Although veterinarians are uniquely qualified to conduct biomedical research in the field of comparative medicine, most do not pursue research careers, partly due to a lack of training opportunities. The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has received a five-year, $1.06 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address this shortage of veterinarians who conduct biomedical research.

Six veterinarian trainees will be funded by this grant to conduct cutting-edge biomedical research through this NIH training program, starting July 1. The veterinary college is already seeking applicants who have or will have completed a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at one of the nation’s 28 veterinary schools before starting the program. Trainees will receive a master’s degree or doctorate in biomedical and veterinary science, with a preference for the latter, after successful completion of the program.

“By taking advantage of the research strengths of faculty mentors at Virginia Tech, the program will train veterinarians in the areas of virology and bacteriology, immunology and inflammation, genomics and molecular biology, nutrition and obesity, and environmental medicine and toxicology,” said Dr. X.J. Meng, professor of molecular virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and program director of this NIH training grant.

The program pairs graduate students with one or more faculty mentors based on their research interest. These include faculty members from the veterinary college, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Science, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, and Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“Mentors are selected on the basis of their commitment to student training, their cutting-edge research programs, and their ability to secure competitive external funding,” said Roger Avery, senior associate dean for research and graduate studies and program co-director.

In 2006, the veterinary college received initial funding to train four veterinarians leading to a Doctor of Philosophy degree through the program. Each of these students conducted research projects, including studies on tuberculosis, hepatitis E virus and cross-species infection, lipid and glucose metabolism, and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus.

This is not the only student research training opportunity at the veterinary college. This spring, the college also received two grants for the Summer Veterinary Student Research Program, which encourages first- and second-year veterinary students to explore careers in biomedical research.

As part of both programs, participants visit the Washington, D.C. headquarters for the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other agencies so that they can understand the breadth of career opportunities available to veterinarians with a background in biomedical research. The Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine organizes these trips and other opportunities to introduce students to nontraditional veterinary careers other than private clinical practice.

To learn more about the NIH training program, visit the program’s website.

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