Vital Signs

March 2012

Veterinary medical colleges address state cuts

Dear friends and colleagues,

Dr. Gerhardt G. SchurigWhen I assumed the presidency of the Associate of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) last summer, I knew that colleges of veterinary medicine faced many budgetary challenges, and that veterinary medical education and the profession as a whole needed to find ways to address the economic climate.

According to a recent AAVMC economic study, the nation's 28 schools and colleges of veterinary medicine have experienced $104 million worth of state appropriation cuts over the past two years and had to cut costs and raise tuition in response. Much like our peers across the country, VMRCVM has had to address reductions in state support while conserving our core programs, and like others throughout the commonwealth, we are waiting for the final word from the General Assembly on the proposed budget for the 2012-14 biennium.

In January, the AAVMC and the American Veterinary Medical Association sponsored a full-day economic summit that included the deans of the North American colleges of veterinary medicine and the members of AVMA's executive committee. Our meetings focused on making the veterinary profession more economically viable and included discussions of high student debt, the increasing cost of education, and the decreasing traffic for veterinary practitioners brought about by the economic situation. Here at VMRCVM, we have had continued conversations about escalating tuition in higher education and the burden of high student loan payments that we place on our graduates just as they are launching their careers.

Although there is no easy fix for these problems, we will continue to seek new ways to ensure that we offer world-class programs and prepare our graduates for the realities of the veterinary profession. Although many colleges of veterinary medicine, including VMRCVM, began at land-grant institutions, today's veterinarians are not limited to agriculture and farm animal care. They play a vital role in companion animal practice, the human-animal bond, and the "one health" movement. The need for veterinarians—who are the only professionals trained in comparative, cross-species medicine—will continue to grow as the "one health" approach plays a major role in zoonotic disease outbreaks, biomedical research, and food safety and security.

VMRCVM remains a leader in veterinary medical education and our faculty, staff, students, and alumni serve as outstanding ambassadors of our high-quality programs and services. I am confident that, together, we can not only address these budgetary challenges, but also advance the profession in the years to come.

Best regards,

Gerhardt G. Schurig, DVM, Ph.D.

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In This Issue



Featured Stories

Dean Gerhardt Schurig lays first Hokie Stone in new veterinary medicine building

brain cancer research

Dr. Gerhardt Schurig (right), dean of the VMRCVM, lays the first Hokie Stone on the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition.

Hokie Stone now greets visitors to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech for the first time.

Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, VMRCVM dean, joined construction workers on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to place the first batch of the dolomite limestone in the façade for the new Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition.

"This is not only a milestone in the construction of the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition, but also a turning point for the veterinary college as a whole," Schurig said. "For the first time, our students, faculty and staff, and visitors will experience Virginia Tech's distinctive visual appeal when they enter the veterinary college."

Approximately 176 tons of Hokie Stone will cover about 2,000 square feet along the front of the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition. Upon completion, this building's entrance will become the main entrance to the veterinary college.

Last summer, construction crews from the W.M. Jordan Company broke ground on the $14.1 million, 30,000-square-foot facility. The new building will provide instructional space for a state-of-the art clinical techniques laboratory for third-year veterinary students, as well as new faculty offices, student seminar space, and small conference areas.

"We hope that construction on the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition will be complete this summer prior to the Class of 2016's arrival in August," Schurig said. "The new building, plus the planned renovations to laboratories and classrooms, will deliver a modernized, attractive, and interactive study environment for our students."

The new instructional facility is not the only construction project at the veterinary college. Last November, a $10.5 million, 16,000-square-foot Infectious Disease Research Facility opened to provide laboratories and support space to accelerate translational medicine research. The college is also now in the preliminary planning stages for a 90,000-square-foot Translational Medicine Building, which will include integrated research laboratories and an extension of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The college will share the building with Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Science to conduct interdisciplinary research and translational medicine.

View a video of Dean Schurig setting the first Hokie Stone on the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition.

