Twenty years ago, a researcher at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech proved that cornea tissue can carry feline leukemia virus, potentially saving countless cats from risky tissue donations from infected animals.

That researcher was Ian Herring, associate professor of ophthalmology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. His project would not have happened without support from the college’s Veterinary Memorial Fund, which just marked its 30th year of providing competitive grants to faculty members working on clinical research projects.

Recently, Herring and ophthalmology resident Rachel Matusow completed another Veterinary Memorial Fund. An $8,000 grant allowed Herring and Matusow to offer anti-glaucoma medication to 120 dogs that underwent cataract surgery over an 18-month period. The project's findings will become part of routine pre-operative care for dogs undergoing cataract surgery at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Their research has been submitted for publication in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Elevation in eye pressure is the most common complication following cataract surgery in dogs and affects 75 percent of patients,” said Herring, who is also the teaching hospital’s assistant director and has been a part of 10 projects funded by the memorial over the years. “Veterinarians typically use anti-glaucoma medication following surgery to reduce eye pressure, but very few use it before. We investigated whether pre-treatment with this medication would reduce the frequency of this complication and found that, yes, it does.”

Established in 1985, the Veterinary Memorial Fund enables pet owners and families to leave a legacy of support for scientific investigations which improve the quality of health care for future generations. The fund accepts contributions, both small and large, from veterinarians and owners in memory of a pet, as well as from family and friends in memory of a person who loved animals.

After Michele Sizer of Woodbridge, Virginia, lost her beloved dog, Baby, this past June, the veterinarians and staff at Mapleshade Animal Hospital donated to the memorial fund in Baby’s honor.

“It means the world to me to share Baby’s memories and know that through his loss other animals can have a better quality of life,” Sizer said. “I sincerely thank Mapleshade Animal Hospital for their kind donation to the memorial fund, and I thank the researchers for the work that they do in honor of our animal companions.”

Dog owner and veterinary college employee, Kim Ascue, is comforted to know that a fund contribution, made by her colleagues in honor of her beloved golden retriever, Bailey, is helping dogs have a better quality of life. “Bailey was my best friend and the best dog anyone could ask for,” she said. “It means a lot to know that his legacy is a gift that will help other dogs like him have a better quality of life.”

The veterinary college initially established the fund in partnership with the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and was later joined by the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association. To date, the fund has raised almost $1.5 million and funded more than 100 research projects.

Donations to the fund boost core support for the college’s clinical research at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and enable more animals to participate. Specially designated donations of $2,500 and above will be recognized with a new donor wall, which will be installed in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital this fall. To learn more or to donate, visit the Veterinary Memorial Fund website or contact Mindy Quigley, clinical trials coordinator, at 540-231-1363.

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