Post-DVM Training Program: Animal Model Research for Veterinarians
The training program
Veterinarians are uniquely qualified to conduct biomedical research in the field of comparative medicine using animal models, which have been instrumental in understanding the pathogenesis and mechanism of human diseases. The majority of veterinarians do not, however, pursue research careers, due in part to the lack of research-training opportunities. As a result, there is a critical shortage of veterinarians with research backgrounds in academic institutions, government, and corporate settings across the nation.
The National Institutes of Health has funded a post-DVM Animal Model Research for Veterinarians (AMRV) training program at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. This program will train veterinarians in the skills of a researcher and will help them launch a successful research career in the areas of animal models of immunology and inflammation, infectious diseases, and neurobiology. Mentors participating in this training program are conducting cutting-edge research in the areas of animal models for human diseases, and their research projects are well funded by the NIH.
Trainees will be required to enter a Ph.D. graduate program that will expose them to state-of-the-art research skills and challenge them to become independent problem-solvers. At the end of the training program, trainees are expected to launch an independent biomedical research career and assume leadership roles related to the nation's biomedical research agenda in academia, government, and industry.
Bio ItemX.J. Meng, MD, MS, PhD , bio
University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology; Professor of Internal Medicine, VTC School of Medicine; Director, Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens
Bio ItemS. Ansar Ahmed, BVSc, PhD , bio
Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies; Professor of Immunology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology
Faculty mentors and their research
- Ansar Ahmed, DVM, PhD, associate dean, Research and Graduate Studies; professor of immunology (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-231-5649).
By using relevant animal models for inflammation and autoimmune diseases, the laboratory focus is to investigate: (1) the molecular basis of how pro-inflammatory cytokines are induced and decipher aberrant cell signaling events; (2) why these disorders occur predominantly in females; and (3) the role of microRNAs in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
- Irving C. Allen, MS, MBA, PhD, associate professor of inflammatory disease, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (email@example.com, 540-231-7551).
Dr. Allen’s research is focused on deciphering the contribution of innate immune system signaling pathways in host-pathogen recognition and inflammation driven tumorigenesis. His research uses both in vitro techniques and in vivo animal models to elucidate disease pathobiology.
- Caroline Leeth, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of immunology, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-231-7228.
Dr. Leeth's research focuses on the use of mouse models to study human autoimmune disease, namely Type 1 diabetes and systemic lupus erythematosus. These investigations currently focus on the role of B lymphocyte maturation processes in the pathogenesis of these diseases and work on the potential for therapeutically targeting these pathways. Mouse models of active interest include NOD, BXSB/MpJ, and MRL/lpr. Active collaborations are ongoing with investigators in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. Dr. Leeth also has interests in basic equine immunology and the infectious neurologic disease, equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). The latter is being investigated using the C57Bl/6J interferon gamma KO mouse model to access the potential for relapse of disease following currently recommended treatment protocols.
- Xin M. Luo, PhD, associate professor of immunology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (email@example.com, 540-231-0977).
Dr. Luo's research interests are (1) regulation of autoimmunity by the gut microbiota, and (2) maternal education of neonatal immune and microbiota development. In 2014, her laboratory published the first paper in the field of lupus and microbiome.
- Hehuang “David” Xie, PhD, professor of epigenomics and computational biology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-231-9244).
Dr. Xie's ultimate research goal is to understand the epigenetic regulatory networks associated with cell specification and disease development. Toward this goal, he emphasizes the development of novel high-throughput experimental approaches and the implementation of computational tools for -omics data analysis. DNA methylation is the most common covalent modification known to occur to mammalian genomic DNA. It plays an important role in brain development, neural plasticity, and functions. His lab has recently identified a large number of genomic loci with their cell-type specific methylation patterns established during postnatal frontal cortex development. For both human and mouse, these loci enrich for transcription factor binding motifs, in particular for Egr1. The CpG dinucleotides within these predicted EGR1 binding sites become hypo-methylated in mature neurons, but remain heavily methylated in glia. Dr. Xie is currently investigating Egr1-mediated epigenetic regulatory networks underlying the postnatal brain development. The research in his lab involves human samples and mouse model, and will extend to include other species such as dog, cattle, and pig.
- Chenming “Mike” Zhang, PhD, professor, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (email@example.com, 540-231-6364).
Dr. Zhang's research group conducts cutting-edge, hypothesis-driven research primarily related to animal and human health. Particularly in the last decade, his laboratory has accumulated significant experience working with animal models (mouse and pig) for vaccine developments. His research includes three current focus areas: nanovaccines against drug addiction, protein nanoparticle-based vaccines against infectious diseases, and nanoparticle-mediated drug delivery for cancer treatment. His lab first reported liposome coated nanoparticles for the delivery of a cancer treatment drug with minimized circulation leakage.
