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Translational Research & Medicine

Having analyzed the trends shaping the future of veterinary medicine and the VMRCVM, Dean Gerhardt Schurig has crafted a vision that unifies the college’s academic, clinical and research programs around a singular organizing concept: Translational medicine.

What is Translational Medicine?

Translational medicine involves the fusion of basic scientists and clinical researchers on programs that catalyze biomedical innovations into practical clinical solutions… for both animals and people.

The goal of this evolving academic culture is to dissolve the boundaries that have slowly been erected between scientists who are conducting basic molecular research and clinical faculty-members who are treating cases in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH). Ultimately, this will increase our rate of innovation and the speed with which we invent and export better products and services into the clinical arena.

Why Translational Medicine?

Dr. InzanaThe world of veterinary medicine is changing fast. Advancements in animal health and public health require high-performance interdisciplinary teams focused on problem solving.

  • Pet-owners and farmers expect world-class care for their animals.
  • The National Research Council has released a landmark report calling for increased veterinary research.
  • Various other studies are predicting a shortage of veterinarians in the years ahead.
  • The veterinary profession’s public health and national security demands have never been more urgent.
  • The biomedical research community needs veterinary medicine to help develop cures for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other maladies.

Examples of Translational Medicine

Dr. Schurig’s own experience with the VMRCVM provides an illustration. When he arrived at the college in 1978 to begin working as a veterinary immunologist, brucellosis, a disease that affects animals and people, was still a major problem in the United States and around the world.

The existing “live” vaccines in use at the time were imperfect. By using various technologies that existed as a direct result of the work that basic scientists were doing as they explored the genetic foundations of life, Schurig was able to develop the highly successful RB-51 vaccine.

Other scientists working in various centers and programs in the VMRCVM provide additional examples.

  • Dr. X. J. Meng, a physician and virologist has recently been awarded almost $3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a vaccine for Hepatitis E, a disease that threatens people and animals. In 2006, he developed a new vaccine for PCV-2, an infectious disease that threatens the global pork industry.
  • In the college’s Center for Comparative Oncology (CeCO), scientists are looking at melanoma and lymphoma, cancers that affect people and animals. Dr. John Rossmeisl is trying to develop better treatments for brain tumors in people and animals through his work as a VMRCVM participating faculty member in the Wake Forest University Translational Science Institute.
  • Dr. Scott Pleasant, an associate professor of large animal surgery, is working with colleagues in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Virginia Tech to study equine obesity which could shed more light on obesity-related human health problems.
  • Dr. Thomas Inzana, the Tyler J. and Francis F. Young Professor of Bacteriology, has developed vaccines for swine pleuropneumonia and is working on one for tularemia, an organism deemed a likely bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.

Benefits to Graduate Education

Graduate students and residents are playing a key role in the translational research and medicine program. Their academic plans will include a mandatory translational research component; they will be required to explore an immediate clinical application for the knowledge they produce through scholarship.

  • Both students and their advisors in the basic sciences will keep their eyes on the bigger picture and understand that there is a clinical context for their work.
  • Trainees with medical backgrounds will be able to gain greater appreciation of how fundamental scientific questions can be approached.
  • Added perspective on both sides will increase our chances of deriving practical applications for new-found knowledge.

Benefits to Human and Animal Health & Discovery

The expansion of knowledge and production of new clinical approaches will fortify the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s role as a tertiary care center and better serve veterinarians throughout the region.

  • New vaccines and pharmaceuticals can be developed.
  • Instruments and techniques for diagnosing and managing disease and trauma can be devised.
  • Pioneering new surgical implants can be created.

Biomedical and health researchers in other Virginia Tech laboratories can field-test their innovations on patients dealing with naturally occurring disease and trauma. Increased activity in this area will lead to more National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, and increased partnerships like the one established with Wake Forest University, government agencies, and research institutes.

The program is expected to generate entrepreneurial activities, intellectual property, patents, and corporations can all generate additional revenues and royalties for investigators, the college, and the university.