Petco Foundation Grant Assists Patients Working To BTHO Cancer

Story by Dorian Martin

A black dog and a brown dog lay down under a tree
FlapJack and Papillion

From the moment Flapjack was adopted as a puppy from the Houston Humane Society in 2008, he became an integral part of his new family.

“He was super smart from the time we got him,” said Flapjack’s owner Robert Schmidt. “He was very inquisitive and he seemed tuned in with the world, not just in a puppy or a dog way, but in a sentient way.”

Flapjacks’s ability to provide empathetic support was critical when Schmidt’s first wife, Lori, developed cancer in 2015.

“When somebody is dealing with a terminal illness, a lot of your friends and family don’t know how to react so they stop coming around as much,” he remembered. “Flapjack and his sister and brother were often the only shoulder to cry on while Lori was going through her illness and when she passed away in 2017.”

Soon after, Flapjack came to need support of his own.

In 2018, Schmidt took the dog to Springtown Veterinary in San Marcos for a dental cleaning and agreed to have a discounted ultrasound while Flapjack was sedated. That test identified a tiny, possibly cancerous tumor on Flapjack’s bladder, so Schmidt asked for a referral to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH).

After the tumor was confirmed as bladder cancer, his initial conversations with the VMTH staff were difficult.

“When I went there and talked to some of the doctors and the oncology nurses, they painted a bleak picture,” he said, “and I believed it because I got the same talk in 2015 when my wife was diagnosed with cancer.”

Despite being unsure that surgery could cure the cancer, Schmidt and the VMTH Oncology Service decided to do everything possible to try to heal Flapjack, despite the cost.

Thanks to the talented veterinary surgeons, Flapjack’s operation was successful. They removed the entire tumor and, in subsequent check-ups, found that the cancer has not returned.

“I’m a realist and every checkup I expect a recurrence,” Schmidt said. “They had said that he would probably not be here by now, a year-and-a-half later.

“If we hadn’t found the tumor and if it weren’t for the good people in Springtown Veterinary suggesting the ultrasound, Dr. Dan Allen (Flapjack’s veterinarian) being quick and giving me the referral to A&M, and the good work of the VMTH staff, he wouldn’t be with us,” he said.

Schmidt was overjoyed to return home with Flapjack, but he also was concerned about paying off a bill for $12,000, the total cost to treat the bladder cancer.

Three people and two dogs sit in front of the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital entrance
From left: Robert Schmidt, Papillion, wife Kandi, FlapJack, and lead veterinary technician for Oncology Service Jaci Christensen

Fortunately, the VMTH and Petco Foundation were able to help with a Pet Cancer Treatment grant.

The Petco grant, awarded to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) in 2019, stipulated that the grant’s funds assist pet owners facing extensive costs in treating their animal’s cancer. In the time since, several pet owners have tapped into these funds to defray costs.

The financial support from Petco and other funding sources helped Schmidt greatly.

“You don’t realize how generous people are when it comes to your animal family,” he said. “It always chokes me up when someone tells me that they’ve given a gift for Flapjack’s treatment because it renews my faith in people. I love Flapjack like my son and companies like Petco recognize that and do things to take some of the pressure off of you so you can worry about making your animal well. It’s a huge blessing.”

A Company That Cares

The Pet Cancer Treatment grant program primarily supports cancer treatments at large- and medium-sized oncology departments in colleges of veterinary medicine.

“This grant helps pet owners with the pretty extensive costs associated with cancer therapy in animals,” said Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, CVM associate professor and Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology. “It is meant to help people pay for those things so that they can actually get their animals treated if they want to.”

The Petco Foundation grant is the only industry grant funding that the oncology team, which is the second-most used service in the VMTH behind the emergency room, has received to support patient care.

“We’re extremely grateful for all of our donors, but the Petco Foundation funds have allowed us to do a lot more for clients because it is such a large donation,” Wilson-Robles said.

The grant’s funds provide an important financial resource for care that can quickly escalate and for innovative therapies that may benefit the pet.

“Since we’re an integrated service, almost all our patients will receive multimodality therapy, which is what tends to make it expensive,” Wilson-Robles said. “Many of them have preoperative radiation, then they’ll have surgery, then they’ll get chemo. The cost really does build up.

“Also, if there is a fairly novel or new treatment and we’re thinking outside the box, sometimes that costs money,” she said. “We can support the owner and not feel like we’re charging them for something when we don’t know what the outcome’s going to be.”

