Vital Signs

January 2012

A New Year

Dear friends and colleagues,

Dr. Gerhardt G. SchurigThe New Year has not only brought a reminder that the college has finished the first half of the academic year, but it has also allowed us to reflect on the opportunities and challenges in the months ahead. While our students continue their hard work to become the next generation of veterinary professionals, our faculty and staff are busy in the classrooms, clinics, and research labs advancing our programs and services.

Over the holiday break, Eric McKeeby, the college's director of public relations and communications, relocated to Chicago to join a prestigious public relations firm working with animal and human health clients. We thank Eric for his efforts to lead the development of an integrated communications program, bring increased media attention to the college, and build positive relationships with professional veterinary groups, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

The Office of Public Relations and Communications will continue to communicate about our programs and accomplishments through Vital Signs and other outlets. Michael Sutphin, the college's public relations coordinator, will handle news and media relations, and Alison Elward and Terry Lawrence will manage Web communications and graphic design, respectively. In the coming months, their efforts to keep you updated on the college's progress will be instrumental as we not only grow and expand, but also market our professional and graduate programs to prospective students and their families.

This year will bring many new exciting opportunities for VMRCVM. The 30,000-square-foot Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition, which will provide much-needed instructional space for our Blacksburg campus, will be open by the time the Class of 2016 arrives on campus in August. The new building, plus the planned renovations to laboratories and classrooms, will deliver a modernized, attractive, and interactive study environment for our students. The college will be hiring additional faculty and staff members in selected areas over the next year so that we can meet our instructional and research needs, especially in the area of translational medicine. We will also be moving forward on planning for the Translational Medicine Building, which will expand the Veterinary Teaching Hospital as well as research laboratories and training spaces for interdisciplinary research.

This will be an exciting year for the college, and I look forward to working with our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and stakeholders to ensure that VMRCVM remains a leader in the veterinary community.

Best regards,

Gerhardt G. Schurig, DVM, Ph.D.

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In This Issue



Featured Stories

Tackling a brain tumor deadly to pups and people

brain cancer research

Dr. John Rossmeisl Jr., associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery, does research on primary brain neoplasms and traumatic brain injury. He also works with patients, such as Autumn, here with her owner, Sheryl Coutermarsh-Ott ('11). Rossmeisl treated Autumn for an otherwise inoperable tumor in her groin using non-thermal irreversible electroporation.

Helen was a typical mom of the 50s and 60s with four kids who all had busy lives. By 1974, one son was married with two youngsters of his own. One daughter just completed college and the two youngest children were still in college. One fall day that year, they each received a call that their mother had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Seven hours of surgery, months of radiation therapy, and nine months of worry ended in Helen's death at the age of 55.

Immediately after the operation, the surgeon said that the kind of tumor they found was like "spilled milk." Today, that's still most often the story of what happens to people with the deadliest form of brain tumor, glioblastoma, also known as a stage IV glioma or stage IV astrocytoma. Sen. Ted Kennedy lived for 14-1/2 months with one, dying in 2009 even after receiving top-of-the-line medical care.

A team of scientists and surgeons at Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University Medical Center recently teamed up to use a new treatment technique on dogs, with the expectation that within a few years they may be performing clinical trials on humans with glial cell tumors.

Glioblastomas in canine patients are almost identical to those found in humans and, in fact, occur at least three times more often in dogs. Sadly, mortality patterns for dogs also are almost identical when corrected for normal longevity; dogs survive a few weeks to a few months and humans about nine months with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and 15 months when a drug called temozolomide is added. These fatal facts give researchers hope that they can learn from our four-legged pals how to beat this deadly demon for both people and pups.

brain cancer research

Robert E. Neal II, doctoral student in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences (SBES); Dr. John Robertson, director of the Center for Comparative Oncology; and Paulo Garcia, SBES postdoctoral associate, position electrodes in a gel to look at contact parameters as they test irreversible electroporation electrodes for potential applications.

"Dogs are the holy grail of a spontaneous model for glioblastomas because the tumors develop just like in people," says Dr. John Rossmeisl, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, who is using the new procedure on dogs suffering from brain tumors and some other forms of cancer. "We don't know why these tumors develop. Some of it may be chemicals, cleaning products. Dogs are so similar in makeup to humans that they can be the environmental sentinels for people."

