Dear friends and colleagues,
Building a college from scratch and then witnessing its impact on animal and human health around the world is not a fantasy. It's the story of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Thanks to you and many dedicated citizens, previous deans, and administrators, our college has literally risen from dust in the past three decades. The plows, this time modern mechanized ones, have pulled across our campus once again. We continue to grow both physically and academically, but not without paying close and growing attention to the training and development of each student who walks through our doors, which are soon to be outlined by Hokie Stone.
Over the years, we've moved from mobile offices to cubicles, and soon we will occupy more adequate offices and training facilities on our impressive main campus in Blacksburg, which, by the way, together with the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park and the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, continues to attract the best of the best in veterinary medical instruction and research. With the Infectious Disease Research Facility completed this month, construction of the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition moving full speed ahead, and planning of our Translational Medicine Building beginning to take off, we are positioned for continued and growing leadership in veterinary medical education and research.
This may all sound like the tagline for a movie, but those of us who make up VMRCVM and have grown up with this college, know that this is the real deal. This is our college, which we have all built together. Every brick and drop of sweat in the mortar belongs to the stakeholders from Maryland and Virginia who dreamt about something bigger than themselves and made it a priority that our college succeeds. They courageously fought for the college through dark periods of funding, AVMA accreditation and reaccreditation processes, and now the expansion of our clinical, instruction, and research programs. Yes, we all did this: together.
Now that the deadline has passed for applications for admission to the DVM Class of 2016, we will soon reach another major milestone: our student body will increase to 120 students per class. These economies of scale and progress will enable us to stabilize the price of tuition while continuing to improve the quality of our facilities and hire new faculty members. And, of course, we are confident that this aggressive, yet strategic, approach will result in improved veterinary education and expanded efforts to attract top students.
No one appreciates the value of quality veterinary education more than our college's proud and dedicated alumni. This month we welcomed alumni from throughout our region to the college for two noteworthy events. The Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, which organize our Mentor Program, brought many veterinarians from each association to our college Oct. 13-14 to volunteer their time as mentors to our students. The program grows every year! Also joining us at the college this month was the Class of 1991, which held its 20 year reunion on Oct. 15. Welcome back, alumni.
As I have so many times in the past months, I again thank all of you for your courage and support. I look forward to hearing your feedback and input.
Gerhardt G. Schurig, DVM, Ph.D.
VMRCVM discovers first U.S. strains of hepatitis E virus from rabbits
Class of 2011 students score 100 percent pass rate on national licensing exam
First class of Master of Public Health students completes coursework
College uses social media, new technologies to communicate with students and clients
Researcher says banned pregnancy drug impacts fetal immune system
CPCVM workshop focuses on career transition
Development news: Seat naming update
Welcome to the College
College hires Dr. Daniel Binder as clinical instructor of ophthalmology
Dr. Kathy Gaughan joins college's small animal community practice
Dr. Emily Miller joins college as assistant professor of surgery
College hires Dr. Theresa Pancotto as clinical assistant professor of neurology
Awards & Honors
Dr. Lijuan Yuan honored with Pfizer award at 2011 Research Symposium
Graduate students and staff honored at 2011 Research Symposium
Awards & Accolades Roundup
Researchers in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech have identified the first strains of hepatitis E virus from farmed rabbits in the United States. It is unknown whether the virus can spread from rabbits to humans.
Caitlin Cossaboom of Salisbury, Md., a second-year student in the combined DVM and Ph.D. program in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, is the first author of a publication entitled "Hepatitis E Virus in Rabbits, Virginia, USA" in the November issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Although researchers found hepatitis E virus in rabbits in China in 2009, this is the first time the virus has been identified in rabbits in the United States or anywhere outside of China," Cossaboom said.
Dr. X.J. Meng, professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology in the veterinary college, Cossaboom's graduate advisor, and senior author of the study, identified the first animal strains of hepatitis E virus — swine hepatitis E virus from pigs — in 1997. Following the landmark study on swine hepatitis E virus by Meng and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, researchers began to consider hepatitis E virus a zoonotic virus.
