Vital Signs: September 2017 Vol. 6, Issue 9

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

Destination Areas

Dear friends and colleagues,

Last year, I wrote about the college’s engagement with Virginia Tech’s emerging Destination Areas, which are areas of excellence involving curriculum and research that differentiate us as a leading university. Offering a transdisciplinary platform for discovery, learning, and engagement, these areas span the academic enterprise and provide faculty and students with new tools to identify and solve complex, 21st-century problems.

Over the last year, faculty and students have helped to advance three of these destination areas: Global Systems Science (GSS), Adaptive Brain and Behavior (ABB), and Data and Decisions (D&D). Their efforts include advancing instructional and research programs involving:

  • Environmental pollution and population health in rural communities, and the related healthcare disparities affecting both humans and animals (GSS);
  • Infectious diseases and immunity to better understand basic mechanisms and the role of the immune system in states of both health and disease (GSS);
  • Neuro-oncology, neurology, and regenerative medicine to gain a better understanding of and develop new treatment modalities for brain tumors and traumatic brain injuries in both people and animals (ABB); and
  • Disease modeling and analytics of population health to inform health decision-making and improve health, well-being, and quality of life (D&D).

Building on these efforts, the college is moving forward with hiring faculty to increase our impact in these areas, including three new positions funded by the Provost’s Office in FY17—in neuro-oncology, virology, and epidemiology—and two more in FY18—in rural health and risk assessment. In addition, the college will soon embark on an exciting neuro-oncology and cancer research initiative in partnership with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute to conduct basic and clinical research in a new health sciences and technology research facility in Roanoke, Virginia.

Given the college’s One Health and transdisciplinary approach to research, learning, and service, we are particularly well suited to make substantial contributions to these destination areas in the future.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean


Featured Stories

Virginia Tech Board of Visitors group photo
The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors met Sept. 10-11, 2017.

Board of Visitors action paves way for new research and teaching facility in Roanoke

At the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors meeting held Sept. 10-11 in Blacksburg, members approved a comprehensive agreement with Carilion Clinic to construct a health sciences and technology research building addition in Roanoke, Virginia.

The agreement paves the way for construction to begin soon on an approximately 139,300 gross-square-foot building containing research and education spaces that will bring together researchers and clinicians in areas of human and animal medical sciences. Their work will focus on targeted thematic areas — biomaterials, body device interfaces, brain health and disease, cardiovascular sciences, infectious disease and immunity, and metabolism and obesity.

The facility will be built on land owned by the Carilion Clinic and will be developed and constructed under a public-private partnership between Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic. The facility will provide approximately 105,000 gross-square-feet for health science and technology research, 16,800 gross-square-feet for comparative oncology research, and 17,500 gross-square-feet for professional development, training, and education.

Read more about the new research and teaching facility.

Researchers Xin Luo and Qinghui Mu
Researchers Xin Luo and Qinghui Mu have discovered that beneficial bacteria found in yogurt may affect the severity of lupus.

Study finds that healthy bacteria in yogurt may reduce lupus symptoms in mice

Researchers at the veterinary college have released new findings that explain how a type of healthy bacteria found in yogurt and other dairy products may reduce disease symptoms in certain patients with lupus.

Xin Luo, assistant professor of immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and her colleagues expanded upon earlier research linking a lack of Lactobacillus, which produces lactic acid and is an important part of gut microbiota in both humans and mice, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus. The new research describes the mechanism behind this association.

“In our 2014 paper, we found that mice with lupus had decreased amounts of Lactobacillus, which led to our hypothesis that adding this bacteria could ameliorate disease symptoms,” said Luo, who added that she and her colleagues also found that the mice had a “leaky gut,” a condition which affects the intestinal lining. “Probiotics such as Lactobacillus work by patching up and reversing the leaky gut.”

