Vital Signs

September 2011

Our college, under construction

Dear friends and colleagues,

Dr. Gerhardt G. SchurigIt's hard to believe that only a season has passed since I wrote to you in the last Vital Signs. The pace of growth at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has quickened to what seems more like several dog years. Our college is fortunate to be expanding in what are otherwise tough economic times, and by adding new facilities and increasing our instructional and research programs now, we are positioning ourselves for future leadership among colleges of veterinary medical education.

It may feel like it's all happening in a blink — and sure, if you close your eyes for a second, you may notice a construction crew (or, more likely, the temporary loss of a parking spot) where you were just looking. Our college's growth and continued excellence, however, have been the result of years of work and the support of dedicated faculty, students, and alumni; generous supporters; stakeholders throughout the states in our region; and allies from the research universities we call home. And, as they say: show, don't tell. Our Infectious Disease Research Facility, which began rising from the ground last year, is nearly completed and ready for occupancy in just a couple of months. Construction to the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition is on target to finish by next summer; the footprint has been dug and the foundation is now being poured.

So now, what's next? The third step of our college building expansion plan and the signature of the expansion, the Translational Medicine Building, is our focus. The translational project would significantly grow the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, including an oncology service, and facilitate interdisciplinary research and new ways of clinical instruction. Over the next year, we will be working aggressively to make this project happen. With our partners at Virginia Tech, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Science, we will soon begin a feasibility study of the building.

In a completed Translational Medicine Building, we would literally have animal patients treated on one floor, and the science discovered that can help treat those patients developed on the floor above them. Research and clinical diagnostics and treatment will work hand-in-hand to help find new ways to fight old illnesses. Here's one of the most important parts: human health will benefit as well. Current research projects, such as regenerative medicine, brain and renal research, and vaccine development, will be among the many translational efforts that can benefit both animal and human patients. Just imagine... what if the next important vaccine, lifesaving kidney treatment, or blockbuster drug was developed at VMRCVM?

In the months ahead, we will share more about translational medicine, this project, and how you can help make it become reality. Until then, I look forward to hearing your feedback and input. Welcome to another great VMRCVM year.

Best regards,

Gerhardt G. Schurig, DVM, Ph.D.

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In This Issue



Featured Stories

VMRCVM digs in to future; new buildings move forward

Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition

Ground was broken on the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition over the summer. Construction is moving forward at a steady pace and the project is on track to finish by next summer

Two new buildings are coming to life, with a third in store for the future, at VMRCVM, as the college continues to make room for growth to its instructional and research programs.

Ground was broken on the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition over the summer. By the beginning of this month, the addition's footprint was pressed firmly into the land immediately in front of the college.

"Bringing this project to life is a significant leap forward for the college and will help our faculty train veterinarians in a future-focused, contemporary physical environment," said Dr. Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs at the veterinary college.

Construction crews from the W. M. Jordan Company today work at a steady pace on the addition, on track to finish by next summer. The $14.1 million, 30,000 square-foot facility will provide instructional space for a state-of-the art clinical techniques laboratory for third-year veterinary students and will also provide new faculty offices, student seminar space, and small conference areas.

Additionally, the space will also serve as a new main entrance to the college and showcase a key visual element previously missing in veterinary college buildings: Hokie Stone. Virginia Tech's iconic Hokie Stone is the dolomite limestone featured in many of the university's buildings.

The inside of the building — renderings of which were revealed on the college's website this week — is designed in a sleek, minimalist style with bright and open common spaces.

Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition

Interior rendering of the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition.
image courtesy of HKS Architects

The Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition isn't the only major construction project that's been under way on the college's main campus in recent months. Work began on the Infectious Disease Research Facility last September, and the building, adjacent to the large animal entrance of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is on track for occupancy later this year.

The $10.5 million, 16,000 square-foot research facility is being funded exclusively from state and college funds and includes laboratories and support space to accelerate translational medicine research.

With both the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition and the Infectious Disease Research Facility moving forward, the veterinary college will now turn its attention to developing the Translational Medicine Building, still in its very early stages of life. The translational project, which is being developed jointly with Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Science, will include an expansion of the teaching hospital as well as research laboratories and training spaces for interdisciplinary research among the three colleges.