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Curriculum changes to better equip public and corporate veterinary medicine students

public and corporate veterinary medicine

Dr. Stephen Sundlof (left), a faculty member in the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, teaches veterinary students in Blacksburg.

Although most veterinarians pursue careers in private clinical practice, nearly 25 percent of the nation's vets are working for government, private industry, international organizations, or nonprofits. VMRCVM has redesigned and expanded its public and corporate veterinary medicine curriculum to better prepare students for these careers.

New this spring, the third-year course "Problem Solving in Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine" provides students with an opportunity to test their abilities against actual case studies. All students who are pursing the public and corporate veterinary medicine track—one of five tracks that provide instruction on an area of interest in addition to the core curriculum—take this course.

"The 'Problem Solving' course exposes students to real problems that veterinarians in public practice must solve," said Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine (CPCVM). "For example, we present our students with a case involving an extensive brucellosis outbreak at a dairy. After a virtual visual tour of the facilities, they must develop a herd management plan designed to eliminate the disease from the herd and prevent human infection. We then compare their management plans with the actual approach used in the situation in question."

According to Ragan, these case studies demonstrate veterinary medicine's complex role in addressing issues such as animal and public health, food safety and security, and biomedical research. For example, one of the case studies presents a situation at Yellowstone National Park. The location not only adds a multi-agency federal and state regulatory aspect to the mix, but also introduces the possibility of intervention from animal rights groups.

CPCVM added the new course to the curriculum after Ragan surveyed the veterinary college's alumni who had completed the track in public and corporate veterinary medicine and identified ways to match the curriculum with their on-the-job experiences. The survey also resulted in changes to courses on "Veterinarians in the Global Community" and "Veterinarians and Public Policy."

In addition to providing instructional support, CPCVM connects veterinary students with federal agencies in the greater Washington, D.C. area for clerkships.

"These clerkships introduce students to what it would be like working for a federal agency to solve problems from a national or global perspective," said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, an executive with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who is serving a two-year assignment with CPCVM. "Instead of figuring out how to treat a disease on an individual animal, we might ask, 'How will this impact human health and the nation's economy?'"

Sundlof added that VMRCVM's tracking curriculum gives the college an advantage. Implemented in 1998, the tracking curriculum allows students to explore their interest areas in addition to completing the core curriculum that prepares them for entry-level clinical practice in any discipline.

"The college is unique in that it specifically has a track for non-clinical practice," Sundlof said. "Students in the public and corporate veterinary medicine program have a unique set of experiences to prepare them for their future careers in the veterinary world."

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CENTAUR focuses on therapeutic benefits of companion animals

Dr. Bess Pierce

Dr. Bess Pierce, associate professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, became the director of CENTAUR in November 2011.

Although relations between humans and companion animals have long interested scholars, scientific research into the therapeutic benefits of these interactions is a relatively new field of study. VMRCVM is not only adding to the body of evidence about the benefits of the human-animal bond, but also reaching out to the local community to increase these interactions through the Center for Animal-Human Relationships (CENTAUR).

In January, representatives from the veterinary college and its partners convened to form an advisory group to direct the center's clinical and research activities. According to its mission, the center provides educational opportunities for veterinary medical students, outreach and service to the community, and the basis for collaborative research on the animal-human interface.

"We aim to discover new knowledge about the benefits people and animals derive from one another and provide opportunities for people to experience the therapeutic benefits of companion animals," said Dr. Bess Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. "Our partnerships with other research centers and faculty members interested in the human-animal bond will help make this possible."

Pierce, a faculty member in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Small Animal Community Practice and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve Veterinary Corps, became the center's director in November 2011. Her particular background and interests are in the area of working and service dog care and animal-assisted activities in military and law enforcement settings.

