December 2008


Holiday Musings

Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As I sit here days before Christmas reflecting upon 2008, I am struck by two things; first, how surprised I am that another year has zipped by so quickly; and second; that this has been a year of great accomplishment for our college.

The year just past has been clouded with news of economic chaos, and, yes, we have struggled and are struggling with a series of budget reductions that have tempered our ability to make the progress we seek on some of our goals. But in the midst of it all, our college made some important progress.

We earned accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association's Council on Education and the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International. Our research program made important progress, principally in the area of infectious disease research. Our clinical programs also touched the lives of families across the region as we continued to approach the opening of our 100,000th medical record in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. We graduated our 2109th veterinarian during our 25th commencement ceremony. And we continued to make important progress on our capital campaign.

We have continued to move forward on our future facilities. We will break ground on the Infectious Disease Building this coming fall. In addition, preliminary architectural plans for the Instructional Building will be started in January and construction could begin as early as two years from now.

And in the midst of these important achievements, there were many other highlights. An agile team of college researchers helped resolve a national emergency related to contaminated heparin. We continued to build our college and university's international programs, making important progress in India and South America. We took leadership in presenting a major university academic symposium on infectious diseases in society.

We concluded searches for key positions on the college's leadership team. We worked and are working with constituent groups like the Virginia Farm Bureau on strategies for addressing the shortage of food animal veterinarians. We hit our fund-raising goal for the Virginia Law Enforcement K-9 Memorial, which we will dedicate in 2009. And our alumni society continued to establish critical mass, organizing and focusing on ways they can help the college move forward.

All of these things, and so many others that are taken in stride with everyday operations, could not be achieved without the professional efforts of the dedicated people who are part of our college. We all have jobs and careers that are a part of life; but working together we are part of something greater: We are an organization focused on common goals; we are a team helping each other perform; we are a "family" committed to each other and those we serve.

Because of you... faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, our college is making a difference in the lives of many. The holidays are a good time to remember that, as are many other moments throughout the year. I send warm wishes for a happy and safe holiday season to you all. And working together, I look forward to the opportunities that await us in the future.

Sincerely,

Gerhardt G. Schurig
Dean
 

View a multimedia holiday message from the dean


VMRCVM Helping Shape New Virginia Tech-Carilion Medical School

Rendering of Carilion Medical School

The new Virginia Tech-Carilion Medical School is taking shape with the help of faculty from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia will own the $59 million state financed medical school complex, which will include the Virginia Tech-Carilion Research Institute and the new school of medicine.

Establishing a new medical school is a daunting task.

From the conception of architectural blueprints to the design of a curriculum, it is a process that requires teamwork, experience and broad expertise in a variety of the biomedical sciences.

Given that requirement, it's no surprise that several faculty members and administrators from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine are among the many at Virginia Tech who are actively involved with the development of the new Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine.

VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig is a member of the new medical school's Board of Directors.

"Conceptually, this is a very logical collaboration for a world-class research university and a major hospital system like The Carilion Clinic," said Schurig. "The physician-researcher model is a key component of the emerging world of translational medicine. This project will not only produce a critically needed new breed of physician, it will be a major economic development force for western Virginia."

Two other administrators, Dr. Lud Eng, assistant dean for strategic innovation, and Dr. Greg Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS), are playing a crucial role in the development of the new medical school's curriculum.

In fact, Eng, a former head of Virginia Tech's Faculty Senate, was asked by Virginia Tech Provost Dr. Mark McNamee to serve as the university's chief official on the development of the new medical school's educational mission.

Eng, a cell biologist and former head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology who has been with the VMRCVM since 1981, sees the collaboration between veterinary medicine and human medicine as a natural fit, especially now.

"Over the past several years, infectious diseases issues, public health issues and other factors have created more common ground for each sector of medicine," said Eng, noting that an American Medical Association House of Delegates resolution recently called for greater engagement with veterinary medicine. "If we really believe that there is just 'one medicine' then we should behave like there is 'one medicine'."

For Eng and for Daniel, that has meant countless jaunts down Interstate 81 for planning and development meetings with Carilion-based physicians and administrators who are all working hard to create the nation's newest research-based medical school. The school, which will enroll 42 students in each class, is expected to open its doors in fall 2010.