"We are moving ahead with the translational project and are working with our partners on campus to fund its first stage of planning, to be completed by May 2012," said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the college. "The Translational Medicine Building would allow us to expand use of new approaches in training, clinical treatment, and research to benefit animal and human health. This is the missing link between basic research and its practical application to real animal and human health problems."

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Class of 2015 admitted in white coat ceremony

white coat ceremony

Family, friends, faculty, staff, and others attended a matriculation ceremony for the DVM Class of 2015. View photos from orientation week.

Ninety-six students in the VMRCVM Class of 2015 began their four-year training to become veterinarians following a week-long orientation and a white coat ceremony on Friday, Aug. 19.

Almost 300 family, friends, faculty, staff, and others attended the matriculation ceremony in which the college dean, Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, stressed how the first-year students are pursuing their dream of becoming veterinarians at a critical time in the history of science and medicine.

"Our profession has never been able to do so much for so many," said Schurig, who outlined the profession's important role in companion animal care, food animal veterinary medicine, and public health and infectious disease control. "At the same time, the world has never asked so much from veterinary medicine."

The new students received a white laboratory coat and a stethoscope, personalized for the first time this year, thanks to a joint gift from the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association. The ceremony also marked a special occasion for four veterinarians whose children began veterinary studies in their footsteps.

Prior to the ceremony, the college welcomed first-year students with a week-long orientation designed to produce well-rounded and professional veterinary students. In addition to attending lectures to introduce them to the profession and the college, the students participated in an all-day ropes course at the Alta Mons campgrounds in Shawsville, Va., to improve their team building, leadership, self-confidence, and communication skills.

Debora Weiss of Zurich, Switzerland, a first-year DVM student, agreed that the week-long orientation helped her acclimate to the college and build relationships with her classmates. "I like that we are getting to know each other at different levels," said Weiss, who completed a master in public health degree at George Washington University before entering the veterinary college. "These activities bring out different personality characteristics and show us how we can work together."

The college was among the first of the nation's 28 colleges of veterinary medicine to have a white coat ceremony.

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Veterinary researcher receives prestigious grant to study swine disease

Dr. Scott Kenney

Scott Kenney received a two-year, $130,000 grant from the USDA to investigate the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis behind porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus.

A VMRCVM researcher received a prestigious U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) postdoctoral fellowship grant to investigate the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis behind porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus.

Dr. Scott Kenney, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received the two-year, $130,000 grant from the USDA earlier this month to study how the virus causes reproductive failure in sows and respiratory diseases in piglets.

"The virus infects pigs at early ages and has a major economic impact on the swine industry," said Kenney, who explained that the disease has increased the cost of raising a pig by up to an estimated $18 per head. "Not only does the virus cause the industry to invest more money into raising pigs, but it also reduces the number of piglets from the onset."

Dr. X.J. Meng, mentor of this fellowship grant and a professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology who has studied the disease since the early 1990s, added that porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome is arguably the most economically important global disease for the swine industry. He and Kenney hope to better understand how the virus causes the disease and design better preventive measures.

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome first appeared in 1987. By 1991, researchers had not only discovered that an RNA virus caused the disease but also realized that the virus infecting pigs in the United States was a variant strain of the same virus causing similar symptoms in Europe. In recent years, the virus has caused high fever diseases in pigs in China, leading to high mortality rates and significant economic losses.

"Today, vaccines against porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus are being used worldwide," Meng said. "If the virus infecting a swine herd is genetically similar to the vaccine virus, then the vaccine performs well. Unfortunately, many strains of virus infecting pigs today are genetically different from the one used to create the vaccines. Therefore, we need to develop a better and more efficacious vaccine against this virus."

Although porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus cannot spread from animals to humans, Kenney believes his research on virus-host interactions will have implications on future human health research.

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Equine Field Service uses teamwork, technology to treat local horses


Owner Chris Lee holds Reiny while Travis Burns, VMRCVM's farrier, helps a senior veterinary student remove Reiny's left hind shoe.

Chris and Christina Lee of Roanoke, Va., are passionate horse lovers who are deeply concerned about the care and treatment of their own three. When they began to notice problems with their 26-year-old Appaloosa mare, Reiny, in August 2010, they decided to contact the VMRCVM's Equine Field Service team for further assistance.

The Lees noticed that Reiny "just wasn't her normal self." She was slowing down and became stiff in both front limbs. The owners tried all the tricks they had learned over years of horse ownership, but Reiny's problems persisted.