The center has a growing team of core faculty members and research partners supporting its mission. Its advisory committee represents experts in various fields, including:

CENTAUR also supports training for a graduate veterinarian to pursue additional research and a master's degree in the area of human-animal interaction, while completing residency training in canine and feline clinical practice. Dr. Zenny Ng, the current resident, has already begun several outreach programs. These include the creation of a new organization for veterinary students to enrich the lives of locals through high-quality animal-assisted activities and visitation, a reading program at the Blacksburg library for children whose self-esteem issues are set aside with the presence of dogs, and a relief fund and pet food and products drives for pet owners affected by the Pulaski County tornadoes in 2011.

The center's advisory group is in the process of updating its mission and charter. Established in 2004, the center received initial seed money from the Metcalf Foundation of the Eastern Shore of Maryland in addition to other donations and grants.

There are 11 centers that conduct research on the human-animal bond throughout U.S. colleges and universities, including six at veterinary colleges. Several other institutions have outreach programs that bring animals to communities for therapeutic purposes. In addition, the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians provides professional support for veterinarians and advances their role in nurturing positive human-animal interactions in society.

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Annual Open House to be held March 31

Open House

The Teddy Bear Repair Clinic is one of many popular attractions at the VMRCVM Annual Open House, which will be held on Saturday, March 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

VMRCVM will host its Annual Open House on Saturday, March 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors will have the opportunity to take guided tours of the 225,000-square-foot complex, watch a police dog demonstration, see how tiny cameras take veterinarians inside dogs and cats, and learn about opportunities in food animal medicine, among other topics.

At 10 a.m., veterinary students will begin guided tours of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and other college facilities. Tours last approximately 60 minutes and will depart throughout the day.

Children's stuffed animals can be "surgically repaired" during a Teddy Bear Repair Clinic, which will be open all day. There will also be a children's dog safety education room set up. Here, children 12 years and younger can learn how to safely approach and interact with dogs.

Demonstrations and informational sessions on radiology, endoscopy, ultrasound, equine thermography, electron microscopy, and other topics will also be presented at the Annual Open House.

The day will feature sessions regarding when to take your pet to the vet. Here, participants will learn how to recognize emergency situations at home, list items to bring to the vet, and suggest first aid items to have at home.

A silent auction, featuring gift certificates and merchandise from local merchants as well as merchandise provided by clubs and organizations in the veterinary college, will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be a contest for the cutest dressed pet at 10:30 a.m.

Earlier in the day, the Annual Bob Duncan Memorial 5K will be held at the Virginia Tech cross country course at 9 a.m. All profits from the race benefit the Bob Duncan Memorial Diagnostic Veterinary Pathology Scholarship.

For more information, visit the Annual Open House website.

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Development news: Friends of the college take advantage of naming opportunities

Two gifts have recently been made to name rooms in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in honor of veterinarians. The first gift was by Butch Webber (VT '63) and his wife Ludi, of Richmond, Va., to name one of the small animal exam rooms in honor of their daughter, Dr. Dawn Webber, a veterinary cardiology resident. The second gift was by Myra Beller of Richmond in memory of her late husband, Dr. Jerome Beller. Dr. Beller was a practice owner in Richmond, a 1946 graduate of the veterinary college at Middlesex University, and was made an honorary member of the VMRCVM Alumni Society in 2000. The family has chosen to name the small animal recovery room. It is wonderful to have more spaces in the hospital and college now being named, especially for colleagues.

The college now has nine seats in the first year classroom named; four in the Bostic family of Virginia Beach: David A. Bostic (VT '80), Dr. James B. Bostic (VT '53, UGA '59), Lois A. Bostic, and Dylan J. Bostic; one for "Bailey" Daniel-Dawson; one for Dr. Melanie Galanis (VMRCVM '04); one for Roanoke Animal Hospital; one for Dr. Gary D. Knipling (VT '65, UGA '69); and one for Dr. Michael J. Watts (VMRCVM '00). Dr. Watts has also named one in the second year classroom once it is re-seated. Each has selected a specific seat to bear their name.