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can cause chronic fatigue, joint pain, rash, fever, renal failure, and even death. It affects an estimated 3 million people in the United States. Luo’s recent study deals with lupus nephritis, or inflammation of the kidney that is caused by lupus. According to the National Resource Center on Lupus, lupus nephritis usually develops within the first five years after lupus symptoms start and as many as 40 percent of all people with lupus, and up to two-thirds of children with the disease, will develop kidney complications.

Read more about the study findings.

Sara Wohlford and Kirsten Simpkins at Carilion Clinic
Left to right: Sara Wohlford and Kirsten Simpkins

Recent master of public health graduates take on new roles at Carilion

Connections with the local community are fueling opportunities for current and past public health students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

Two graduates of the college’s master of public health (MPH) program, an interdisciplinary program grounded in the One Health approach in the Department of Population Health Sciences and delivered in partnership with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, now work at Carilion Clinic, a not-for-profit health care organization based in Roanoke, Virginia.

Sara Wohlford, of Roanoke, Virginia, graduated with her MPH degree in 2014 and now works as the efficiency and sustainability program manager at Carilion Clinic. Wohlford, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Georgia State University in 2000 and an associate’s degree in nursing from Jefferson College of Health Sciences in 2007, credits the college’s MPH program for working with her to tailor her program of study to her “specific vision” and for preparing her for her current role at Carilion.

Kirsten Simpkins, of Floyd, Virginia, also graduated with her MPH degree from the veterinary college in 2014 and now works as an infection preventionist with Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Simpkins, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Radford University, heard about the MPH program and “immediately knew that I wanted to pursue my graduate education there,” she explained.

Read more about how the MPH program prepared Wohlford and Simpkins for their roles at Carilion.

Michael Erskine
Michael Erskine

Michael Erskine named Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director

Michael Erskine, of Woodbine, Maryland, who has served as director of Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg since 2013, was recently named the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director of the center by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Directorship was established in 1996 through a gift to the Virginia Tech Foundation from Jean Ellen Shehan, a lifelong horsewoman of international stature. Shehan chaired the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center advisory board for many years and is a niece of the center’s namesake, the late Marion duPont Scott. She died in 2011 at the age of 88.

Under Erskine’s leadership, the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, which is part of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, has implemented a plan that has strengthened the center’s business operation to meet the clinical service, educational, and research needs at the veterinary college.

Read more about Erskine's appointment.

Michelle Theus
Michelle Theus, assistant professor of molecular and cellular neurobiology, received a Junior Faculty Award in 2016 and has used the funding to advance her research on new therapeutic approaches for traumatic brain injury.

Junior Faculty Awards fund research partnerships across campus

Ten faculty members received funding for interdisciplinary research projects as part of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science's Junior Faculty Award program.

The program provides seed funds for innovative research led by pre-tenure faculty, which supports early-stage projects with the potential to evolve into groundbreaking research programs. It also encourages the formation of collaborative teams that can leverage a broad range of perspectives to bring a fresh approach to formidable problems, such as analyzing the cellular changes caused by brain injury and developing advanced computing methods to guide the synthesis of high-performance materials.

Michelle Theus, assistant professor of molecular and cellular neurobiology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received a Junior Faculty Award (JFA) in 2016 and has used the funding to advance her research on new therapeutic approaches for traumatic brain injury.

“The JFA award helped facilitate a unique transdisciplinary partnership between neuroscience, chemistry, and materials science aimed at developing a novel drug delivery system to the brain after trauma,” Theus said. “Our team’s translational approach to improving outcome in patients with head injury is expected to garner external funding and patent opportunities, which are now possible with ICTAS support.”

Read more about the Junior Faculty Awards.

Robert Lee Pyle
Robert Lee Pyle, professor emeritus of cardiology in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, died Saturday, Sept. 16 in Blacksburg.

In memoriam: Robert Lee Pyle, professor emeritus of cardiology

Robert Lee Pyle, professor emeritus of cardiology in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, died Saturday, Sept. 16 in Blacksburg. He was 77.