Members of the Equine Field Service conducted several examinations, including radiographs and specific blood tests in an effort to determine the source of Reiny's pain and lameness. The examinations revealed that Reiny was somewhat overweight and also had high levels of insulin in the blood, a condition known as hyperinsulinemia. Additionally, she had several signs of laminitis, often referred to as "founder," that were causing her apparent stiffness. This combination of findings is common to Equine Cushing's disease, a condition found in older horses and ponies.

The Equine Field Service team recommended treatment of Reiny's conditions. They fitted foam rubber pads under her shoes to provide cushion and support to her feet. Reiny's stall was filled with extra soft bedding, again giving her more padding.

Clinicians from the veterinary college's nutrition service developed a controlled, yet healthy weight loss plan for Reiny, and major improvements were seen by October. Regular visits by Equine Field Service clinicians revealed that Reiny's condition was showing progressive improvement, an excellent prognostic sign.

Equine Field Service

Members of the EFS team use the latest technology in the diagnosis and treatment of horses.

"The best thing about the Equine Field Service team is that they have doctors to cover every service necessary," said Chris Lee. "They have excellent communication skills and incredible equipment, which really made a difference in the treatment of our horse, Reiny."

Reiny's success would not have been possible without the care and support of the Equine Field Service and access to its world-class clinicians, farriers, and equipment. Reiny is now about 250 pounds lighter and moving better than she has in years. The Lees plan to start riding Reiny again in the near future.

The Equine Field Service provides primary and emergency service to patients within a 35-mile radius of the town. Both in-hospital and ambulatory services are provided by scheduled appointments, as well as 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year. Faculty members are available by phone to address client questions.

Written by Rachel McDonnell of Virginia Beach, Va., a graduate student in the Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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Remembering Jean Shehan, an extraordinary friend of the EMC

Jean Shehan at ribbon cutting

(Left to Right) Former Virginia Tech President William Lavery, former Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation Trustee Leonard T. Scully, Sen. John Warner, Mrs. Jean Ellen duPont Shehan, University of Maryland President Dr. John Toll and Dr. G. Frederick Fregin cut the ribbon at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center's dedication ceremony in October 1984.

Jean Ellen duPont Shehan used to drive an old pickup from her Maryland home to Northern Virginia for volunteer council meetings at the Virginia Tech equine medical center named for her aunt, Marion duPont Scott.

"We'd have meetings, and then she'd load up with Southern States horse feed because it was 50 cents a bag cheaper in Leesburg than in Eastern Maryland," recalled Dr. Peter Eyre, VMRCVM dean emeritus, for which the equine medical center is one of three campuses.

Such personal frugality from a member of one of America's most storied families might be surprising, but according to Eyre it was perfectly in character for Shehan, who died last month at age 88.

"She wasn't ostentatious at all," Eyre said, "but she used her wealth in very positive, very productive ways."

One of those ways was to help the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, which opened in 1984. After serving on its founding committee, Shehan became the first chair of the facility's council, an advisory and resource development organization. She was known for being a direct speaker who was never shy with an opinion.

"I witnessed contractors who realized immediately her prowess and decided to take proposals elsewhere," said Shelley Duke, who succeeded Shehan as council chair in 1999 and still serves in that position. "With her scrutiny and craftiness, regardless of her diminutive physical size, she came out the victor."

At one point 20 years ago, when the financial viability of the center was questioned, Shehan stepped forward with an extraordinarily generous challenge gift that is credited with saving the center.

"Very likely the equine medical center would have been closed in 1991 if not for Jean Ellen's support and her challenge to maintain it as a center of excellence," said the center's director Dr. Nathaniel White, who since 2004 has held the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director title, which was established in 1996 through a gift Shehan made.

In a 1990 Virginia Tech Magazine profile, Shehan described the center as "an important component of the health services available to the equine community."

Thanks in no small measure to her generosity, two decades later that is still the case.

"Her kindness, love of horses, and dedication to veterinary medicine will live on for generations," said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, VMRCVM dean. "We are indebted to her for her tremendous support of the college and of our Marion du Pont Scott Equine Medical Center. Our condolences to Jean Ellen's family and friends. Jean Ellen will not be forgotten."

