary profession as we know it was launched 250 years ago when the world's first veterinary school was founded in Lyon, France, in 1761. Now our profession comes together across the globe to celebrate World Veterinary Year, commemorating what our institutions of veterinary education created.

Our profession has changed a lot in the last 250 years. Veterinarians are now indispensible players in the treatment and prevention of animal and human illness and in the protection of food safety and biological defense. Veterinarians are running research laboratories, and we are working throughout the government in a variety of roles, including elected office. We've even flown to outer space. Every change in the veterinary profession - each time it has become more sophisticated in its scientific and medical outlook and more central in its role in society - has been preceded by innovations in veterinary medical education. Veterinary colleges are still, 250 years later, the birthplace of the future of the profession.

As Dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, one of the things that I've always been most proud of is the collective outlook and dedication of our college in staying ahead of the changing needs of the world. Our college has never sat idly and enjoyed the calm waters of stasis. Instead, we constantly ask ourselves questions, such as "How can we improve?" "How can we grow?" and "How can we anticipate new demands on a mature profession?" We stand ready to adopt the best final recommendations of the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC) and look forward to working with other colleges of veterinary medicine to share resources and make veterinary education more effective and efficient.

This year, we will continue to see the results of our answers to this ongoing self-examination take both physical and intellectual form. Our new Infectious Disease Research Facility should be completed by year's end, and the Veterinary Medical Instruction Addition will break ground this summer. Our admissions interviews and curriculum have been updated to better train and evaluate students, and we are planning for a future at the college with increased numbers of students and faculty. The veterinary profession has grown over the past two and a half centuries, and our college will continue to lead the future.

I invite you to join us - and the U.S. Congress - in recognizing the role that veterinary education has played in the veterinary profession on its 250th birthday. As always, I look forward to hearing your feedback and input.

Best regards,

Gerhardt G. Schurig, DVM, Ph.D.

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In This Issue



Featured Stories

VMRCVM announces formation of Center for Veterinary Regenerative Medicine

Reaffirming the benefits of regenerative medicine across species, VMRCVM has entered into a research agreement with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., signing a memorandum of understanding to form the Virginia Tech/Wake Forest Center for Veterinary Regenerative Medicine (CVRM).

Regenerative medicine

Dr. Gregory Daniel, department head in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS) and Dr. Reid Tyson, assistant professor of radiology in DSACS, use regenerative medicine to treat chronic kidney disease in a feline patient.

The veterinary college and the institute for regenerative medicine, both leaders in their fields, will engage in ongoing collaborations in translational research in regenerative medicine through the new center. The agreement facilitates the application of cutting-edge regenerative treatments to both human and animal patients.

"Translational research" focuses on turning the biological discoveries of scientists and clinical researchers into innovative treatments for the benefit of patients. "Regenerative medicine" specifically refers to the creation of tissues and organs in the laboratory that can be used to repair or replace damaged tissues in living patients and the use of cell therapies to restore the function or organs and tissues.

As part of the collaboration, clients at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital may have the option to enter their pets into clinical trials, giving them access to cutting edge technology unavailable elsewhere. The agreement will enable the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine to evaluate new regenerative medicine techniques in spontaneously occurring animal diseases that can be models for human disease. This collaboration with the veterinary college will allow researchers at Wake Forest to more quickly assess the efficacy of regenerative treatments to remedy clinical conditions and facilitate their application to human medicine.

Researchers at the veterinary college believe the agreement represents a win-win for both animals and humans.

"The CVRM is a tremendous opportunity to provide new medical alternatives for animals, including loved household pets, while generating scientific knowledge that can save and transform human lives," said Dr. Roger Avery, senior associate dean of research and graduate studies at VMRCVM.

Current research focuses on chronic kidney disease in cats, which are being treated in an effort to induce kidney regeneration and restore renal function.

Additionally, a stem cell approach is being applied to dogs with spay-induced incontinence, a reoccurring problem in spayed female dogs. Muscle stem cells, placed into the neck of the dog's bladder, may help to strengthen the bladder muscle and cure the condition.

Dr. Will Eyestone

Dr. Will Eyestone, research assistant professor of reproductive biology and biotechnology at VMRCVM, performs microsurgery on a bovine oocyte while researching a new source of adult stem cells for regenerative medicine.

Other collaborative projects including canine and bovine induced pluripotentent cells, rapid pathogen detection, wound healing in horses, and canine cardiomyopathy are in start-up mode.

Dr. Willard H. Eyestone, research assistant professor of reproductive biology and biotechnology at VMRCVM, will act as lead faculty member at the veterinary college and the liaison to Wake Forest in the collaboration. Dr. J. Koudy Williams, professor of pathology and surgical sciences at Wake Forest, will serve as the lead faculty member from the institute.