The new medical school's four-year curriculum will include about two years of didactic work and about one and three-quarters year of clinical rotations. The didactic work is structured around a body system based "block system," which includes two blocks per semester and four blocks per year.

"It's a pretty densely packed curriculum," Eng noted. "But it's doable."

Eng has provided leadership for the curriculum development team designing the "Fundamental Biology of Cells and Tissues" block of the new medical school's four- year curriculum. That component includes biochemistry, genetics, anatomy, histology and other areas.

Dr. Greg Daniel is providing leadership for the Block 2 component of the curriculum which is entitled "Biology of Organ Systems 1." He and his team are working on curriculum development in the area of cardiovascular systems, respiratory systems, immune system, musculoskeletal, peripheral nervous system and other areas.

Other faculty members, including histologist Dr. Tom Caceci and anatomist Dr. Bonnie Smith, have also been participating with the curriculum development project.

Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia will own the $59 million state financed medical school complex, which will include the Virginia Tech-Carilion Research Institute and the new school of medicine. About 75 percent of the building will be dedicated toward research and scholarship and about 25 percent will be dedicated toward the educational mission of the medical school, according to Eng.

Eng and other Virginia Tech and Carilion officials have traveled to investigate several other new medical schools as part of the development process, including the massive Cleveland Clinic, which has two medical schools associated with it.

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Veterinary College's Meng Named Inaugural Fralin Life Science Institute Senior Faculty Fellow

Dr. X.J. Meng

Dr. X.J. Meng has been named Virginia Tech's inaugural Fralin Life Science Institute Senior Faculty Fellow. The award was created to recognize contributions of senior faculty members beyond their scientific achievements and their regular faculty appointments.

Dr. X.J. Meng has been named Virginia Tech's inaugural Fralin Life Science Institute Senior Faculty Fellow. Meng, a faculty member in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, was honored for his outstanding scholarship and his sustained leadership within the life sciences in the university.

The Fralin Life Science Senior Faculty Fellow award was created to recognize contributions of senior faculty members beyond their scientific achievements and their regular faculty appointments.

The Fralin Life Science Institute's mission is to increase the breadth and quality of the life science research portfolio at Virginia Tech. There have been aggressive investments in both scientific infrastructure, such as proteomics facilities and imaging equipment, and in new faculty hires in an effort to achieve this goal, according to Dr. Dennis Dean, Virginia Tech's Stroobants Professor of Biotechnology and director of the institute.

"Dr. Meng has participated in and has proven to be extremely valuable in both of these endeavors," said Dean. "He has served as a magnet that led to hiring several outstanding new faculty members and he also provided advice necessary to acquire and implement imaging and cell sorting facilities that will be housed in the new Integrated Life Science Building."

Although it is important to invest in junior faculty and to attract new researchers, the institute believes it is also important to recognize that it is building its programs and depends upon proven investigators already within Virginia Tech who are also good university citizens, explains Dean.

"The leadership and participation of our senior faculty is essential to our success and I am delighted that the Fralin Institute will recognize these individuals on a regular basis," said Dean.

In recognition of his achievement, Meng, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received a plaque and $10,000 in funds to support research activities.

Meng's research focus is on emerging and reemerging viral diseases that impact public health. He is widely considered one of the world's leading scientists in hepatitis E virus, type 2 porcine circovirus, and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. Meng recently developed a vaccine to protect against type 2 porcine circovirus infection and Post-weaning Multi-systemic Wasting Syndrome in pigs, a major threat to the global swine industry. The vaccine, Suvaxyn® PCV2 One DoseTM, has been patented by Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. and is licensed and being marketed by Wyeth Inc. and Fort Dodge Animal Health Inc.

Meng's group also recently discovered two new viruses: swine hepatitis E virus from pigs which is closely related to the human form of hepatitis E virus and avian hepatitis E virus from chickens. These discoveries open up the possibility of new animal models to study human hepatitis E and its treatments that have never been possible before.

Meng serves on the Editorial Board of three international journals and he serves as a reviewer on 29 more. Meng has also served on several National Institutes of Health (NIH) Study Sections including the NIH's Drug Discovery and Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Resistance (DDR) Study Section, and the NIH-NCRR Comparative Medicine Study Section.