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Development news

Dr. Gary Knipling (animal science '65, DVM UGA '69) helped the college significantly during the recent campaign. He is part owner of Del Ray Animal Hospital and Crossroads Animal Care Center in Northern Virginia and has served on the VT NOVA Campaign Committee on behalf of the college. He also made a generous gift to the college to name a Small Animal Treatment Room in our Veterinary Teaching Hospital. These and other gifts to the university qualified Knipling and his wife, Charlotte, for Ut Prosim membership as special Hokie supporters. The Kniplings own property in Giles County, adjacent to Mountain Lake, and visit Blacksburg often.

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Welcome to the College

Jessica Adkins

Jessica Adkins, grants and contracts officer

Jessica Adkins joins college as grants and contracts officer

Jessica Adkins of Water Valley, Miss., has joined VMRCVM as a grants and contracts officer. Adkins comes to the college from the University of Mississippi, where she worked as a postdoctoral research associate.

In her new role, Adkins will assist faculty members with the preparation of applications for grants and contracts and their submission through the Virginia Tech Office of Sponsored Programs. She will also take the lead in writing multi-investigator proposals, identify long-range funding opportunities, serve as a liaison between funding agencies and the college, and provide training on grant writing and submission.

Learn more

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Dr. Sherrie Clark

Dr. Sherrie Clark, associate professor of theriogenology

Dr. Sherrie Clark joins college as theriogenologist

Dr. Sherrie Clark of Urbana, Ill., has joined VMRCVM as an associate professor of theriogenology in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Clark comes to the college from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was an assistant professor of farm animal reproduction, medicine, and surgery in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine.

Clark began her new role with the college on Aug. 22. Although she will focus much of her attention on large animal theriogenology, she will also deal with small animal reproduction.

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Jill Wells

Jill Wells, recruitment officer

Jill Wells joins college as recruitment officer

Jill Wells of Christiansburg, Va., has joined VMRCVM as a recruitment officer. Wells previously served as the assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech, where she evaluated applications and made admissions decisions, conducted informational presentations to individuals and groups about the admissions process, and communicated with prospective students and their families.

In her new role, Wells will help retain the pool of applicants from Virginia and Maryland and reach out-of-state students. She will also offer tours of the college facilities and promote the college to high school students interested in veterinary medicine.

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Michael Sutphin

Michael Sutphin, public relations coordinator

Michael Sutphin joins veterinary college as PR coordinator

Michael Sutphin of Blacksburg, Va., has joined VMRCVM as its new public relations coordinator. Sutphin comes to the college from the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where he worked as a writer in the Office of Communications and Marketing for five years.

In his new role, Sutphin will assist with the public relations and communications efforts of the veterinary college by advancing written and online communications to the general public and key stakeholder groups, developing multimedia materials incorporating college messaging and goals, helping with institutional strategic communications, and building positive relationships with a broad range of constituency groups.

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Awards & Honors

Faculty and staff honored at Veterinary Teaching Hospital awards ceremony

Congratulations to the recipients of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital awards presented at a ceremony held on Tuesday, June 28. In addition to faculty and staff awards, certificates were presented to interns and residents who recently completed their training at the college.

Faculty Service Awards
Dr. Otto Lanz
Dr. Otto Lanz
Associate Professor
Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences
      Dr. Robert S. Pleasant
Dr. Robert S. Pleasant
Associate Professor
Equine Field Service, Equine Extension
Director, Equine Podiatry Unit
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences

Staff Performance Award       House Officer Service Award
Barbara Kafka
Barbara Kafka
Case Coordinator
Veterinary Teaching Hospital
      Dr. Katherine McMillan
Dr. Katherine McMillan
Surgery & Medicine Intern
Department of Small Animal
Clinical Sciences

Exemplary Service as a Unit Award
Small Animal Internal Medicine
Small Animal Internal Medicine
Accepted by Dr. David Panciera

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Awards & Accolades Roundup

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

Dr. Daniel Binder, clinical instructor of ophthalmology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, recently achieved Diplomate status with the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.

Dr. James Brown, clinical assistant professor of equine surgeryat the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, won the 2011 BEVA Trust Peter D. Rossdale Open Award for a journal article he co-authored entitled 'Risk factors for exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage in Thoroughbred racehorses.'

Andrea Collins, manager of the Small Animal Hospital Intensive Care Unit, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for August 2011.

Dr. Sharon Deem ('88) was appointed director of the new Institute for Conservation Medicine at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Barbara Kafka, case coordinator in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, was recognized with the 2011 VTH Staff Recognition Award for her contributions to the hospital.