Virginia Tech/Wake Forest Center for Veterinary Regenerative Medicine founding faculty members from the veterinary college also include Dr. Gregory Daniel, Dr. David Grant, and Dr. Otto Lanz from the college's Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Dr. Linda Dahlgren, from the college's Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, and Dr. Jennifer Barrett, from the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, are conducting regenerative research in equine patients.

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Research at VMRCVM uncovers key to understanding cause of lupus

Lupus research

Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed (left), immunolgy professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and Dr. Rujuan Dai, a research scientist at the veterinary college, recently published research that can potentially impact future diagnosis and treatment of lupus, an immune illness affecting more than five million people worldwide.

Potentially impacting future diagnosis and treatment of lupus, an immune illness affecting more than 5 million people worldwide, researchers at VMRCVM have likely uncovered where the breakdown in the body's lymphocyte molecular regulatory machinery is occurring.

Dr. Rujuan Dai, research scientist, and her colleagues in the veterinary college's Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, have discovered a "common set of dysregulated miRNAs in murine lupus models." The research, which appears in the Dec. 13, 2010, issue of the scientific journal PLoS One, was funded in part by the Lupus Foundation of America.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease of connective tissue that causes the body's immune system to become hyperactive and attack normal, healthy tissue. This results in symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, and possible damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart, or lungs.

In an effort to better understand epigenetic factors in the causes of lupus, researchers at the veterinary college focused on microRNA (miRNA), seeking to determine potential impairments of genetic regulation. These small RNAs control gene expression by directly regulating specific target messenger RNAs via inhibition of their translation or inducing their degradation.

"micro RNAs perform these duties in an orderly fashion," said Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed, professor of immunology and head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. "White blood cells use miRNA to regulate antibodies and other proteins in response to infection or any kind of assault."

The researchers chose three strains of autoimmune-prone mice that have different background genomes and manifest lupus-like disease at different ages. For example, one mouse strain began developing lupus-like disease around 3 months of age, and another mouse strain developed severe lupus much later, at 9 months of age.

Findings show that all three lupus strains manifest a common dysregulated pattern of miRNAs despite differences in their background genes. Importantly, this expression of miRNAs became evident only at an age when the mice manifest lupus.

The identification of these common miRNAs presents a new way of understanding lupus development. The researchers at the veterinary college believe these studies will potentially open a new approach for diagnosis and treatment of the illness by altering lupus-specific miRNAs in lymphocytes.

"In the short term, we want to use our better understanding of the disease to develop a tool in the form of molecular markers for early, reliable diagnosis," said Ahmed. The long-term goal, Ahmed added, is to offer entirely new therapeutic approaches, such as manipulation of lupus-related miRNA, to correct pathological conditions.

Having identified signature miRNA changes in lupus disease, the next step for the researchers is to prove they can really switch off the disease.

"If we can do this in a mouse model and then to cure other animals, hopefully it can one day be done in humans. This is long-range research but modern technology is narrowing the time it takes from mouse to human — speeding translation," said Ahmed.

Ahmed and Dai previously published work in the journal Blood, which led them to look at possible changes in expression of microRNAs in autoimmune lupus. They have also been invited to write a review article for a special issue of Translational Research that is devoted to the topic of microRNAs.

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New research facility, instruction addition move forward

Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition

Designs for the college's new Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition (VMIA) have been approved by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

VMRCVM is in the midst of a physical transformation of its main campus in Blacksburg, Va., creating more instructional space and allowing more room for the cutting edge research for which the college has long been known.

Two major additions to the college's main building - a new research facility and an instructional addition - are advancing and will add a total of more than 46,000 square feet to the college when both projects are completed.

Ground was broken on the Infectious Disease Research Facility last September, and the frame of the building now fills the space adjacent to the large animal entrance of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. When finished, the $10.5 million, 16,000 square-foot research facility, which is being funded exclusively from state and college funds, will include laboratories and support space to accelerate translational medicine research. Occupancy of the facility is expected before the end of this year.

Last fall, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors gave final approval to designs for the instruction addition. The approval, which was granted at the Board of Visitor's Nov. 8 meeting, capped more than a year and a half of intense planning of the building's designs.

The Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition will serve as a new main entrance to the college, and final designs incorporate as a key visual element in the façade Virginia Tech's iconic Hokie Stone, the dolomite limestone featured in many of the university's buildings.