He has served as a panel member of the Viral and Rickettsial Diseases panel and as chair of the Viral Hepatitis Section (Annual Report Review) for the United State's Department of Defense's Military Infectious Disease Research Program. He is currently the secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture's NC-229 Committee and he is the chair of the Hepeviridae Subcommittee of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

Meng was also recently recognized by Thomson Scientific as being ranked in the top 1 percent of highly-cited scientists in the world in the field of microbiology. He has published more than 155 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Since joining Virginia Tech in 1999, Meng has brought in over $7 million in research funding on projects where he has been the principal investigator and has also been the co-investigator or consultant on other research funding totaling over $21 million.

He has won the Pfizer Award for Research Excellence twice, one in 2001 and again in 2008, and was elected as an honorary diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Microbiology.

Meng earned an M.D. from Binzhou Medical College in Binzhou, Shandong, People's Republic of China; a M.S. in microbiology and immunology from the Virus Research Institute, Wuhan University College of Medicine, Wuhan, Hubei, Peoples Republic of China; and a Ph.D. in immunobiology from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Preventive Medicine at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ames, Iowa.

Prior to joining the veterinary college, Meng served as senior staff fellow of the Molecular Hepatitis Section of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

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Radiologic Technologists Enhance Image of Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Radiologic Technologists

Susie Ayers, senior radiologic technologist, positions a patient in the CT Scanner in the Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Radiology Center. The VMRCVM employs four radiologic technologists who are specially trained and certified to perform diagnostic imaging and administer radioactive substances for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

It sometimes seems like patients flow in and out of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Radiology Center with the speed of a burst of ionizing radiation.

One comes in for a CT scan to check for a brain mass, another needs an MRI for a possible spinal abnormality. When a patient's health is in question, the non-invasive testing offered in this diagnostic imaging center is often crucial to an efficient and accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

The college has five veterinary radiologists and two radiology residents who are responsible for interpreting the diagnostic images obtained by the advanced technology available in the center. The success of the doctors' interpretation and diagnosis of a condition depends upon the support of the hospital's radiologic technologists.

These individuals are specially trained and certified to perform diagnostic imaging and administer radioactive substances for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. They must complete at least two years of education in an accredited hospital-based program or a two- to four-year program at an academic institution. Upon completion of their education, they must pass a national certification examination. The requirements are the same for human and animal medicine.

Susie Ayers leads the team of four registered radiologic technologists. Ayers is the senior technologist and has been in the profession for 32 years, 21 of those at the VTH. "Registered technologists bring something unique to the table," said Ayers. "We are able to ease the burden of the radiologists... once they tell us what part of the anatomy they need to see, we can strategize to achieve the image."

It's a skill that is absolutely essential to the work of the faculty they support.

"I could not do my job without our radiologic technologists," said Dr. Jeri Jones, a professor of radiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS). "They take care of all the technical aspects of diagnostic imaging so I can focus on image interpretation."

The college's technologists are cross-trained on the seven procedures offered by the hospital, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), ultrasounds and nuclear medicine. The center offers its services to both large and small animals.

Having a part in patient care is what makes the job so rewarding, according to technologist Valerie Ishman.

"Knowing I am helping the patients brings me real joy," said Ishman, who also recently became nationally certified in CT scanning.

In addition to their duties performing scans and assisting the college's radiologists, the college's radiologic technologists are also responsible for teaching fourth-year veterinary students proper radiology techniques. It's a responsibility they take very seriously.

"We have three weeks to make sure they are competent in imaging," explains Ayers. "They must be able to properly position a patient if they are going to be able to properly interpret an image."

Ayers has even been known to do after-hours calls to local alumni practices to offer imaging assistance.

"Dedicated defines our diagnostic imaging staff," said Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. "Their skill and commitment to excellence helps us provide the quality of education and service that our students, referring veterinarians, and clients have come to value."

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Thompson ('87) Working on Leading Edge of Public Practice

Dr. Sharon Thompson

Dr. Sharon Thompson ('87) has had an incredibly productive career in veterinary public practice. She is currently the director of the Center of Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness at the University of Tennessee.

Take a glimpse of Dr. Sharon Thompson's ('87) resume, a document that details one of the most productive careers in the expanding world of veterinary public practice, and you'll understand why she shared the following quip during a recent interview.

The phrase "'we can't' is not in my vocabulary," she said, from her desk at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, where she directs the Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness (CAFSP) and serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Medicine.