"Since 1997, researchers have found hepatitis E virus in pigs essentially in every swine-producing country and shown that the virus from pigs can infect humans," said Meng, who added that his lab also identified avian hepatitis E virus from chickens in the United States and that other researchers later discovered strains of the virus in other animal species, including rats, mongoose, deer, and wild boars.
Hepatitis E is an acute hepatic disease caused by infection with an RNA virus that has a fecal-oral transmission route. The disease is mainly prevalent in developing countries, though sporadic cases have been reported in industrialized countries such as the United States. The mortality rate associated with hepatitis E virus infection in humans is generally less than 1 percent, but it can reach up to 28 percent in infected pregnant women.
The virus has at least four distinct genotypes. Genotypes 1 and 2 infect only humans and typically occur in developing countries with poor sanitation conditions. Meanwhile, genotypes 3 and 4 are zoonotic, can spread from animals to humans, and are found in both industrialized and developing countries.
"It is worth noting that the strains of the virus found in rabbits in the U.S. and China closely relate to genotype 3, a genotype that has been shown to transfer from animals to humans," Meng said. "The question is, 'Do the strains of hepatitis E virus in rabbits infect humans?' We don't know, but the possibility is there and more research is needed to address this potential concern."
Cossaboom and her colleagues collected fecal and serum samples from 85 rabbits from two farms in Virginia — one in Southwest Virginia and one in Eastern Virginia — and found that approximately 50 percent of the rabbits were exposed to the hepatitis E virus. Researchers were able to genetically identify four isolates of the virus from the two rabbit farms.
"For future research, we are particularly interested in the potential zoonotic infection of humans and food safety concerns," Cossaboom said.
She added that pigs can serve as "animal reservoirs" for genotypes 3 and 4 hepatitis E virus. In other words, the pigs can carry and shed the virus, and occasionally the virus may transmit to humans. "However, it is unknown if the virus from rabbits can infect across species or serve as a reservoir," Cossaboom said.
There are five known types of viral hepatitis: Hepatitis A transmits from person to person from ingesting contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B and C spread by blood-to-blood contact; the hepatitis C virus can also cause chronic infection and, in some cases, liver cancer. Hepatitis D occurs in individuals who already have hepatitis B. Although all of these viruses, including hepatitis E virus, target the liver, none of them are genetically related.
Laura Córdoba, a postdoctoral associate, and Barbara Dryman, a senior laboratory specialist, both in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, also co-authored the paper.
Meng's lab studies the molecular mechanisms of viral replication and pathogenesis and develops vaccines against emerging, reemerging, and zoonotic viral diseases. The lab, located in the college's Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease, is considered one of the world's leading hepatitis E virus research centers.
VMRCVM has completed one of the most notable years for its academic programs after every student in the Class of 2011 passed the national licensing exam.
Between a competitive admissions process and a rigorous four-year training program, students in the DVM program have to pass a number of hurdles on their path to become a veterinarian. One of these, the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), ensures that students have appropriate clinical knowledge and is a requirement before they can practice as veterinarians.
According to Dr. Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs at the veterinary college, the 100 percent pass rate is not only the highest in the past five years but also a testament to the college's success at preparing the next generation of veterinarians.
"In many ways, we've done a good job assessing whether our students are capable of getting through the curriculum and then passing the final exam through our admissions process," Hodgson said. "We have also done a good job of teaching them what they need to know and then assessing whether they actually know it in years one through three. The expectation is that we will have a good pass rate in year four."
Students must pass the NAVLE and, in many cases, a state board exam before entering private veterinary practice in North America. They have two opportunities to take the test in the fourth year of their training program, first in December and then again in April, as well as three other chances after they graduate in May. Every student in the Class of 2011 passed in the first two attempts.
NAVLE covers all major domestic species, but the curriculum at VMRCVM goes beyond simply preparing students to pass an exam. In addition to a core curriculum that offers basic biomedical knowledge and demonstrates how to apply this information in a problem-solving setting, students take courses in one of five track choices: small animal, equine, food animal, mixed species, and public/corporate.
"Even though our core curriculum makes up 70 percent of the veterinary education, that is sufficient to pass the NAVLEs," Hodgson said. "And yet, we still have a tracking curriculum that allows our students to focus on their areas of interest. We are really covering both bases in the curriculum."