Construction on the instruction addition will begin this summer and will last for approximately 12 months. When completed, the 30,000 square-foot addition will provide much-needed instructional space for a state-of-the-art clinical techniques laboratory for third-year students and provide approximately 34 new faculty offices, in addition to student seminar space and small conference areas.

Bringing the new research facility and instructional addition to life is a top priority of the college as it works to meet future needs of students and societal demands for qualified veterinarians and breakthroughs in medical and clinical research. The new buildings are essential to the college's strategic plan to increase enrollment over the next six years from the current 95 students per class to 120-130 students per class.

"The research facility and instruction addition are crucial in our college's ongoing transformation and leadership in training world-class veterinarians and embarking on research that improves and saves animal and human lives," said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the college.

A third construction project, the Translational Medicine Building, will be comprised of approximately 90,000 square feet and will include integrated research laboratories and an extension of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. This building, an interdisciplinary effort shared with Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Science, is currently in the early stages of feasibility planning.

View a photo gallery of the IDRF contruction progress. Click on a thumbnail image to view a larger image and caption.


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Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine expands clerkship opportunities

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey (center)

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey (center), Steve Greenstein (left), and Dr. Paul Douglass (right) at the CROW Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel Island, Fla.

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, director of global health initiatives at VMRCVM's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine in College Park, Md., recently met with Steve Greenstein, executive director, Dr. Amber NcNamara, clinic director, and Dr. Paul Douglass, co-founder of CROW Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel Island, Fl. to expand clerkship opportunities for VMRCVM students and pre-veterinary students.

According to Vroegindewey, "CROW is a premier organization for wildlife rehabilitation and presents an exceptional opportunity for students to learn the clinical processes for wildlife care as well as the educational, outreach, planning, budgeting and administrative aspects of operating a non for profit entity."

The college is working with CROW to develop a curriculum for clerkships that will train students in the technical aspects of rehabilitation including assessment, treatment, rehabilitation and release. In addition, students will gain experience in the operations of a non-profit entity including communications, management, budgeting, strategic planning and other organizations activities through completing a project associated with CROW.

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New seat-naming opportunity available at the college

Seat naming

A naming opportunity for the new seats in classroom 125 has been created at $5000 per seat, payable over five years.

The first-year classroom has been renovated and re-seated to accommodate future growth of the college.

To help pay for the expansion of the college to accommodate more students and give supporters a way to make a lasting personal mark, a naming opportunity for the new seats has been created at $5000 per seat, payable over five years. A pdf of the new seating is available online to help supporters select seats and determine how their names will appear on the brass plaque. The completed seating form should be mailed to the college's Office of Development.

Ongoing support is crucial to veterinary medical education and the future growth of the college. Learn more

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Awards & Honors

Awards & Accolades Roundup

Dr. Jennifer Barrett, assistant professor of equine surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, presented at the Horse World Expo in Timonium, MD.

Priscilla Blackburn, MA, LVT, CVPM, assistant hospital administrator for patient care at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, was sworn in as the new vice president of American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians' at the annual meeting of the association held in Baltimore.

Amanda Compton, a nurse at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, was named the recipient of American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians' Melissa Finnegan Scholarship award at the annual meeting of the association held in Baltimore.

Dr. Anne Desrochers, clinical assistant professor of equine internal medicine at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, authored a chapter in Equine Reproduction (2nd edition). She also presented a lecture and conducted a laboratory at the ACVIM's Equine Cardiology Advanced Education Course in Las Vegas, NV.

Congratulations to the members of the DVM Class of 2011 who were recently notified of their success in passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE).

Barbara Dryman, laboratory specialist in the Molecular Virology Research Laboratory, was one of four recipients of the Virginia Tech Outstanding Performance in Labs Award.

Dr. Thomas J. Inzana, the Tyler J. and Frances F. Young Chair of Bacteriology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, has been re-certified with the American Board of Medical Microbiology for a three period ending on Dec. 31, 2013.

Barbara Kafka, case coordinator in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for January 2011.

Dr. Michael Leib, the C.R. Roberts Professor of Small Animal Medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS), Dr. Ed Monroe, professor of internal medicine in DSACS, and Dr. David Grant, assistant professor of internal medicine in DSACS, recently taught an intermediate gastrointestinal endoscopy course for 19 internal medicine residents from nine veterinary colleges and two private specialty practices. Residents traveled from as far away as Saskatchewan, Canada, Corvallis, Ore., Madison, Wis., and Ithaca, N.Y.

Susan West Marmagas, MPH, assistant director of the Public Health Program at Virginia Tech, was elected vice chair of American Public Health Association Executive Board.

Dr. Harold McKenzie, associate professor of equine medicine at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, presented several talks at the Southwest Veterinary Symposium in Fort Worth, TX, the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association's Fall Conference in Timonium, MD, the Horse World Expo in Timonium, MD, and during Delaware Ag Week in Harrington, DE.

Dr. Scott Pleasant, associate professor of large animal surgery in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, presented at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Veterinary Sport Horse Symposium.

Dr. Kathryn A. Simmons (VMRCVM '84) accepted a position on Capitol Hill in the office of U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), ranking Republican on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Carolyn Sink, supervisor of VTH Diagnostic & Support Services, was one of four recipients of the Virginia Tech Outstanding Performance in Labs Award.

Dr. Kenneth Sullins, professor of equine surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, authored an article in the January, 2011 issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The article is co-authored by Dr. Samantha Hart, former EMC resident.

Ed Wilson, technician in the Facilities Support Unit, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for December 2010.

Dr. Lijuan Yuan, assistant professor of virology and immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was named Virginia Tech Scholar of the Week.

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International Outreach Spotlight

Breed conservation in Paraguay & Argentina

Criollo Pilcomayo cow

The cow in the foreground is of the breed Criollo Pilcomayo with pitití (a Guaraní word for 'speckled') coloring.

Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg, professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, traveled to Paraguay and Argentina last October to identify breed types, develop breed conservation guidelines, and provide training and resources for local textile producers to increase economic opportunity.

Sponenberg spent a week in Paraguay to help Roberto Martínez, of the Facultad de Agronomía de la Universidad de Asunción, with various livestock breed conservation projects. These include cattle projects with the Pampa Chaqueño breed, which has four breeders with approximately 5,000 cattle, as well as with the Criollo Pilcomayo breed, which is limited to one breeder with approximately 500 cattle. The visit involved field trips to evaluate cattle for breed type and to discuss strategies for moving forward with effective conservation programs. Sponenberg also engaged in sheep and goat breed projects during his visit.

Sponenberg gave two presentations at the Universidad National de Asunción, the main university in Paraguay. The presentations included topics on cattle color genetics, coat color genetics in horses, and conservation of colonial spanish horses and other rare breeds.

His trip continued on to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, where Sponenberg gave a seminar on sustainable livestock conservation in the United States to the local office of the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA). The group was especially interested in approaches, experiences, and philosophies from outside their own country.

Over several years, Sponenberg has worked with a local breed conservation group focusing on their goat conservation project. In the past, he provided the design for cashmere combs for effective harvesting of cashmere from the local Criollo Neuquino goats. During this visit, he was able to make recommendations for projects with Linca sheep, which are critically rare and similar to our Navajo-Churro sheep, as well as with Araucana chickens, which are actually pre-Columbian from early Polynesian contacts. Due to this origin, the birds are a high conservation priority.

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Student Spotlight

VMRCVM students meet with veterinary experts at USAHA/AAVLD conference

Dr. Valerie Ragan and members of the Class of 2014 at USAHA/AAVLD meeting

From left to right: Brian Neumann (VMRCVM '14), Carling Sitterley (VMRCVM '14), Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the CPCVM, Kaitlyn Childs (VMRCVM '14), and Linda Huang (VMRCVM '14).

Four VMRCVM first-year students recently attended the annual joint United States Animal Health Association (USAHA)/ American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD) meeting in Minneapolis in November accompanied by Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the college's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine in College Park, Md.

More than 1200 animal health officials attended the meeting including 75 international guests representing 25 countries. The students met a large number of state veterinarians from across the United States, the leadership of USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Veterinary Services, animal health authorities from the Republic of Georgia and other countries, as well as most of the executive leadership of both organizations. They were also able to attend lectures on challenges and research related to current animal diseases and issues of concern to veterinarians in public practice.

The students were invited to the AAVLD Board of Directors to discuss the current partnership with the Center. All four students addressed the Board of Directors and eloquently spoke of their experiences and enthusiasm for what they had learned at the meeting.

As a direct result of the students' participation and interest, the USAHA Executive Board voted to eliminate veterinary student membership fees. Veterinary students can now join the organization and attend meetings for free.

In early 2010, the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine signed agreements with both the USAHA and the AAVLD to provide mentoring, education, and networking opportunities for veterinarians and veterinary students.

USAHA's 1200 members are state and Federal animal health officials, national allied organizations, and individual members. The organization works with state and Federal governments, universities, research scientists, veterinarians, and others to protect animal and public health, and control livestock diseases in United States and globally. AAVLD consists of more than 1200 members from 35 different countries and seeks to disseminate information relating to the diagnosis of animal diseases, including establishing, improving, and developing new diagnostic techniques.

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