Veterinary college launches revolutionary cancer studies, seeks expanded teaching hospital
The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has garnered national attention with the launch of a center specializing in the treatment and study of cancer in companion animals, and M. Daniel Givens, dean of the college, is guiding plans to expand the college’s existing teaching hospital to enhance the college’s dual mission to educate students and provide clinical care for animals.
In 2020, the veterinary college opened the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center in Roanoke. The center was recently featured in the journal Nature for its cutting-edge treatment and potentially revolutionary studies of cancer in dogs that may translate to advancements in the treatment of cancer in human patients. The 18,680-square-foot cancer center, located beside and sharing some equipment with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke, treated 2,188 dogs and 333 cats in 2021 referred by veterinarians and currently has 62 dogs enrolled in experimental clinical trials free of charge to the pet owner.
Two facilities geared for large animal treatment and clinical education – the Animal Physiology and Reproduction Building and Outdoor Equine Lameness Arena – are open behind the college’s main building on the Blacksburg campus.
Local government approvals are in hand for a $6 million, 20,000-square foot indoor arena at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg targeted for completion in late 2023. The equine center sees what Givens described as a “uniquely high caseload” of more than 2,000 horses each year, and when added to about 800 seen in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech’s veterinary college has one of the highest equine caseloads of any teaching hospital in the U.S.
The linchpin of future facility plans is the college’s proposed approximately 42,000-gross-square-foot addition and renovation for its Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg. The need exists because of a doubling of students and nearly threefold growth in the number of small animal specialties offered since the current teaching hospital facility was built in 1987.
The funding plan for the estimated $45 million project, Givens said, includes about $12 million saved by the college and $15 million from philanthropy, with the remainder financed, the debt paid off through existing facilities fees and revenue generation from the teaching hospital along with university support.
“We have so many exciting developments occurring at our Equine Medical Center at Leesburg and the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center at Roanoke, and so much potential to see even more at those sites,” said Givens, who spoke at the November meeting of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors about the veterinary college’s progress and projects. “But, please understand, we are predominantly, programmatically located in Blacksburg, Virginia. This is where we have a Veterinary Teaching Hospital, this is where Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students principally receive their primary training within the veterinary medical curriculum.”
The teaching hospital in Blacksburg treated 14,667 animal patients in 2021, including about 11,000 dogs and 2,300 cats. Veterinary students supervised by instructors also made over 5,000 visits last year to farms, mostly within a 30-mile radius of Blacksburg and primarily to treat horses and cows.
“These clinical entities have a dual focus,” Givens said. “One focus is absolutely experiential education. But the second focus is to serve the animals that are presented by their caretakers to these different clinics. So our priorities are how we can best serve the animals and clients, and also, how we can achieve the best experiential education within these facilities.”