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Welcome to the College

Dr. Xin Luo

Dr. Xin Luo, assistant professor of immunology

Dr. Xin Luo joins college as assistant professor of immunology

Dr. Xin Luo of Pasadena, Calif., has joined VMRCVM as an assistant professor of immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. Luo comes to the college from the California Institute of Technology, where she was a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist in the Division of Biology.

Luo began her position at the college on Feb. 1. In her new role, she will lead a research program that seeks to better understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of inflammation as well as the generation of antibody response.

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Dr. Michelle Theus

Dr. Michelle Theus, assistant professor of neuroscience

Dr. Michelle Theus joins college as assistant professor of neuroscience

Dr. Michelle Theus of Miami, Fla., has joined VMRCVM as an assistant professor of neuroscience in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. She comes to the college from the University of Miami's Department of Neurosurgery, where she was a postdoctoral fellow with the Miami Project to Cure Spinal Cord Paralysis.

Theus began her position with the college on Dec. 25. In her new role, she will continue her research on the use of regenerative medicine techniques to repair the central nervous system following traumatic injury.

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Awards & Honors

Dr. Meng elected to the American Academy of Microbiology

Dr. X.J. Meng

Dr. X. J. Meng, professor of molecular virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Dr. X.J. Meng of Blacksburg, Va., professor of molecular virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at VMRCVM, has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Meng will be recognized at the Academy Fellows Luncheon at the 112th American Society of Microbiology general meeting in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, June 19.

"We are very proud of Dr. Meng's extraordinary accomplishments as a researcher," said Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. "This prestigious honor recognizes the global implications of Dr. Meng's work as a virologist."

Members of the Academy, known as Fellows, are elected through a highly selective, annual, peer-reviewed process, based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. The criteria for election to Fellowship are: scientific excellence, originality, and leadership; high ethical standards; and scholarly and creative achievement. Academy Fellows are eminent leaders in the field of microbiology and are relied upon for authoritative advice and information on critical issues in microbiology.

Each elected Fellow has built an exemplary career in basic and applied research, teaching, clinical and public health, industry or government service. Election to Fellowship indicates recognition of distinction in microbiology by one's peers. Over 200 Academy Fellows have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, while many have also been honored with Nobel Prizes, Lasker Awards, and the National Medal of Science.

Meng's laboratory focuses on emerging and reemerging viral diseases that impact veterinary and human public health. He is widely considered one of the world's leading scientists in hepatitis E virus, porcine circovirus type 2, and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. Meng developed the first United States Department of Agriculture fully-licensed vaccine to protect against porcine circovirus type 2 infection and its associated diseases in pigs, a major threat to the global swine industry. Meng also discovered the swine hepatitis E virus in pigs, which led to the recognition of hepatitis E as a zoonotic disease. He was recognized by Thomson Scientific as being ranked in the top 1 percent of highly-cited scientists in the world in the field of microbiology based on total citations of Meng's publications from 1997 to 2007.

Meng won the Pfizer Award for Research Excellence twice, once in 2001 and again in 2008.

Prior to joining VMRCVM in 1999, Meng served as senior staff fellow in the Molecular Hepatitis Section of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Meng earned a medical doctorate from Binzhou Medical College, a master's degree in microbiology and immunology from the Wuhan University College of Medicine, and a doctorate in immunobiology from the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Awards & Accolades Roundup

Dr. Roger Avery, senior associate dean for research and graduate studies, has been reappointed to his position following a five-year periodic evaluation.

Several faculty members recently presented at the Virginia Veterinary Conference in Roanoke, Va., including Dr. Virginia Buechner-Maxwell, professor of clinical services and medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Dr. Natalia Henao Guerrero, assistant professor of anesthesiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, and Dr. David Hodgson, professor and head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

Caitlin Coleman (MPH '12) has accepted a position as coordinator for International and Appalachian outreach at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, coordinating aspects of medical mission trips for faculty and students and various free clinics and outreach centers in the Appalachian region.