The center she directs just landed two of the 11 grants awarded by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through their FY 2008 Competitive Training Grants program. DHS awarded just over $27 million to a variety of private and public sector agencies that will develop and deliver innovative training programs that address high priority national homeland security training needs.

The two grants awarded to the center total almost $5 million and will support two major national training programs, both designed to promote agro-security and food safety in the United States.

The first will support a program leading to the development of national credentialing standards for emergency public and private sector based emergency responders working with animal related disasters that involve multi-state jurisdictions.

The second will lead to the development of effective information sharing networks between law enforcement, public safety agencies, and the private sector on the importation and transportation of food and animal feed in the United States.

The fact that she has established a program of such sweeping credibility and productivity in six quick years in Knoxville speaks of Thompson's extraordinary capacity and drive to make a difference in the world through her work.

Following her graduation from Harvard University with a degree in biology, Thompson entered the VMRCVM where she began work leading to her DVM degree. She recalls being a big fan of the college's "block" curriculum system, because it enabled her to "intensely focus in on one topic for a period of time."

A summer experience working in Kenya as a DVM student also piqued her interest in international work, but she never realized back then that she would one day find herself working as a senior Food & Drug Administration official on issues ranging from international trade agreements to food safety and antimicrobial resistance.

"The great thing about having a DVM is that it really gives you a broad perspective in comparative medicine and that's why I think I've been so successful," she said. "I understand how that animal health issue connects to that human health issue."

She worked in private practice for three years before deciding to pursue her interests in public practice. "At that point in time, I learned that the FDA was actively recruiting veterinarians," she recalled.

She applied to both the FDA and the USDA and ended up accepting her first post as a veterinary medical officer in the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine's Division of Surveillance, an appointment that also had her working with VMRCVM students that were rotating through the FDA-CVM through instructional activities associated with the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine.

From there, Thompson moved rapidly through the ranks, adding a number of international program assignments to her portfolio, and ultimately served as associate director for veterinary medical and international affairs for the FDA-CVM and Department of Health and Human Services liaison with the Joint Institute for Food Safety Research.

"At a certain point in my career I decided that I was really interested in food safety issues and so I strategically started to really focus on that," she said.

In 2002, she was recruited by Dr. Michael Blackwell, who was at that time dean of the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine, to move to Knoxville and help the university develop a nationally prominent program in food safety.

Thompson acknowledges there has been increased awareness regarding the risks of agroterrorism in the "post-9/11" world, but she is quick to point out that preparedness means being ready to deal with a broad spectrum of risks.

"Nowadays when I talk about the issue of the vulnerability of our food supply," she said, "I don't focus necessarily only on terrorism. I also talk about the natural or economic adulteration that we see."

The current issue our country is facing with melamine adulterated food products from China is an excellent example of how contaminants can move through animal and human food production and distribution systems, she explains. Melamine contaminated pet food was ingested by some food animal species, that were in turn, consumed by humans.

Thompson has collaborated with Veterinary Teaching Hospital Director Dr. Bill Pierson and veterinary epidemiologist Dr. Francois Elvinger, an associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS), on an earlier CAFSP program entitled "Development of an Agricultural and Food Vulnerability Assessment Training Course." She expects to collaborate with VMRCVM faculty again in the future.

She believes that veterinarians are poised to play a critical role in dealing with what many believe will be increased food safety and agro-security challenges in the future.

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Veterinary College Hosts Annual Research Symposium

Dr. Anthony Atala

Dr. Anthony Atala, the W.H. Boyce Professor and chair of the Department of Urology and director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University, presented his keynote address: "Regenerative Medicine: New Approaches to Healthcare" during the college’s recent 20th Annual Research Symposium.

One of the nation's leading biomedical scientists and innovators provided glimpses of the emerging world of regenerative medicine during keynote remarks presented at the college's recent 20th Annual Research Symposium.

Dr. Anthony Atala, the W.H. Boyce Professor and chair of the Department of Urology and director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University, presented his keynote address: "Regenerative Medicine: New Approaches to Healthcare."

Atala, one of the nation's leading biomedical scientists and innovators, explained the use of regenerative medicine to address the severe shortage of donor organs which is worsening yearly due to the ageing population. Scientists in the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering apply the principles of cell transplantation, material science, and bioengineering to construct biological substitutes that will restore and maintain normal function in diseased and injured tissues.