Rossmeisl has partnered with several other researchers to develop new treatment strategies for this serious form of brain cancer, including Dr. John Robertson, director of the Center for Comparative Oncology and professor of pathology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.

Read the full story on VMRCVM's research to treat glioblastomas and the possible human health applications in the winter 2012 issue of the Virginia Tech Research Magazine.

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VMRCVM celebrates Pet Dental Health Month

dental health

Dr. Bess Pierce (left), associate professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, performs a dental procedure on a canine patient.

An estimated 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs have some form of periodontal disease, or inflammation of the gums and supporting soft tissue structures surrounding the teeth. VMRCVM recognizes Pet Dental Health Month, celebrated every February, as an opportunity to teach pet owners the importance of proper dental hygiene in preventing disease.

"Pet dental health is vitally important to overall animal health, but it often does not receive as much attention as other areas," said Dr. Bess Pierce, associate professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Pierce explained that the connection between periodontal disease and systemic illness related to chronic, low-grade oral inflammation makes it all the more important for cat and dog owners to seek regular dental care for their pets. "The cornerstone of oral health care for small animals is definitely the family practice veterinarian," she added.

Veterinarians typically recommend the same oral health treatment for pets as medical doctors and dentists do for people: daily brushing. Pet owners can also use oral rinses, topical gels, and other products in conjunction with routine dental cleaning and treatment. Products bearing a seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council are evaluated for effectiveness and endorsed by several groups, including the American Veterinary Dental Society. Human dental products such as toothpaste and mouthwash should never be used on pets.

Some pets, and even some breeds, have unique health concerns that require veterinary intervention. For example, an estimated 60 percent of cats more than 6 years old suffer from tooth resorption, a painful condition in which the animal's own immune system begins to treat the tooth like a foreign body. The incidence rate of tooth resorption increases with age.

"Cats and dogs will often not show signs of dental disease until it reaches an advanced stage," Pierce said. According to Pierce, cat and dog owners should treat broken and discolored teeth as red flags. In addition, dog owners should consider persistent bad breath a warning sign for periodontal disease.

The Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Small Animal Community Practice, which offers preventive health to small animal clients within a 35-mile radius of Blacksburg, supports Pet Dental Health Month and offers a full range of services.

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College hosts first annual Equine Conference for Veterinarians

Equine conference

Dr. Earl Gaughan, clinical professor of large animal surgery, gives a presentation at the first annual Equine Conference for Veterinarians. See more photos from the conference.

VMRCVM and the Virginia Association of Equine Practitioners sponsored the inaugural Equine Conference for Veterinarians at VMRCVM's Blacksburg campus on Friday, Jan. 6. The conference attracted approximately 90 veterinarians and veterinary students who learned about a variety of equine topics, from regenerative medicine for the distal limb to the clinical examination of the foot.

Participants received six contact hours of continuing education through the veterinary college's partnerships with state veterinary medical associations. Dr. David Hodgson, professor and head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, served as emcee of the conference.

The presentations and presenters included:

The presentations were followed by a panel discussion and tours of the Large Animal Hospital.

View a photo gallery of the conference.

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VMRCVM friend and supporter Mary Leach creates opportunities

Mary Leach

Mary Leach, pioneer of academic scholarship support for VMRCVM

Before it welcomed its first class, VMRCVM had a generous scholarship to offer one of its students–thanks to Mary Leach.

Unlike many donors, Leach never attended the school that became a focus of her philanthropy. A lifelong resident of Arlington, Va., she decided to make a gift in memory of her parents. Looking for a cause to support, she learned from the American Veterinary Medical Association that a veterinary school would be opening on the Blacksburg campus of Virginia Tech.

"My mother and father were fond of pets and always had them," Leach said. "I had racked my brain to think of what I could do that would be appropriate to honor them."

Originally, she had planned to make a generous donation through her will. A desire to witness the effects of her generosity firsthand, however, led her to give several thousand dollars in 1979 to create a scholarship in time for it to be issued to a student in the veterinary college's first class, which arrived on campus in fall 1980.

Read more about Mary Leach's support for the college and about other supporters like her in the winter 2012 issue of the Virginia Tech Magazine.

