New lab kick-starts clinical research collaboration at veterinary college
Collaboration is key to solving complex problems, and the new Collaborative Multidisciplinary Research Laboratory (CMRL) at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine is helping a wide array of veterinary clinical researchers work together to tackle challenges. More than a dozen faculty, graduate students, and residents from across the college are currently utilizing this new space.
The lab’s aim is to foster collaboration between veterinary college faculty and beyond, creating opportunities for translational research.
For faculty members such as clinical faculty who do not have their own labs, research comes with several barriers. Without space and support, research requires extra time, energy, and the learning of new techniques. Thanks to the CMRL, these faculty members have a place to conduct research, share ideas and resources, and give their students lab experience.
S. Ansar Ahmed, professor of immunology and associate dean of research and graduate studies at the college, identified the need in 2019 for a collaborative laboratory and spearheaded the effort to establish the CMRL. He worked with department heads with clinically oriented faculty and Pete Jobst, director of physical facilities, to repurpose and refurbish existing space, including installing new flooring and mobile lab benches.
"The creation of the CMRL open shared laboratory space is an exciting new opportunity to bring together diverse clinical specialists to tackle current and emerging complex challenges in veterinary research,” said Ahmed. “We anticipate that this space will allow the training of veterinary graduate students and residents in current technologies to address current and emerging veterinary clinical problems.”
The revamped lab space is 3,000 square feet, 400 of which is space for students in the Master of Public Health program to work in, which will allow interactions with other veterinary clinical researchers. Of the remaining 2,600 square feet of laboratory space, one side is dedicated to studying infectious diseases and the other is for non-infectious diseases. Each side is split into eight lab spaces, separated appropriately to prevent cross-contamination.
Researchers have access to more shared equipment than they would in separate labs, and they can rely on each others’ expertise to address research questions.
“A lot of my research is somewhat seasonal, and I don’t have a need to maintain my own equipment year-round. Being able to share this equipment with other clinical researchers is a huge asset and should help to attract clinical faculty who find it difficult to get research done due to those types of logistics alone,” said Jamie Stewart, assistant professor of production animal medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.
The CMRL is just a short walk from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, providing easy access for clinical faculty. The laboratory manager, Michelle Todd, offers technical guidance in addition to organizing the everyday operations of the lab.
An investment of over $1 million from the college funded the creation of the lab. Collectively, the Office of Research and Graduate Studies and department heads of the Biomedical Sciences, Large Animal Clinical Sciences, and Small Animal Clinical Sciences departments funded the purchase of several pieces of equipment. This fully equipped laboratory now allows the performance of many clinical projects funded by federal and non-federal agencies and research foundations such as the Veterinary Memorial Fund, which partially will fund a technician.
Roger Ramirez-Barrios, clinical associate professor of veterinary parasitology, said the CMRL offers a more efficient and economical option for research.
"I have been able to do many things in a very short time. We started processing some samples from dogs in January. We have processed almost 350 samples, and we have had some really interesting findings from that research. Everything has been possible because I can spend money only on specific things for my research,” he said.
Though the laboratory is new, research at the CMRL has already yielded several publications — with more on the way.
In addition to increasing the college’s clinical research capacity and the ability to secure new grants and funding, the CMRL has the ability to train graduate students and residents at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, boosting their research skills.
Here, undergraduate and graduate students receive hands-on experience, learning wet lab skills. This lab experience will help these students in graduate school and beyond.
"Teaching is a really important part of my life. I always say that teaching is in my DNA,” said Ramirez-Barrios, who oversees three undergraduate parasitology students working in the lab.
”When [undergraduates] are working for me and doing research and getting results, I’m teaching them many things, which is satisfying for me. It's a combination of teaching and research, and I am really happy to help them.
"It's a shared space not only for working on our own research — it's also to share the research.”
Written by Sarah Boudreau