Subsequent to Atala's presentation, VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig and Senior Associate Dean Roger Avery were invited to visit with Atala and others at Wake Forest University to discuss the development of a collaborative program in clinical research.

The annual research event showcases student and faculty research in the veterinary college.

Research Symposium

Dean Gerhardt Schurig (left) and Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies Roger Avery (right) present Vrushali Chavan (center) with her second place award in the master's student poster competition.

As is traditional, graduate students in their last year of study presented their research in fifteen-minute time slots as part of a faculty adjudicated awards competition and other students participated in a poster session. However, this year's symposium introduced several changes.

Instead of only one student session, two were held - one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Also, instead of awards being presented in the Basic and Clinical Sciences categories, students were judged at the master's and Ph.D. level both in posters and in presentation.

After opening comments from Dean Gerhardt Schurig and Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies Roger Avery, the first round of poster sessions and student presentations was held.

In another break in tradition, the awards from the day's proceedings were presented during a dinner banquet held at a local conference center.

The first place award for master's student presentations went to David Geiger; second place was awarded to James Cissell.

The first place award for master's student poster session competition went to Sarah Davies; second place went to Vrushali Chavan.

The first place award for Ph.D. student presentation went to Pergentino Balbuena; second place was Parthiban Rajasekaran.

The first place award for Ph.D. student poster session was Murali Mallela; second place was Deena Khan.

Two other college awards which recognize staff performance and achievement within the research and graduate studies division were presented during the concluding ceremony. Allison Craft was honored with the Research & Graduate Studies Dedicated Service Award and Dixon Smiley was honored with the Outstanding Co-Worker Award.

In addition, Dr. Daniel Perez was awarded the college's Pfizer Award for Research Excellence and Dr. X.J. Meng was presented with the inaugural Fralin Life Science Institute Senior Faculty Fellow award.

Initiated in 1989 to showcase the college's research accomplishments and activities, the college's annual research symposium is considered one of the oldest continuing research symposia at the university.

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College Hosts 25th Annual Awards Presentation

Dr. Karen Inzana

Dr. Karen Inzana (right), a professor of neurology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, presents the K. T. and Jerry Archer Public Service Veterinary Scholarship to Keelan Anderson (left), a member of the Class of 2011, during the college's 25th Annual Awards Ceremony held recently in the college center. The ceremony, held this year in conjunction with Parent's Weekend, honors those students in their first through third year of the DVM curriculum.

Several faculty members were recognized for excellence in teaching and more than $300,000 in scholarship awards were presented to 133 students during the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's recent 25th Annual College Awards Program.

The Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teacher Award was presented to Dr. Bonnie Smith, associate professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP). Sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, this national award honors faculty members who have displayed outstanding teaching ability.

Dr. David Grant, assistant professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS), was awarded the College Teaching Award. The award honors a faculty member who has made exceptional contributions to the college's instructional program.

Three Bayer Animal Health Faculty Recognition Awards, which recognize faculty commitment to teaching and the impact that good teaching has on the careers of the veterinarians they train, were also presented.

The Class of 2011 Bayer Animal Health Faculty Recognition Award was presented to Dr. Bonnie Smith. The Class of 2010 Bayer Animal Health Faculty Recognition Award was presented to Dr. Jonathan Abbott, associate professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. The Class of 2009 Bayer Animal Health Faculty Recognition Awards was presented to Dr. Tisha Harper, assistant professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

The 62 student scholarships presented have been funded by a variety of individuals and organizations that seek to promote excellence in the college's academic programs and provide educational opportunities for deserving students. They are awarded to students on the basis of academic performance, leadership, and need.

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Grant Wins College Teaching Award

Dr. David Grant

Dr. David Grant (left) has been named the 2008 recipient of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's College Teaching Award. The award honors a faculty member who has made exceptional contributions to the college's instructional program. He was presented the award by Dr. Grant Turnwald (right).

Dr. David Grant, an assistant professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS), has been named the 2008 recipient of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's College Teaching Award.

The award honors a faculty member who has made exceptional contributions to the college's instructional program. Grant was recognized for his deep involvement with students and his dedication to each student's understanding of the information he covers in his classes.

"Dr. Grant is a great role model for the students," said Dr. Greg Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. "He enjoys teaching and that is reflected in student comments indicating their sense that he cares about them and their education." Daniel also noted Grant's student evaluations are consistently above the departmental average.