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Awards & Honors

Awards & Accolades Roundup

Several faculty members from the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC), the Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension (MARE) Center, and DVM program admissions officers in the Office of Academic Affairs presented seminars at Horse World Expo in Timonium, Md. Faculty from the EMC included Dr. Jennifer Barrett, assistant professor of equine surgery, Dr. Martin Furr, professor and Adelaide C. Riggs Chair in Equine Medicine, and Dr. Nathaniel White, director and Jean Ellen Shehan Professor. Faculty from the MARE Center included Dr. Rebecca Splan, associate professor of equine science, and Dr. Shea Porr, assistant professor of equine nutrition and exercise physiology. Admissions officers included Joyce Massie, DVM Program admissions coordinator, and Jill Wells, recruitment officer.

Allison Craft, support specialist in the Office of Academic Affairs, recently passed the qualifying exams and achieved the status of Certified Administrative Professional - Organizational Management by the International Association of Administrative Professionals.

Several faculty and residents in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, alumni, and students attended the recent meeting of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists in Nashville, Tenn., including Dr. Katie Boes, clinical instructor of clinical pathology, Dr. Bonnie Brenseke, resident in anatomic pathology, Dr. Tom Cecere, Ph.D. candidate, Dr. Lois Colgin ('85), Dr. Sarah Hammond, resident in clinical pathology, Dr. Susan Knowles ('06), Dr. Julia Lankton ('09), Dr. Tanya LeRoith, assistant professor of anatomic pathology, Dr. Kim Newkirk ('02), Dr. Pablo Pineyro, resident in anatomic pathology, Dr. Alice Roudabush ('86), Dr. Goeff Saunders, associate professor of pathology, and Dr. Jim Trybus ('04).

Several faculty members in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences presented at the Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference on Jan. 28, including Dr. John Currin, clinical associate professor of production management medicine, Dr. Sarah Holland, production management medicine intern, Dr. W. Dee Whittier, professor of production management medicine and bovine extension specialist, and Dr. Kevin Pelzer, professor of production management medicine.

Dr. Martin Furr, professor and Adelaide C. Riggs Chair in Equine Medicine at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, presented a Tuesday Talk titled "What is Making My Horse Stumble? - Diagnosis for the Neurologic Horse."

Dr. Madison Gates joined the Department of Population Health Sciences as coordinator for the Center for Public Health Practice and Research. He will coordinate collaborative activities among internal and external center partners.

Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of DVM Program admissions, recently attended the Health and Science Expo & Career Fair at University of Richmond to share information about the DVM program and careers in veterinary medicine.

Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, traveled to Uruguay in early December to assist the Minister of Agriculture in the development of an enhanced brucellosis eradication plan for Uruguay. She also traveled extensively throughout Uruguay with the Uruguayan Director of Animal Health and other ministry officials and veterinarians, visiting infected farms and meeting with producer groups and veterinary organizations.

Flori Sforza, licensed veterinary technician in the Small Animal Hospital, recently finished coursework and passed the qualifying exam to become a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner.

Dr. Stephen Sundlof, Dr. Valerie Ragan, and Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, presented a Career Transition Workshop at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. More than 100 veterinarians attended the workshop to explore career options and opportunities. Support for the program was provided by AVMA Member Services, USDA-APHIS, USDA-FSIS, FDA and the US Army Veterinary Corps.

Dr. Reid Tyson, assistant professor of radiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, was named Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research.

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, director of global health initiatives at the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine (CPCVM), recently traveled to Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine as an advisory board member for the M.S. Food Safety distributive education program. He also presented a lecture on global health opportunities to the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and met with the dean, faculty chairs, and students to explore collaborative opportunities for CPCVM. In addition, he met with the vice president of the Division of Agriculture, Forestry, and Veterinary Medicine to explain how CPCVM educates students in the public and corporate arena.

Karen Young, laboratory specialist in Academic Affairs, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for January 2012.

Dr. Lijuan Yuan, assistant professor of virology and immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was featured in President Steger's Virginia Tech Year in Review video for receiving the 2011 Pfizer Award for Research Excellence.

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Alumni Spotlight

Dr. Ernest Rogers joins New Jersey SPCA as first forensic veterinarian

Dr. Ernest Rogers

Dr. Ernest Rogers (PhD '04) (left), a veterinarian at Maplewood Animal Hospital, has joined the New Jersey State SPCA Humane Police as its first "forensic veterinarian."