To learn more, visit the university spotlight on achievement on this topic.
A first cohort of students in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program completed all requirements for the degree this past August. The program was launched in 2010 with the goal of increasing the number of public health professionals in Southwest and Southside Virginia, the Appalachian region, and beyond.
Seven students in VMRCVM's new Department of Population Health Sciences have already begun putting their public health training to work and are making an impact on their communities. "Some of these students transferred into the Master of Public Health program from another graduate program," said Dr. Kerry Redican, associate director of the public health program and professor of population health sciences. "As a result they were able to complete the remaining coursework required for the Master of Public Health in one year. They will walk in the commencement ceremonies this December."
The students, who range from mid-career professionals to full-time students, have a diverse set of career goals and interests. They include an epidemiologist supporting the New River Valley's response to communicable diseases, a medical laboratory technologist pursuing a career as a public health educator, a recent Virginia Tech graduate applying for medical school, an MBA graduate of Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business focused on administration of long-term care facilities, an Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate completing a pediatric residency, a registered dietician hoping to work as an educator for low-income families and youth, and a first-year veterinary student interested in veterinary public health.
"These students were all a part of our public health education track," said Susan West Marmagas, assistant director of the program, who explained that the 42-credit MPH degree offers concentrations in both public health education and infectious disease.
"The program has been developed and is implemented in partnership with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and integrates and significantly expands public health opportunities at the university," said Dr. François Elvinger, program director and professor and head of the Department of Population Health Sciences. "Our goal has been to expand the instructional, research, practice, and outreach opportunities for students and faculty and build partnerships with local, regional, state, and national health organizations and agencies."
The new degree advances the veterinary college's goal of merging the efforts of veterinarians, physicians, and other health professionals to find solutions to animal and public health concerns. The American Medical Association and American Veterinary Medical Association have both endorsed this "one medicine" approach.
VMRCVM is leveraging the power of social media and other new communication technologies to reach current and prospective students, alumni, and clients.
"We are engaging a variety of stakeholder groups through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Flickr," said Alison Elward, Web communications manager for the college. "We are encouraging a two-way dialogue and conversations in addition to sharing the news."
Like its peer institutions, the veterinary college first dabbled in social media to open lines of communication with prospective and current students and share news with alumni. Today, social media and new communication technologies, such as video conferencing, have made their way into the college's daily life.
"The college has begun holding information sessions for prospective students and applicants using Skype," said Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and students services for VMRCVM, referring to the popular software program that allows users to make voice and video calls over the Internet. "We have even done some individual interviews and sessions using Skype and have found that this one-on-one interaction is much more personable than an email or phone conversation could ever be."
The use of video is not limited to the college's recruitment and admissions efforts, however. Dr. David Caudell, assistant professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology, has incorporated video blogging into teaching efforts.
"I use video blogs as a means for instructor feedback in my graduate-level pathology course," said Caudell. Throughout the semester, his students produced three-minute video blog entries about their impressions of the course material and the instructor's approach based on structured questionnaires. Caudell then used this information to get feedback on his teaching style and how students learned.
In addition to finding ways to use social media as a teaching tool, the veterinary college is looking to leverage its potential impact on animal and human health. According to Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, director of Global Health Initiatives at the college's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine in College Park, Md., the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in January of 2010 highlighted the importance of social media in emergency planning and response.
The college said it will continue evaluating innovative ways to stay in touch and engage stakeholders. "Stay tuned," said Eric McKeeby, director of public relations and communications at the college. "We have big plans for using new and emerging social media sites and mobile apps to communicate the college's message in the future."
A synthetic estrogen—diethylstilbestrol (DES)—prescribed to women in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s to prevent miscarriages had serious, untoward effects in daughters of these women, including the development of a rare type of cancer of the uterus. There has been renewed interest in light of an Oct. 6 report in the New England Journal of Medicine documenting lifelong health complications facing daughters of women given DES.
Reproductive tissues are not the only targets of DES. The immune system is also known to be a target for estrogens. Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed, professor of immunology at VMRCVM, led a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study in the 1990s on how exposure to DES in utero affects the immune system later in life using a mouse model.