Dr. Ludeman Eng, associate professor of cell biology and anatomy in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was named chair of Department of Basic Sciences at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

Dr. Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs, was installed as the new chair of the AAVMC Committee for the Associate Deans for Academic Affairs.

Dr. Michael Leib, C.R. Roberts Professor of Small Animal Medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, presented continuing education courses at a variety of conferences including the Oregon Veterinary Conference, the American Veterinary Medical Association Annual Convention, and the 5th Keystone Veterinary Conference.

Joyce Morgan, former executive assistant to the dean, was awarded the 2011 Friend of the VVMA Award at ceremonies held during the Virgina Veterinary Conference.

Dr. Theresa Pancotto, clinical assistant professor of neurology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, recently achieved Diplomate status with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Neurology).

Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, was named Virginia Tech Scholar of the week for the week starting Sept. 19.

Dr. Chris Roberts, associate professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was named Virginia Tech Scholar of the week for the week starting Aug. 22.

Jenny Robinson, fiscal technician in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital Business Office, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for July 2011.

Ralph Roop, agricultural technician in the Production Management Medicine service, was chosen as VMRCVM's Staff Member of the Month for September 2011.

Dr. Julie Settlage, clinical assistant professor of large animal surgery in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, provided owner centered education at American Draft Animal Days at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Va. on Sept. 9-10, 2011.

Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, gave a presentation at the AVMA Convention held in St. Louis.

Dr. Nathaniel Tablante, associate professor and extension poultry veterinarian at the college's College Park campus, gave a presentation at the AVMA Convention held in St. Louis.

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, director of global health initiatives at the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, was installed as chairman of the AAVMC International Affairs Committee. He was also selected to be the AAVMC Representative to the AVMA Committee for International Veterinary Affairs. Dr. Vroegindewey also gave a presentation at the World Veterinary Year Symposium and provided the keynote talk to the American Association of Corporate and Public Practice Veterinarians during the AVMA Convention.

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Dr. Gerhardt Schurig becomes president of national veterinary education association

Dr. Gerhardt Schurig

Dean Gerhardt Schurig recently assumed the presidency of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, assumed the presidency of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges on July 18 at the association's 2011 Summer Meeting in St. Louis.

"The AAVMC knows that Dean Schurig brings wisdom, a broad perspective, experience, and astute judgment to this important role," said Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, the association's executive director. "The entire staff and the board of directors look forward to working with him in the coming year."

Schurig was appointed the third dean in the history of the veterinary college in 2004. In his time as dean, he has led an ongoing expansion of the college's main campus in Blacksburg and directed its evolution to maintain relevancy and excellence in meeting expectations of society.

"Society holds practitioners of veterinary medicine in high esteem, and those of us in academic veterinary medicine face the challenge of balancing the need for efficient and forward-looking change with the need to maintain the best practices that make it such a great profession," Schurig said.

"Veterinary medical education instills a uniquely valuable, comparative approach to medicine and we need to continue on that path -- but we also need to pursue a vision that will enable us to progress and adapt to the future," he added. "I look forward to working with our member institutions and stakeholders to achieve this goal."

In addition to serving as dean, Schurig is a professor and veterinary immunologist in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and is internationally renowned for his work in developing the Strain RB-51 vaccine against bovine brucellosis, a zoonotic disease that causes reproductive problems in cattle and undulant fever in humans. Schurig joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1978, previously served as chair of the Department of Veterinary Biosciences, associate dean for research and graduate studies, director of Virginia Tech's Institute for Biomedical and Public Health Sciences, and as a senior researcher and former director of the Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases.

Schurig earned his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 1970 from the University of Chile. After earning a master's degree and doctorate in immunology from Cornell University, he spent two years working in the department of veterinary science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a member of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, the American Association of Veterinary Immunologists, and the American Society of Microbiology, among many others. He has received several major teaching and research awards, including the 1986 Beecham Award for Research Excellence.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges is a non-profit membership organization working to protect and improve the health and welfare of animals, people and the environment by generating new knowledge and preparing the high quality veterinary workforce needed to meet continually changing societal demands for veterinary expertise. The association provides leadership for and promotes excellence in academic veterinary medicine to prepare the veterinary workforce with the scientific knowledge and skills required to meet societal needs through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

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