Grant's high ratings come as no surprise to Dr. Martha Larson, a professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, who has worked with Grant since his time as a resident in the college.

"He is completely professional, and treats student, staff, house officers, and faculty with respect and collegiality. While he is quietly confident in his medical judgment, he is quick to listen to other opinions," wrote Larson in her letter of nomination for Grant. "I am very happy to work with him as a colleague."

Grant earned his DVM in 1999 from the University of Florida and his M.S. in veterinary medical sciences in 2003 from Virginia Tech. He completed his residency in small animal internal medicine at the VMRCVM prior to joining the faculty in 2003 as a clinical instructor.

Grant's research and teaching interests are in the field of urology. His research and clinical services have focused on evaluating urinary markers of glomerular disease and application of laser lithotripsy for canine urinary stones. He is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and is also a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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Perez Named Recipient of Pfizer Award for Research Excellence

Dr. Daniel Perez

Dr. Daniel Perez, was awarded the prestigious Pfizer Award for Research Excellence during ceremonies associated with the college's 2008 Research Symposium. He was honored for his continuing work in influenza and, more specifically, with the lethal H5N1 avian influenza virus.

Dr. Daniel Perez, an associate professor and virologist on the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's University of Maryland-College Park campus, was awarded the prestigious Pfizer Award for Research Excellence during ceremonies associated with the college's 2008 Research Symposium.

He was honored for his continuing work in influenza and, more specifically, with the lethal H5N1 avian influenza virus.

Perez, considered one of the nation's leading experts on the disorder, led a team from the University of Maryland that recently developed a vaccine component that can be used to immunize both birds and mammals from dangerous forms of the flu, including H5N1. While it could be several years before a human version of the vaccine is developed, Perez's discovery may delay or even prevent another human flu epidemic.

"Dr. Perez's research has great implications for human and animal health," said Dean Gerhardt Schurig. "His work is exceptional and urgent, on a global perspective."

Perez received his BSc and master's degree from the College of Chemical Sciences at the National University of Cordoba, Argentina and completed his Ph.D. in molecular virology in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Nebraska.

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Veterinary Experts Warn Holiday Joy Can Present Animal Health Hazards

Holiday Hazards

Holiday decorations and holiday treats may help make the season bright, but they can also cause problems for household pets. A few precautions can help make sure a family's holiday spirit isn't dampened by the untimely illness or injury of a beloved dog or cat.

Holiday decorations and holiday treats may help make the season bright, but they can also cause problems for household pets, say experts in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

A few precautions can help make sure a family's holiday spirit isn't dampened by the untimely--and preventable--illness or injury of a beloved dog or cat.

One of the most common problems during the holiday season is dietary indiscretion - dogs and cats love to be around all the holiday food, and may experience a variety of gastrointestinal disturbances if they get treats, or steal food off the counters or from the garbage can. A tidbit of bland table food may be acceptable for an occasional holiday treat, but pets should be monitored carefully to keep them out of trouble.

Many problems also occur when curious pets ingest foreign objects or toxic substances, says Dr. Bess Pierce, an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (DSACS), who leads the college's community practice clerkship. Puppies have been known to chew on ornaments, which can shatter into jagged shards of glass and cut the mouth. Similarly, pet-owners should avoid giving pets "presents" such as bones and toys which can break and be s wallowed, obstructing the esophagus, stomach or intestines.

Puppies and kittens are sometimes tempted to chew on Christmas tree light cords, which can cause mouth burns or fatal shock. Even brief electric shocks can trigger an irregular heartbeat, which can cause fluid to gather in the lungs, leading to serious complications or death.

Cats are frequently attracted to tinsel, but if a cat swallows a piece, it can stimulate an accordion-like folding of the intestines--a life-threatening condition.

Ornaments and tinsel should be kept out of a pet's reach, when possible, and pet-owners should watch their animals closely, Pierce says.

A number of holiday plants and treats also pose danger for animals, says Dr. Dennis Blodgett, a veterinary toxicologist in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP).

Chocolate, for example, contains a caffeine-like substance that is very dangerous for dogs. Two squares of baking chocolate, or just over a pound of milk chocolate, can kill a twenty-pound dog, according to Blodgett. Other less well-known potential food hazards for pets include raisins and grapes, sugarless gums and candies, macadamia nuts, and yeast dough.

