The Gastrointestinal Laboratory (GI Lab) at Texas A&M University is a unique Laboratory. We provide unique testing services for practicing veterinarians. When a veterinarian in practice is presented with a dog or cat with a complex gastrointestinal disease they can send a sample to the GI Lab for testing and often we will be able to help them make a diagnosis and choose the appropriate therapy.
Currently, we evaluate more than 1000 samples each week. But, we are also involved in research. Over the last 10 years, we have developed several new tests for the diagnosis of gastrointestinal diseases in dogs and cats. Some of these are now considered the gold standard for diagnosis all over the world. We are involved in approximately 50 different research projects at any time and collaborate with many investigators at different universities and clinics all around the world.
However, there are two long-term problems we face—in short, people and money. While our full-time team is made up of 18 people, there is only one faculty member at the moment with eight graduate students. This ratio is not ideal. Of course, we could decrease the number of graduate students, but this would diminish the number of projects we can be involved in. Since we would prefer not to do that, we have decided to try to add additional faculty members. As I am sure you are aware, faculty positions are hard to create and in an environment where state contributions to veterinary colleges are steadily decreasing, a state-funded faculty line for the GI Lab is not realistic. Also, funding such a new faculty position solely from grant income is unrealistic. Thus, we have decided to embark on a major capital campaign that I am proud to introduce to you.
- Establish the first Institute of Companion Animal Gastroenterology worldwide. Many veterinary schools around the country have established institutes in areas of special expertise. For example, here at Texas A&M, we were able to establish the DeBakey Institute of Cardiovascular Research. At first glance, it may appear that such an institute is only a name. But, it is much more than that. An institute guarantees important resources, such as laboratory space and a stream of funding. To our knowledge, there is not a single institute worldwide that is dedicated to companion animal gastrointestinal health and I strongly believe that we have been able to create the right environment here at Texas A&M University to develop such an Institute of Companion Animal Gastroenterology.
- Establish the first Chair in Companion Animal Gastroenterology worldwide. Most veterinary schools have been striving to create chairs in specific areas. I am sure that you are familiar with chairs in Veterinary Oncology, Clinical Nutrition, or Internal Medicine. Again, I am unaware of any such chair in Companion Animal Gastroenterology. A chair is very important because it is associated with an endowment that provides a continuous stream of funding. This funding can be used to hire new faculty and staff, buy capital equipment, or fund a study that otherwise could not be done.
- Create the first Academic Training Program in Companion Animal Gastroenterology. There are many clinical residency programs around the country that educate great clinicians in internal medicine. There are also a couple of training programs that train Ph.D. students in Companion Animal Gastroenterology. Unfortunately, at the moment, there is no single training program that does both. With the realization that evidence-based medicine is becoming more and more important in everyday veterinary practice, we believe that we must strive for the fusion of clinical medicine and science. To that end, we are planning to initiate a combined residency/Ph.D. program that would ensure that there is a next generation of clinically-oriented scientists in Companion Animal Gastroenterology.
- Establish a Collaborative Research Fund for projects in Companion Animal Gastroenterology. Every year the GI Lab works with a number of collaborators from different universities and private practices from the US and abroad. Often times we will be contacted by a colleague, who has a great idea but no funding. We have always felt that it is very important to ensure that people who have little access to funding can get involved in the advancement of Companion Animal Gastroenterology. We would thus like to establish a formal fund for these projects to ensure that we can maintain a supportive environment for our colleagues.
- Establish a Capital Equipment Fund. As technologies advance our research capabilities improve dramatically. But at the same time research is becoming increasingly more expensive. Today it is not unusual for us to have to invest $100,000 for a new piece of equipment. In addition, these machines need service contracts and in many cases, the analysis of a single sample can require materials that cost in excess of $100. In order to make sure that new technologies do not become cost-prohibitive, we need to establish a capital equipment fund that can take over the payment of service contracts and allows for the purchase of new equipment in the future.
Jörg M. Steiner, Director of the GI Lab