- Kathy Alexander, DVM, PhD, professor, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-231-5059).
Dr. Alexander is an infectious disease ecologist who aims to understand how system processes drive emerging infectious disease by investigating human, animal, and environmental couplings in disease transmission. Her research takes an integrated methodological approach that links molecular genetics of hosts and pathogens with population biology and behavioral ecology. Much of Dr. Alexander’s field research takes place in Botswana and utilizes several animal resources; most recently, these include the mongoose and buffalo, which serve as model systems that help develop models of emerging infectious disease and transmission dynamics.
- Andrea S. Bertke, PhD, associate professor of infectious diseases in public health, Department of Population Health Sciences (email@example.com, 540-231-2707).
Dr. Bertke's research interests involve mechanisms through which neurotropic viruses reach and interfere with the neuronal environment, as well as neuronal and viral factors that modulate viral replication. Her lab investigates 1) how different types of sensory, autonomic, and central neurons regulate neurotropic viruses, including herpes simplex viruses, Zika virus, and equine herpesviruses, and 2) how different routes of virus infection impact disease outcomes. To address these questions, her lab uses primary adult neuronal cultures from mice, guinea pigs, and horses, as well as a variety of animal models, in conjunction with recombinant viruses, AAV vectors, small molecule inhibitors, siRNA, FANA molecules, and other molecular modifiers to target various host and virus genes and proteins.
- Clayton Caswell, PhD, associate professor of bacteriology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-231-5591).
Dr. Caswell's current research focus is the molecular pathogenesis of Brucella species. More specifically, his laboratory is characterizing the small regulatory RNAs in Brucella and defining the genetic circuitry that links sRNAs to Brucella pathogenesis. His laboratory is experienced in utilizing murine models of infection to examine Brucella pathogenesis.
- X.J. Meng, MD, MS, PhD, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology; professor of internal medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (email@example.com, 540-231-6912).
Dr. Meng's research interests focus on emerging and re-emerging viral diseases of human and veterinary public health importance, animal models for human viral diseases, and development of vaccines against viruses of public health and economic importance. Viruses being studied in his lab include hepatitis E virus (human, swine, and avian hepatitis E viruses) and porcine circovirus, porcine reproductive, and respiratory syndrome virus.
- Lijuan Yuan, PhD, professor of virology and immunology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-231-5154).
Dr. Yuan's research focuses on animal models for human enteric viral diseases. Currently, she is using gnotobiotic pig models of human rotavirus and norovirus infection and disease to study the mechanism of immune modulation by probiotics and to evaluate and improve the protective efficacy of human rotavirus and norovirus vaccines. Dr. Yuan studied the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of various vaccine formulations, adjuvants, and immunization routes in gnotobiotic pig models.
- Shannon Farris, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (email@example.com).
Dr. Farris is also a member of the Center for Neurobiology Research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. Her research interest focuses on elucidating the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie learning and memory in the brain. Using a combination of mouse genetics to gain access to specific cell-types, deep-sequencing technologies to obtain a genome-wide view of transcription and translation, and single molecule imaging techniques to illuminate processes in vivo, the Farris lab seeks to provide mechanistic insight on the behaviorally-induced synaptic modifications required for encoding memories.
- Michael Fox, PhD, professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech College of Science; Director, School of Neuroscience, College of Science (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-526-2050).
Dr. Fox's research interest focuses on elucidating molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate the precise formation of neural circuits in the mammalian brain. The Fox Laboratory utilizes murine models in their efforts to examine how synapses are formed between retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the output neurons of the retina, and target neurons within the brain. Recently, the Fox Lab has embarked on elucidating the inhibition of neural circuit dysfunction by pathogens, such as Toxoplasma gondii.
- Konark Mukherjee, PhD, assistant professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute (email@example.com, 540-526-2035).
