When it comes to receiving the 2022 Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence, Kevin Lahmers credits just about everyone around him more than himself.

“I really appreciate it,” said Lahmers, clinical associate professor of anatomic pathology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine “It's recognition that we are doing things that are beneficial to the veterinary community, for livestock producers in the region and the state, and that is very gratifying.

“And I want to emphasize that it is ‘we’ that are doing things, the vet school. The work that is being recognized here is pursuing an outbreak of an exotic tick-borne parasite that infects cattle.”

Lahmers has been a central figure in the discovery, tracking, and control of Theileria, transmitted to cattle by the Asian longhorned tick. The tick was not known to be in the United States until 2017 and Lahmers helped identify its arrival in Virginia the following year. In just four years, Theileria has gone from being found in 2 percent of cattle in Virginia sales barns in 2018 to 60 percent this year.

“Dr. Kevin Lahmers' research team's identification of a novel tick-borne Theileria orientalis Ikeda genotype in Virginia, and subsequently in many other states, is highly impactful and has far-reaching implications,” said S. Ansar Ahmed, associate dean of research and graduate studies for the veterinary college. “This organism causes disease in cattle with severe economic consequences. His research approaches have spurred many collaborations across the country and have placed VMCVM as an institution recognized nationally/internationally for this expertise.”

The Zoetis Award acknowledges researchers whose innovative studies have advanced the scientific standing of veterinary medicine.

Lahmers has been at Virginia Tech since 2013, after 15 years at Washington State University where he was conferred a Ph.D. and served as a resident and faculty member. Lahmers earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1998 at Ohio State, where he graduated summa cum laude four years earlier with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.

Lahmers, who still devotes a quarter of his time to instruction, won three teaching awards during his time at Washington State, including the Faculty Excellence Award in 2008. 

While Lahmers rolls off a long list of people critical to research efforts in the veterinary college, there are three in particular he recognizes as being essential to the specific work that led to the award: Tanya LeRoith, Virginia Tech Animal Laboratory Services (ViTALS) director; Michelle Todd, laboratory specialist; and Jessica Crawford, grants and contracts officer.

“Dr. LeRoith first presented me with this mystery index case,” Lahmers recalls.

“Currently, Michelle Todd and Jessica Crawford may be more important to my research than I am,” Lahmers said. “Michelle coordinates the lab efforts. I give her what I would like to have happen. And it just happens. I give her new students to train and they get trained.”

Lahmers credits Crawford with finding the sources for money that supports his research. “If I say I’m going to write a grant for this, Jessica helps coordinate the budget, she helps review the grants. She is really important in this whole process,” Lahmers said.

Lahmers jokes that his role is often more secretary than scientist. “My job is to write grants to get money so that we can do the things we need to do, to write papers to say what we did, and to communicate with veterinarians and producers about this new emerging disease.”

Written by Kevin Myatt, Writer/Editor for the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine