Animal Model Research for Veterinarians Ph.D. training program awarded NIH grant

By Sarah Boudreau

virginia tech logoTraditional veterinary education leading to a doctor of veterinary medicine (D.V.M.) may not adequately prepare veterinarians to succeed in research careers, a potential void that the Animal Model Research for Veterinarians Program (AMRV) in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine aims to fill.

The post-D.V.M. training program, spearheaded by University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology X.J. Meng and Professor of Immunology and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies Ansar Ahmed, has been awarded a new five-year, nearly $1.4 million T32 graduate training grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to train veterinarians completing a Ph.D. to become the next generation of biomedical researchers.

“The foundation of broad training in veterinary medicine with the springboard of specific training in biomedical research within a thriving research laboratory is so very valuable,” said Daniel Givens, dean of the veterinary college. “This combination will produce clinical scientists who create breakthroughs and identify innovations that will advance health and well-being in years to come.”

“Veterinarians are uniquely trained in the context of comparative and One Health medicine, allowing them to have a better conceptual understanding of cellular and molecular mechanisms of human disease processes, especially using spontaneous animal disease models,” said Meng, the grant’s principal investigator. “However, this forte is largely untapped since D.V.M. students are typically not exposed in a focused, purposeful fashion to ‘hypothesis-driven’ biomedical research with animal models for human diseases.”

The veterinary college is among “a relatively small group of veterinary medical colleges to have been awarded a T32 grant to train post-D.V.M. veterinarians in biomedical research,” noted Ahmed, the grant’s co-principal investigator. “We are delighted to be a recipient of this award.”

Under the leadership of Meng, Ahmed, and Roger Avery — the veterinary college’s former associate dean for research — the AMRV has a solid history of securing federal funding to train future biomedical researchers. In 2006, the program received NIH funding to train four veterinarians, and in 2012, the AMRV received another NIH grant of $1.06 million, which funded six trainees.

After successfully completing the program, those veterinarians received a Ph.D. in biomedical and veterinary sciences. Currently, former AMRV trainees are employed as professors in academia and as biomedical scientists in federal government and industry.

A uniquely dynamic aspect of the program is the range of mentors at Virginia Tech with whom the veterinarians will work to complete the Ph.D.

“Mentors will be selected based on their commitment to student training, their cutting-edge research programs, and their ability to secure major federal funding,” Meng said. “The AMRV program trainees will be exposed to cutting-edge interdisciplinary research collaborations of our program faculty from, in addition to the veterinary college, five different colleges and institutes at Virginia Tech: the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, the College of Engineering, the College of Science, the College of Natural Resources and Environment, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

Grouped into thematic areas, such as immunology and inflammation, infectious disease, and  neurobiology, faculty mentors and committee members participating in the AMRV program include the following Virginia Tech researchers:

  • Kathy Alexander, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, College of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Irving Coy Allen, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Andrea Bertke, Department of Population Health Sciences, VMCVM
  • Michele Borgarelli, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, VMCVM
  • Clayton Caswell, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • John Chappell, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, College of Engineering
  • Jessica Crawford, Office of Research and Graduate Studies, VMCVM
  • Marion Ehrich, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Shannon Farris, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Michael Fox, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
  • Julia Gohlke, Department of Population Health Sciences, VMCVM
  • Robert Gourdie, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; Department of Biological Systems Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences/College of Engineering
  • Kiho Lee, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Margie Lee, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Caroline Leeth, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Liwu Li, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science
  • Xin Luo, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Konark Mukherjee, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
  • Yuchin Albert Pan, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Steven Poelzing, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
  • John Rossmeisl, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, VMCVM
  • Ed Smith, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Sharon Swanger, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Michelle Theus, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Hehuang Xie, Fralin Life Sciences Institute; Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Lijuan Yuan, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VMCVM
  • Chenming Zhang, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences/College of Engineering

At this time, the AMRV is actively recruiting veterinarians for the program. As a part of the grant, selected applicants will enroll in the doctoral program and will receive a stipend and tuition waiver while they study animal models of human diseases leading to a Ph.D.

“There is a pressing need for trained DVMs with doctorates to tackle emerging health challenges, such as infectious and chronic diseases, by serving impactfully in academia, government, and the biotech industry,” Ahmed said. “With this grant, we hope to fill this vital need.”

Sarah Boudreau is a student in the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Virginia Tech.


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