Some common Christmas plants are also dangerous. Ingesting mistletoe can cause clinical signs ranging from an upset stomach to death, depending upon the amount consumed and the size of the animal. Other dangerous plants include holly berries, Jerusalem cherries and Kalanchoe potted plants. Poinsettias usually only produce mild clinical signs and should generally be considered non-toxic.

Dogs and cats should be kept away from the water in Christmas-tree stands, says Blodgett, since it contains turpentine-like compounds that are dangerous for both dogs and cats, but particularly lethal for cats.

Placing a physical barrier such as a mesh screen or tree skirt is the best preventive measure that can be taken.

The cold weather associated with the holiday season can also pose problems. Automobile-owners changing their own antifreeze should always make sure the toxic substance is kept away from pets.

While dogs and cats are attracted to the substance because of its sweet smell and taste, its active ingredient, ethylene glycol, can cause massive kidney damage and death if ingested.

A better option is to use the newer, less toxic antifreeze brands that contain propylene glycol and are recommended for households with pets and children, says Pierce.

In addition, sidewalk de-icing salts can also pose a threat to animals, says Blodgett. Since a few minutes can often mean the difference between life and death with regard to poisonings, pet-owners should contact their local veterinarian quickly if they suspect their pet has ingested some of these toxic substances.

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Innovative Lameness Treatment in Use at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center

Archie the Horse

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center offers Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein therapy (IRAPTM) for lameness, a common malady in horses. The treatment has only been available for a few years, but faculty veterinarians at the center are experts in its use.

"While I can show you the 'after' photo of my horse, Captain Archer," said Mike Hillman, "I wish you could see the 'before' photo."

Captain Archer, otherwise known as "Archie," is a thoroughbred afflicted with lameness, a common malady in horses. Hillman brought Archie to Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center to undergo an innovative treatment-and the results were remarkable.

The treatment, Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein therapy (IRAPTM) has only been available for a few years, but faculty veterinarians at the Equine Medical Center are experts in its use.

"The first step of IRAP therapy consists of using a special syringe containing glass beads to draw 50 milliliters of blood from the affected horse," explained Dr. Nat White, MS, Diplomate ACVS, Jean Ellen Shehan Professor, and EMC director. "The blood mixes with the beads during a 24-hour incubation period, then it's spun in a centrifuge to separate serum from red blood cells," he added.

The result is an enriched serum which contains anti-inflammatory proteins that block the harmful effects of interleukin-1, an inflammatory mediator that accelerates the destruction of cartilage. When cartilage is destroyed, lameness results.

The serum is administered into the horse's affected joint once a week for three to five treatments. Because the serum is autologous, which means it is derived from the horse's own blood, it carries minimal risk of an adverse reaction.

Previously, Archie-along with many other equine patients diagnosed with lameness-had undergone treatments that involved injections of corticosteroid and hyaluronic acid (a combination of a steroid and an anti-inflammatory lubricant). While this therapy has merit-both from a medical and financial perspective-IRAP can offer certain benefits that steroid injections cannot.

"For instance, while steroid injections do reduce inflammation, they block a wide range of inflammatory mediators-not just the ones needed to be targeted," White explained. "An IRAP treatment appears to be very specific in blocking the inflammation caused by interleukin activity. Therefore, this treatment helps to eliminate further damage to the joint," he said.

Not only does IRAP therapy help prevent further degeneration of the joint, it also offers a longer-lasting benefit. While the cost for an IRAP treatment is higher than the cost of a steroid injection, the effects of the IRAP treatment can last a full year. "I compared the cost of one IRAP treatment to the total cost of the quarterly steroid injections Archie had been undergoing and the cost/benefit equation began to even out noticeably," Hillman said. "On top of the economic value, when I took into consideration that the joint would be injected once per year rather than four times, I saw clearly that IRAP was the way to go," he added.

As for Archie, Hillman says the improvement in his horse's gait was nearly immediate. At Archie's baseline lameness evaluation, Hillman said that the staff at the EMC could readily see that the horse was in obvious pain. "And, since Archie would be the first horse that received IRAP treatment at the Center, it was evident to the EMC staff that he probably represented the 'worst case' scenario in proving the effectiveness of this treatment," Hillman said.

After just the first injection, Archie showed remarkable improvement and by the third injection, Hillman said that Archie was trotting more comfortably than he ever had before. "Gone was the limping horse I had known for three years," Hillman remarked. "I couldn't have been more thrilled with the results," he concluded.