"We decided to look at how giving DES to mothers changes the immune system after birth," said Ahmed, who is also head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. "Exposure to hormones such as DES can create a different environment for the fetal immune system. This is a very sensitive time in the 'education' of the immune system. Exposure of the fetus to DES during this sensitive time can interfere with this 'education' of the immune system."
According to Ahmed, many disorders resulting from prenatal exposure to DES become evident after puberty and maturity. This suggested to Ahmed and his colleagues that individuals exposed to DES prenatally might have a "deviant or more sensitive" response to their own sex hormones at maturity. The recent New England Journal of Medicine report found that women whose mothers took DES have significantly higher rates of a number of reproductive problems, including infertility, miscarriage, and premature births. There are more than 2 million women in the United States who were exposed to DES in utero.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned pregnant women from using the drug after a 1971 study found that it caused a rare vaginal tumor in girls and women exposed to it.
Because of the complexity of researching the effects of synthetic estrogens on the immune system, Ahmed turned his attention to the role of natural estrogen and other immunomodulators on transcription factors and gene activation events after completing the NIH study.
Today, he also conducts research on inflammatory cytokine signaling in mouse models and microRNA (miRNA) regulation of the immune system in health and disease. In 2010, Ahmed and his colleagues identified common miRNAs present in three strains of autoimmune-prone mice, likely revealing where the breakdown in the body's lymphocyte molecular regulatory machinery takes place. This could potentially impact future diagnosis and treatment of lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease which affects more than 5 million people worldwide.
The VMRCVM Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine presented a career transition workshop for veterinarians Sept. 16-17 at the veterinary college's College Park, Md., campus.
More than 30 veterinarians and students attended the event to explore new career options and pathways to transition.
"There is a convergence of economic challenges and emerging opportunities for veterinarians across multiple arenas in the public and corporate sectors," said Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the center. "We are privileged to provide this workshop for veterinarians."
Dr. Patricia Wohlferth-Bethke from the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Membership Services discussed various ways the AVMA supports career transition, including job postings, job searches, and career tips. Dr. Ashley Morgan, from the AVMA's Governmental Relations Division, discussed the AVMA Congressional Science Fellowship and American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowships, which provide veterinarians with opportunities to explore new professional paths with the federal government.
Veterinarians who have made career transitions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Army, nonprofits, corporations, state government, and academic careers also presented on future job opportunities and their personal experiences.
"Veterinarians are playing expanding goals in a rapidly changing world, ranging from food safety, disaster response, and emerging disease surveillance to nation building," said Dr. Rene Carlson, AVMA president. "Training students and graduate veterinarians for these roles will be critical, and I applaud the leadership of the Center for Public Corporate Veterinary Medicine."
Carlson added, "The AVMA is committed to assisting its members in reaching their personal and profession goals and has supported these efforts through the Membership and Field Services Division to help veterinarians prepare for and find new, meaningful, and exciting careers."
The first components of VMRCVM's expansion are now becoming a reality, and progress is being made. The existing first-year classroom has been renovated and re-modeled to accommodate future growth of the college, with 133 regular and four handicapped spaces. The Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition has broken ground and will significantly contribute to the deficiency in space.
To help pay for the expansion of the college to accommodate more students, a naming opportunity for the new seats has been created. This opportunity will give supporters a way to make a lasting personal mark. The cost is $5,000 per seat, payable over five years. A seating chart 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.
The college would like to specially thank those who have already participated in the process:
Ongoing support is crucial to veterinary medical education and the future growth of the college. Learn more.
Dr. Daniel Binder of Christiansburg, Va., has joined VMRCVM as a clinical instructor of ophthalmology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Binder was an ophthalmology resident at the veterinary college before accepting the clinical instructor position.
Binder began his new position at the veterinary college on July 16. In his new role, Binder will teach fourth year veterinary students, who have completed three years of classroom instruction and begun clinical rotations, about the diagnosis and treatment of eye issues in companion animals.
Dr. Kathy Gaughan of Sedalia, Colo., has joined VMRCVM as a clinical assistant professor of small animal clinical sciences. Gaughan previously worked as an associate clinical professor in Auburn University's Department of Clinical Sciences. She began her new position at the veterinary college on Sept. 1.