The goal of Dr. Mukherjee's laboratory is to understand the mechanism of a genetic disorder called “mental retardation and microcephaly with pontine and cerebellar hypoplasia” (MICPCH). MICPCH is associated with mutations in the X-linked gene CASK. His lab uses murine models for this purpose. Using cre-LoXP mediated excision of the CASK gene, his lab replicates the human phenotypes in the mouse model and examines the molecular and cellular mechanisms. Over the last five years, his team has made discoveries with far-reaching implications, of which the most exciting is the possibility that CASK mutation associated disorders may be treatable in early infancy. More specifically, his lab has demonstrated that 1) CASK is an essential gene in mammals but not in invertebrates, 2) CASK interacts with a large number of proteins, including metabolic proteins, in cell-type specific manner, 3) MICPCH results from mutation in a single allele of CASK in females and represents CASK loss-of function phenotype, and 4) all phenotypes of MICPCH are not purely neuronal in nature. Although MICPCH is a rare disorder, it shares overlapping symptomatology with other genetic conditions like Angelman syndrome and Rett syndrome. Their findings, therefore, are likely to have broader implications. At present, his lab is analyzing the mechanism of optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH) associated with MICPCH. ONH is the most common cause of childhood blindness, and there are no true animal models for this disorder. They have demonstrated that haploinsufficiency of CASK produces ONH. His lab has analyzed the pathology of ONH for the first time. Surprisingly, they uncovered that ONH is postnatal in nature and associated with degenerative changes. Thus, ONH is a very early form of optic nerve atrophy. They are also examining whether postnatal microcephaly is caused by increased cell loss or decreased cell production in MICPCH. In the future, he plans to also develop therapeutic approaches to MICPCH. Their preliminary data and literature indicate mutations in CASK are associated with increased apoptosis. If his lab can reproduce the findings, they will examine if inhibiting apoptosis may prevent MICPCH and ONH. Dr. Mukherjee’s passion for studying CASK gene-related pathologies goes beyond the molecular mechanisms. Recently, his lab joined forces with the FBRI Neuromotor Clinic to launch a program where his animal models that closely match monogenic Neurodevelopment Disorder (NDD) are used to understand brain changes, while at the same time, high-functioning CASK-mutation candidates are invited to participate in customized intensive therapies in the clinic. The long-term goal of this research is to develop learning paradigms that can inform the rehabilitation community about how varying therapy dosage levels affect neuroplasticity, and thus far, their combined methodologies have yielded some striking results.
- Yuchin Albert Pan, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology; Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC (firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-526-2092).
Dr. Pan is also the Commonwealth Center for Innovative Technology Eminent Research Scholar in Developmental Neuroscience at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. The goal of Dr. Pan’s research is to understand how abnormal development of the nervous system affects neural function and disease, using zebrafish as the model system. The Pan Lab has made significant progress using zebrafish to investigate vertebrate neural development by identifying dscaml1 as an essential factor for vertebrate visual behaviors and oculomotor function. Other important scientific contributions include deciphering the pathophysiological mechanisms of undiagnosed disease caused by human PHETA1 mutation, developing new multi-fluorescent (Brainbow) tools for in vivo visualization, and inventing a new virus-based neural circuit mapping technique (TRAS).
- John H. Rossmeisl, Jr., DVM, MS, DACVIM–Internal Medicine and Neurology, Dr. and Mrs. Dorsey Taylor Mahin Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (email@example.com, 540-231-4621).
Dr. Rossmeisl's laboratory is a translational research group whose primary mission is to develop more-effective methods for the diagnosis and treatment of brain tumors affecting companion animals and humans. He conducts research focused on the following mission-critical themes, which broadly involve the biological and biophysical aspects of brain physiology and cancer, including (a) elucidating the mechanisms that initiate and drive the formation of brain cancers; (b) identifying pharmacologically tractable molecular targets for anti-cancer drug development; (c) creating novel systems for the delivery of therapeutic agents to the brain; (d) developing devices and techniques that can modulate neuronal, glial, and endothelial cellular viability and functions; and (e) the design and conduct of clinical trials in companion animals with brain cancer. His laboratory utilizes numerous animal models (murine and canine) of human brain cancer in its mission, including tumor xenografts in mice and rats, as well as client-owned dogs with spontaneous brain tumors.
- Sharon Swanger, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology; Fralin Biomedical Research Institute (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dr. Swanger's research seeks to understand how precise populations of synaptic receptors contribute to synaptic diversity across diverse types of neuronal communication and circuit function in the brain. The Swanger laboratory utilizes mouse models to study how receptor diversity in the thalamus contributes to synapse- and cell-type-specific function within corticothalamic circuits involved in processing sensory information. Researchers in the Swanger Lab apply cutting-edge molecular, optical, pharmacological, and physiological methods to study the organization and function of receptors, synapses, and circuits in the healthy and diseased mouse brain. Most recently, the Swanger Lab has begun investigating whether their novel pharmacological tools targeting a subpopulation of glutamate receptors can correct imbalances in excitation and inhibition within the thalamus in a mouse model of Dravet syndrome.
- Michelle Theus, PhD, associate professor of molecular and cellular neurobiology, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (email@example.com, 540-231-0909).