Dr. Anne Desrochers, clinical assistant professor of equine internal medicine at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, co-authored a publication in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care titled, "Presumed Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia in two foals with Rhodococcus equi infection."

Dr. Marion Ehrich, professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was an invited seminar speaker as part of Duke University's Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program. The title of her presentation was, "Fullerenes for ameliorating organophosphorus threats."

Megan Lighty and Jessica Walters, DVM/PhD candidates in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, received $1,000 scholarships from the American Association of Avian Pathologists Foundation. This is the first year that these competitive scholarships have been awarded.

Dr. Harold C. McKenzie, associate professor of equine medicine at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC), gave a presentation at the American Association of Equine Practitioners convention in San Antonio, Texas, which gave attendees an in-depth look at the most effective techniques for diagnosing and managing equine bacterial pneumonia. He also presented a "Tuesday Talk" at the EMC titled, "Equine Strangles: The Problem That Just Won't Go Away."

Dr. Emily Miller, assistant professor of surgery in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, recently achieved Diplomate status with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Dr. Maureen Noftsinger ('01) was awarded the Recent Graduate Leadership Award from the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association at the recent Virginia Veterinary Conference held at the Hotel Roanoke.

Katie Reuss, large animal medicine technician, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for February 2012.

Dr. Julie Settlage, clinical assistant professor of surgery in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, gave a presentation on advances in equine lameness at the Winter Horse Health Seminar in Gibsonville, N.C.

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, director of global health initiatives at the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, lectured at Tufts University on global health opportunities, continuing to build the college's collaborative activities with other veterinary colleges in the public and corporate arena.

Terri Wehr, anesthesia technician, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for March 2012.

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Student Spotlight

VMRCVM students visit Washington, D.C. for Veterinary Student Legislative Fly In

Veterinary Student Legislative Fly In

Carling Sitterly, DVM/MPH candidate in the Class of 2014, and Cassie Wedd, DVM/MPH candidate in the Class of 2013, went to Washington, D.C. earlier this week to attend the Fourth Annual Veterinary Student Legislative Fly In hosted by the Student American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association Governmental Relations Division. The workshop seeks to initiate veterinary student participation in the legislative process and to educate students and members of Congress on the public policy issues facing the veterinary profession.

Carling and Cassie spent the first day with 55 students from other U.S. veterinary colleges learning about the legislative process and the issues currently facing the veterinary profession. On the second day, they visited Capitol Hill to meet with staffers in the offices of Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Jim Webb, and Rep. Morgan Griffith to present their position on legislation, including the Fairness to Pet Owners Act and the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.

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Alumni Spotlight

Dr. Brett VanLear assumes presidency of VMRCVM Alumni Society

A new president and president-elect of the college's Alumni Society were formally installed during a recent meeting of the board held in conjunction with the Virginia Veterinary Conference at the Hotel Roanoke.

Dr. Brett VanLear ('96) succeeded Dr. Michael Watts ('00) as president, and Dr. Maureen Noftsinger ('01) was installed as president-elect of the Alumni Society.

VanLear holds a teaching position with the Veterinary Technology Program at Blue Ridge Community College, maintains an Angus cow/calf operation on his family farm in Fishersville, Va., and performs veterinary relief work in the Waynesboro, Va. area. Noftsinger serves as medical director of Emergency Veterinary Services of Roanoke and serves on the VVMA board of directors and the Veterinary Memorial Fund Committee. Noftsinger was named Outstanding Young Alumnus by VMRCVM in May 2011.

Dr. Michael Watts Dr. Michael Watts

Photo left: Dr. Brett VanLear ('96) (right) has succeeded Dr. Michael Watts ('00) (left) as president of the college's Alumni Society.

Photo right: Dr. Michael Watts ('00) (left) received a service recognition plaque from Dr. David Hodgson, head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

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

Dean: Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig
Produced By: Office of Public Relations and Communications
Managing Editor: Michael Sutphin
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