A founding employee and administrator of the veterinary college and member of the Virginia Tech community from 1981 until he retired in 2007, Pyle made significant contributions to research in cardiopulmonary diseases such as congenital heart defects and pulmonary hypertension, and to the college’s instructional, clinical, and continuing education programs.

“Dr. Pyle was a key member of Dean Talbot's startup administrative team. He served as advisor to the college's 'Citizens' Committee,' especially its chair, Bob Peters, who worked tirelessly in Richmond for political support for the college,” said Peter Eyre, dean emeritus of the college. “He supervised the development of the original facilities, including some of the private fundraising, and was responsible for establishing the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He was an excellent cardiologist and a highly respected clinician and teacher.”

Read more about Pyle’s life and accomplishments.

Student Spotlight

Ann Lynch
Ann Lynch

Veterinary student Ann Lynch conducts tick-borne disease research in France

Ann Lynch, of Charlottesville, Virginia, is a second-year veterinary student pursuing the equine track at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. During the summer of 2017, she traveled to France to participate in the Boehringer-Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program (BIVSP) as one of three American students selected to participate in the European branch of the program.

You traveled to Lyon, France to conduct research this summer. How did this opportunity come about?

This summer, I participated in the Boehringer-Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program (BIVSP), which gives first- and second-year veterinary students the opportunity to participate in an intensive 10-12 week research program. Students perform their own research projects, receive mentorship from experts in the field, and are integrated into the daily life of the laboratory. At the end of the summer, students travel to the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium to present their findings to student colleagues and veterinarians.

The BIVSP is mainly offered at veterinary schools in the United States, but there is a European branch that promotes exchange between AVMA-accredited American, French, and Dutch veterinary schools, which caught my attention and eventually led me to apply for a 10-week research internship in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps department in France. The program matches selected students with research topics and even offers a stipend to cover airfare, living, and travel expenses while abroad. I was one of three American students selected to participate in the European schools’ BIVSP.

Read the full Q&A with Ann Lynch.

Will Culver
Will Culver (fourth from right) with fellow officers and the faculty advisor of the college's chapter of Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity, and Andrew Maccabe, chief executive officer of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, who visited the college in January to discuss the AAVMC’s DiVersity Matters initiative.

Dual degree student Will Culver committed to diversity and inclusion

Will Culver, of Lake Elsinore, California, is a third-year dual degree student in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public Health programs at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves as a student representative on the college's Community and Diversity Committee and as co-vice president for the college's chapter of Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE). Culver talks with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society's Winds of Change magazine about his path to veterinary school, career plans, and his commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts at the college and in the veterinary profession.

Reprinted by permission from Winds of Change © 2017 by AISES Publishing, Inc.

How do you see your career developing?
“I’m on the public/corporate track at VA-MD Vet Med. It’s great preparation for me to pursue my immediate objective, which is a direct commission into the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. They do a mix of things in the Corps, including treating civilian and military animals, inspecting food, and carrying out health and humanitarian missions. Later on, I hope to open a wildlife sanctuary with my brother, who’s now pursuing the same degree I did at Humboldt University. I also want to work with tribes in any capacity I can to reach out to Native youth interested in going to veterinary school, and help them through the same challenges I faced.”

Read the full Q&A with Culver in the Spring 2017 edition of Winds of Change magazine.

Around the College

College to host Canine Breeder Excellence Seminar on Oct. 14

The veterinary college will host the Canine Breeder Excellence Seminar on Saturday, Oct. 14 from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 205 Duck Pond Drive on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. Presented in partnership with the Theriogenology Foundation, the seminar provides dog breeders, veterinary professionals, and interested individuals the opportunity to hear from veterinary experts on a variety of reproduction topics. A webinar option is available for those unable to attend the event. Learn more about the event and registration details.