In her new role, Gaughan will support the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Small Animal Community Practice, which provides full-service out-patient preventive health care to local small animal clients within a 35-mile radius of Blacksburg. Services include vaccinations, parasite preventive programs, spay and neuter, dentistry, common clinical medical issues, and minor surgical procedures.
Dr. Emily Miller of Ames, Iowa, has joined VMRCVM as an assistant professor of surgery in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Miller comes to the college from Iowa State University's Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, where she was a small animal surgery resident.
Miller began her position at the veterinary college on Sept. 1. In her new role, Miller will provide veterinary students with classroom knowledge and clinical experience related to small animal surgery.
Dr. Theresa Pancotto of Christiansburg, Va., has joined VMRCVM as a clinical assistant professor of neurology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Pancotto previously worked as a neurology and neurosurgery resident for the veterinary college. She began her new position on July 16.
In her new role, Pancotto will continue her clinical research in epilepsy, intervertebral disc disease, vascular accidents, and inflammatory brain disease and offer instructional and outreach programs related to neurology and neurosurgery.
Dr. Lijuan Yuan of Blacksburg, Va., assistant professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received the prestigious Pfizer Award for Research Excellence at the college's 23rd Annual Research Symposium on Friday, Sept. 30.
"Dr. Yuan's excellent research program is helping generate important knowledge about public health issues and has the potential for new vaccine development and drug therapies for humans," said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, VMRCVM dean.
The Pfizer award, established in 1985, is a nationally recognized award sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, a division of healthcare giant, Pfizer Inc. The purpose of this award is to "foster innovative research, on which the scientific advancement of the profession depends, by recognizing outstanding research effort and productivity."
Yuan is an expert on rotaviruses, which are a common cause of acute dehydrating diarrhea in infants and young children and other young animals worldwide, and noroviruses, which cause most of the epidemic nonbacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world. Her laboratory is working to develop and improve rotavirus and norovirus vaccines. She studies the interactions between intestinal microbes and the mucosal immune system to reveal the mechanisms behind the immune-stimulating effect of specific probiotic Lactobacilli strains – beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and other foods – on rotavirus vaccines.
Yuan's lab also investigates human norovirus pathogenesis and immunity and evaluates novel norovirus vaccines in gnotobiotic, or germfree, pigs.
Yuan earned a diploma in pharmaceutics from Beijing Health School, a diploma in biochemistry from Beijing University, and a master's degree in immunology and virology from the Capital Institute of Pediatrics in Beijing, China. She completed a doctorate in immunology and virology from The Ohio State University and postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Learn more about the Research Symposium.
Congratulations to the award winners from the VMRCVM's 23rd Annual Research Symposium, held at the college on Friday, Sept. 30. During the symposium, graduate students in their last year of study presented research in 15-minute time slots. All other graduate students participated in the research symposium with some selected to present in posters.
Prizes were awarded for the best oral and poster presentations in masters and Ph.D. student categories.
|Research Staff Co-Worker
Graduate Program Coordinator
Office of Research & Graduate Studies
|Outstanding PhD Poster|
Department of Biomedical
Sciences and Pathobiology
Department of Biomedical
Sciences and Pathobiology
|Outstanding MS Poster
Department of Small Animal
|Outstanding PhD Presentation|
Department of Biomedical
Sciences and Pathobiology
Department of Biomedical
Sciences and Pathobiology
Department of Biomedical
Sciences and Pathobiology
|Outstanding MS Presentation|
Department of Large Animal
Department of Large Animal
Karen Johnson, small animal specialty medicine technician, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for October 2011.
Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Corporate and Public Veterinary Medicine, was recently reappointed to the Brucellosis Scientific Subcommittee of the United States Animal Health Association and the Board of Directors for the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association.
Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah, associate professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was named Virginia Tech Scholar of the week for the week starting Oct. 10.
Dr. Dee Whittier, professor of production management medicine, and Dr. John Currin, clinical associate professor of production management medicine, are conducting statewide Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) workshops on low stress cattle handling during November. Whittier and Currin supervise the BQA effort in Virginia, which certifies over 5000 cattlemen and allows these cattle producers to make a concerted commitment to producing quality beef product. Cattle handling is a skill that allows producers to both produce a higher quality product and allay concerns of many beef consumers.
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