Dr. Theus studies the mechanism(s) by which Eph receptor tyrosine kinases regulate cerebral arteriole collateral development and injury-induced remodeling. She uses a genetic approach to understand how Eph signaling impedes the formation of the arteriole collateral network and how this ultimately influences collateral blood flow during acute, sub-acute, and chronic phases of repair in several models including focal cerebral ischemia and traumatic brain injury. The long-term goal of Dr. Theus’s research is to identify effective, safe, and feasible drug targets that enhance revascularization of damaged CNS tissue and help promote integration of novel CNS compatible biomaterials.
- Michele Borgarelli, DVM, PhD, DECVIM-CA, professor of cardiology, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In addition to being a mentor, Dr. Borgarelli will also serve as a member of the ASC. His current research interest includes pathophysiology and treatment of chronic degenerative mitral valve disease in dog animal model, pulmonary hypertension in patients with left-sided heart disease; advanced echocardiographic imaging, use of stem cells for treatment of valvular diseases; mini-invasively repair of mitral valve in dogs with chronic degenerative mitral valve disease. The animal species that the lab is planning to use for these projects include, dog, pig, sheep. Dr. Borgarelli heads the Comparative Cardiovascular Laboratory (CCVL), which is a translational research group that studies cardiovascular diseases affecting dogs and humans. His research focuses on chronic degenerative mitral valve disease (CDVD) in dogs, the most common heart valve disease in dogs and the most common cause of congestive heart failure in this species. This disease shares several features with the same disease in humans, and thus dog is an appropriate animal model for studying the human disease, as well. In fact, the natural history of the disease and its pathophysiology are very similar. To achieve his research objectives, Dr. Borgarelli's laboratory collaborates with clinically-oriented scientists and basic science researchers from U.S. and European institutions. They have also established a collaborative partnership with private companies in order to develop new treatment strategies for CDVD. His studies have contributed to the progression of knowledge on the pathophysiology, treatment, and prognosis of chronic mitral valve disease in dogs.
- John Chappell, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, Virginia Tech College of Engineering; Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Center for Heart and Reparative Medicine Research (email@example.com).
Trained as a biomedical engineer, Dr. Chappell studies how the blood vasculature develops during early organ formation and becomes dysfunction in certain pathologies, such as diabetes and traumatic brain injury. Dr. Chappell and his team use computational modeling approaches in conjunction with real-time imaging of ex vivo and in vitro models of blood vessel formation to understand pericyte behavior during blood vessel formation in health and disease. Increased insight into the basic mechanisms of blood vessel formation will guide the design of clinical therapies for vascular-related pathologies.
- Robert Gourdie, PhD, professor, Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Eminent Scholar in Heart Reparative Medicine Research, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute; Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, Virginia Tech College of Engineering; Departments of Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dr. Gourdie is director of the Center for Heart and Reparative Medicine Research and Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Eminent Scholar. His research focuses on connexin and gap junction biology using murine models, which is applicable to the fields of cardiovascular biology, neurobiology, wound healing, and oncology. His research program has grown to include participation in human and veterinary clinical trials focused on the effectiveness of Cx43 carboxyl-terminus (CT) mimetic peptide (αCT1) in wound healing and cancer treatment.
- Steven Poelzing, PhD, associate professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute; Department of Biomedical Engineering and Science, Virginia Tech College of Engineering (email@example.com).
Dr. Poelzing also serves as co-director of the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health graduate program at Virginia Tech. His research interest focuses the electrophysiologic substrates leading to ventricular arrhythmias, particularly in alternative mechanisms of cell-to-cell electrical coupling between cardiac myocytes. Recently, his lab began elucidating the role of ephaptic, or non-gap junction/ non-synaptic, mediated conduction between myocytes. They have discovered that sodium and potassium channel localization in specialized sarcolemmal micro-domains next to the gap junction plaque, termed the perinexus, could mediate electrical transmission from cell to cell in a manner that is orders-of-magnitude faster than gap-junction coupling. They further demonstrated that our experimental data is incompatible with cable theory, and well explained by models incorporating detailed cellular distribution of sodium channels leading to ephaptic coupling. Using high-resolution optical mapping, isolated cellular electrophysiological measurements, and immunohistochemistry, Dr. Poelzing's lab is currently exploring how buffer composition modulates ephaptic mechanisms of conduction.
Stipend and Benefits
- Annual stipend of approximately $50,000 with minimum experience of two years
- Tuition waiver
- Meeting travel allowance
The T32 training program is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with an earned DVM or VMD.
- All T32 AMRV post-DVM trainees are required to enter a PhD graduate program.
- Prospective trainees should complete an application for graduate admission to the Biomedical and Veterinary Science graduate program through the Virginia Tech Graduate School online application system. Please explicitly indicate that you are applying for the "NIH T32 Post-DVM Training Program" on your application.
- GRE score requirement can be waived with appropriate credentials.
- Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions regarding the application process or the T32 training program.
- Application review begins in February for fall semester admission.
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