"Lameness from arthritis is an extremely common problem in horses and IRAP is a very promising alternative to traditional treatments," noted White. "IRAP therapy is a cutting-edge treatment we're offering to our clients and it clearly produces excellent results in many horses," he said.

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Smith Receives Veterinary College's Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teacher Award

Dr. Bonnie Smith

Dr. Grant Turnwald (right) presents the Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teacher Award to Dr. Bonnie Smith (left), an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. Sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, this national award honors faculty members who have displayed outstanding teaching ability. This is Smith’s third time receiving the prestigious award.

Dr. Bonnie Smith, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP), has been named recipient of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's (VMRCVM) Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teacher Award. Sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, this national award honors faculty members who have displayed outstanding teaching ability.

This is the third time Smith has received this prestigious award for her dedication to the students in her gross anatomy and embryology classes. Both of these subjects are sometimes difficult to master and Smith is well known for her ability to simplify the material and make it clinically applicable for students.

During Smith's time at the VMRCVM, her student reviews have consistently placed her in the top three to four faculty members in the college, according to Dr. Blair Meldrum, a professor in DBSP and a former associate dean for academic affairs.

"Bonnie epitomizes the qualities we have come to associate with teaching excellence," said Meldrum. "She has the uncommon ability to reach into students' minds and hearts to tailor instruction to meet individual learning styles and needs."

Over the course of her career, Smith has received over 20 different awards and citations for her teaching excellence.

"She is a colleague for whom I have the highest regard," stated Meldrum. "Her actions are truly an example to those around her."

Smith received B.S. and M.S. degrees in zoology, a DVM and a Ph.D. in veterinary anatomy with a minor in human anatomy from The Ohio State University. Before joining the college in 1991, Smith was a visiting assistant professor at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Her research interests are classical morphology, functional morphology, and teratology. Smith is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists, and the American Association of Anatomists.

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Equine Medical Center's Faculty is Available to Present Expert Talks

While everyone has heard the phrase, "knowledge is power," it's not always easy to find the knowledge one seeks.

But when it comes to learning more about the latest in equine veterinary medicine, people need look no further than Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, where faculty members are available to speak to local groups about a variety of horse health topics.

Equine Medical Center faculty can offer talks about surgery, colic, cardiac problems, first aid, pain management, bandaging, EHV-1, parasites, tumors, lameness, and many other subjects in a way that makes the sometimes complex world of modern veterinary medicine easily understandable for all. There is no charge for these presentations.

"The Equine Medical Center is fortunate to have faculty members with outstanding credentials," noted Dr. Nat White, Diplomate ACVS, Jean Ellen Shehan Professor, and Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center director. "Each of our board-certified faculty members possesses a remarkable range of knowledge, experience, and expertise, which they are more than willing to share. We are very pleased to be able to offer this tremendous educational resource to the equine community," he added.

For more information or to request a speaker from the EMC for a meeting or event, contact Kate Lee, public relations coordinator at (703) 771-6881 or at cleepr@vt.edu. Additional information about EMC faculty and their areas of expertise is available at www.equinemedicalcenter.net.

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College Continues Adopt-a-Family Tradition

Adopt-a-Family

Piles of wrapped holiday gifts, paid for by donations from the VMRCVM community, wait to be delivered to two needy local families. Once again, the veterinary college continued its Adopt-A-Family tradition.

This holiday season will be brighter for two local families thanks to the continued generosity of employees of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. In keeping with a well-established tradition, over $1,000 was donated from faculty and staff in the college to assist area families.

As is also traditional, the program organizers looked to New River Community Action to help identify two families who might benefit from the program. The first family have three daughters, ages six, 11, and 14. The second was a family of seven-five of whom have physical and/or mental disabilities.

Volunteers formed two "teams" and each team took a family to shop for. A wrapping party was then held in the college center to get all the gifts ready for delivery.

"This program has become an important tradition for our college community," said Terry Lawrence, medical illustrator, Office of Public Relations and Communications, who has helped coordinate the program since its inception.

"From providing donations to doing the work, there are a lot of people who participate in this and I think it's a special thing for us to do."

Lawrence and other program organizers would like to thank everyone who participated for their generous donations and for the assistance they provided in the purchasing, wrapping, and delivery of gifts.

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