Clinical study aims to help dogs with end-stage glaucoma

Hugo, a 3-year-old male Great Dane, recently visited the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's ophthalmology service to participate in a study that aims to provide better pain relief for dogs with end-stage glaucoma, a condition caused by abnormal accumulation of pressure and fluid in the eye. His owner, Blacksburg Police Department officer Eric Howard (left), decided to enroll him in the study after an exam revealed that Hugo’s painful condition had progressed to the point that he no longer had vision in his right eye. Pictured are fourth-year veterinary student Sam Schildt (right) of Falling Waters, West Virgina, and specialty medicine technician Lauren Scaletta (center), who were assisting ophthalmology resident and study investigator Andrew Enders with Hugo's exam. Learn more about the study and enrollment criteria.

Alumni return to Blacksburg to celebrate reunion weekend

Alumni from the DVM Classes of ’87, ’92, ’97, ’02, and ’12 returned to Blacksburg to celebrate their reunion weekend on Sept. 15-16. The weekend kicked off with a barbecue on Friday evening held in the college grove where alumni reconnected with classmates and former teachers and mentors. On Saturday, alumni and guests enjoyed breakfast at the college and tours led by our student ambassadors, followed by afternoon outings at popular hiking areas and wineries, and dinners at favorite area restaurants. View a Facebook photo gallery of reunion festivities.

Community Dog Wash brings “fall cleanup” to furry friends

Veterinary students held a Community Dog Wash at the veterinary college on Sunday, Oct. 1. Presented by the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a professional organization for DVM students, and the DVM Classes of 2020 and 2021, the popular semi-annual event attracted community members and their dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Video: Underrepresented students experience veterinary student life through InclusiveVT program

The college's third annual VetTRAC Summer Program offered hands-on experiences, lectures, and tours for 22 undergraduate students from around the country interested in veterinary medicine. Drawing record attendance this year, the program is one of three initiatives developed by the veterinary college for InclusiveVT, Virginia Tech’s approach to diversity and inclusion. Learn more about the 2017 VetTRAC Summer Program.

Awards & Activities

Jonathan Hinckley and Dean Cyril Clarke

Jonathan Hinckley named September Staff Member of the Month

As a laboratory specialist in the laboratory for neurotoxicity studies, Jonathan Hinckley demonstrates diligence and efficiency in his work and attention to detail with data and experiment documentation. Jonathan ensures adherence to all associated IACUC protocols and maximizes efficiency without compromising the integrity of the study.

His nominator noted that the director of the lab “has complete trust and confidence in Jonathan's abilities and professionalism to carry out the breadth of work that is currently being performed.” Recognized as conscientious, courteous and dedicated, Hinckley's “ability to perform this work has been extremely important to the lab's success in becoming a Virginia Tech resource for drug safety studies in animals,” his nominator explained, and overall, “Jonathan's performance in the laboratory has always been outstanding.”

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

Upcoming Events

October 5-6 – Mentor Workshop
Blacksburg, VA
October 12 – Continuing Education: "Seizures and Treatment of Seizure Activity" by Avril Arendse
Sponsored by Purina
Winchester, VA
October 14Canine Breeder Excellence Seminar
VA-MD Vet Med, Blacksburg, VA
October 14Hokie BugFest
Inn at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
November 10-12Potomac Regional Veterinary Conference
Williamsburg, VA
November 18 – Pre-game tailgate for Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburg. Register online
VA-MD Vet Med, Blacksburg, VA


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

  • Dean: Cyril R. Clarke
  • Assistant Dean for Advancement: Alison Wainwright Davitt
  • Managing Editor & Web Editor: Alison Elward
  • Contributors: AISES Publishing, Will Culver, Alison Elward, Kelsey Foster, Ann Lynch, Eleanor Nelsen, Mark Owczarski, Mindy Quigley, Michael Sutphin
  • Photography/Videography: Paramont Aussies, Will Culver, David Hungate, Emily Koth, Ann Lynch, Ray Meese, Sharon Peart, Megan Quesenberry, Jessica Wooleyhand
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