Veterinary forensic and animal crime scene investigation is a new burgeoning specialty in veterinary medicine. With the advent of Animal Planet's "Animal Cops," the science of the investigation of crimes against animals has become prominent in the minds of the public.

In November, the New Jersey State SPCA Humane Police hired Dr. Ernest Rogers, who earned a doctorate in immuno-toxicology and pharmacology from VMRCVM in 2004, as its law enforcement division's first forensic veterinarian. Rogers is a veterinarian and toxicologist at the Maplewood Animal Hospital in Maplewood, N.J.

As with other police forces, the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Humane Police serves as the key animal cruelty law enforcement agency called to investigate, arrest, and prosecute individuals perpetrating crimes against animals. In their daily campaign against crime, the art and science of crime scene investigation (CSI) as well as the involvement of DVMs as both CSI forensic scientists and medical examiners are invaluable in solving crimes and protecting animals.

Animal abuse takes many forms, from failure to provide basic sustenance, to dereliction of veterinary care, to violence.

"The need to identify and arrest individuals who hurt animals cannot be understated for citizen protection," said Rogers, who added that the triad of behaviors that indicate a propensity toward violent criminal behavior includes bedwetting, fire starting, and animal abuse. "I am proud to be a member of this team of humane police offers and glad to be of service in solving crimes against animals in New Jersey."

Rogers, who completed his DVM at Tuskegee University in 1991, brings to the area of veterinary forensics multiple years of police consultation and involvement in prosecutions, medical examinations, investigation of animal remains, crime scene investigation, evidence collection, crime scene photography, and facilitation of expert witness reports and court testimony. To date, Rogers has been involved in a host of challenging, high-profile cases where forensic investigation and related expertise was required.

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International Outreach Spotlight

Exchange program aims to improve public health practices in Malawi and Zambia


Women and children in Malawi learn about nutrition and sanitation.

In Malawi, an estimated 175 children out of every 1,000 live births does not reach the age of five. Although public health officials expressed optimism that the country would meet its Millennium Development Goal targets for reducing child mortality as recently as 2004, a food crisis and the threats of malaria, poor nutrition, and other concerns have presented increased challenges in recent years.

Dr. Kerry Redican, professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences and associate director of the public health program, visited Malawi and neighboring Zambia in January of 2011. Redican returned to Malawi in September to develop synergy among public health officials from these countries and the United States that focuses on health strategies to educate women and children in reproductive health, nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation.

Both Malawi and Zambia have adopted the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals as targets for reducing the maternal mortality ratio, reducing the mortality rate among children under the age of five, improving hygiene and access to safe water, and improving nutrition. Redican and Dr. Patricia Kelly, professor emerita of teaching and learning in Virginia Tech's School of Education, are coordinating the project using a U.S. Department of State grant.

The project involves 28 health professionals from Malawi and Zambia in a four-week exchange program in which they spend three weeks at Virginia Tech and one week in Washington D.C. Participants learn U.S. public health best practices to address health problems and spend a week with a public health professional in an immersion experience. This culminates in an action plan that they implement upon returning to their home country.

During their 2011 trips to these countries, Redican and Kelly visited the program fellows and assisted them with implementing and troubleshooting their action plans.

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Student Spotlight

VMRCVM students travel to Atlanta for "A Day at CDC for Veterinary Medical Students"

A Day at CDC for Veterinary Medical Students

Dr. Kevin Pelzer, professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, and VMRCVM students traveled to the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta to attend a seminar called "A Day at CDC for Veterinary Medical Students" on Jan. 23.

The seminar, organized by the CDC and co-sponsored by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Public Health Veterinarians, and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, is designed to introduce students to the idea of disease prevention and preparedness, and to exciting careers in public health and epidemiology.

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

Dean: Gerhardt G. Schurig
Managing Editor: Michael Sutphin
Web Editor: Alison Elward
Copy Editor: Rachel McDonnell
Contributing Writers: Michael Sutphin, Susan Steeves, Albert Raboteau
Contributing Photographers: Terry Lawrence, Alison Elward, Jim Stroup, Jerry Baber, Kerry Redican

For questions or additional information about Vital Signs, email