The Petco grant has also been a boon for the VMTH’s staff.

“It’s been huge for morale, especially for some of the house officers (who serve as liaisons between clients and clinicians). They’re on the front lines, and they get really attached to these patients and clients over time,” Wilson-Robles said. “For the house officers to be able to say, ‘The clients are out of money; is there any way we can help them with these funds?’ and for us be able to say ‘Yes’ really helps them feel good.”

Today, at 12 years old, Flapjack is still healthy, active, and cancer-free.

“He’s doing well and hopefully he’ll live a full life and another three, four, or five years,” Schmidt said. “When you see him, he’s really like a puppy. He doesn’t look like a 12-year-old dog. He’s just a little happy rambunctious puppy dog.”

Like Flapjack, many beloved pets will benefit from the Petco grant. Their owners and the VMTH oncology staff can focus on doing everything possible to BTHO cancer, knowing the Petco Foundation is there to support them.

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Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Petco Foundation Grants: Supporting The Fight Against Cancer

Story by Dorian Martin

Cannon Lenfield hugs his brown dog Liberty in a field of bluebonnets
Cannon Lenfield and Liberty

Like most college students, Cannon Lenfield ‘20 didn’t have a lot of extra funds on hand when his 9-year-old dog, Liberty, was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2018. Yet the Texas A&M University student proved to be very resourceful in finding ways to pay for his dog’s treatment.

“At that point, I had just paid tuition and couldn’t afford to pay any more at the moment,” explained Lenfield, who didn’t have canine health insurance. “There was no way Liberty was going to be able to receive treatment any longer without help.”

A student worker in VMTH’s Small Animal Hospital Gastrointestinal Laboratory at the time, Lenfield paid for most of Liberty’s treatment on his own, which required him to buckle down financially.

“I definitely couldn’t buy a lot of stupid things anymore; I stopped eating out and stuff like that,” he said. “I knew that it was going to take a lot of money to pay for it so I doubled my hours.”

Lenfield was so committed to ensuring Liberty’s care that after being in a motorcycle accident, he reallocated an insurance payment to help pay the bill.

“My bike still worked so I didn’t need the money,” he said. “I was fine.”

Fortunately, Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) was able to step in to offer him support through the Petco Foundation Pet Cancer Treatment grant, which was established in early 2019. This grant provides financial assistance to pet owners who have modest means or whose pets have provided a service to others.

The timing of receiving these funds was especially helpful in Liberty’s case.

A Friend For Life

Lenfield was a boy when his family adopted the mixed-breed puppy from a kill shelter. They decided to name the dog Liberty because she was scheduled to be euthanized on Sept. 11 but was rescued on Sept. 10.

The young boy and pup quickly formed a tight bond and grew even closer in the ensuing years. Lenfield opted to bring her to college with him so he could spend time with her between his classes and studies.

A group of veterinarians and veterinary technicians
The Oncology team at Texas A&M University

“She was definitely my best friend,” he said.

When the dog reached the age of 9, she started displaying signs of ill health.

“While I was on vacation, the dog sitter noticed a lump on both sides of her neck, in her lymph nodes,” the public health graduate said. “I took her to the veterinarian the day that I got back and they told me that she probably had cancer.”

Lenfield immediately turned to the VMTH’s oncology staff—who confirmed the diagnosis—to oversee Liberty’s treatment.

“Obviously, they were going to be the best help that I could get,” he said. “Plus, there’s no one else in the area that offers treatment for lymphoma.”

The Best Treatment For A Best Friend

After deciding to pursue treatment at the VMTH, Lenfield found that that care wasn’t cheap.

“We use a lot of the human-level drugs and equipment, but we don’t have insurance to help support that,” said Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, an associate professor and Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology. “We keep our prices as low as we can, but unfortunately, it’s still expensive.”

Liberty initially qualified for a study that helped cover a portion of the initial treatment cost.

“That helped pay for a portion of the costs and then after that, anything additional was on me,” Lenfield said. “I got the Petco funds later, but in between there and then it was all me.”

The VMTH’s staff was excited to be able to offer Lenfield the funds because they were so impressed by his commitment to Liberty.

A brown dog sitting in a yard smiling
Liberty

“He was trying so hard to do everything for this dog. We had sort of piecemealed treatments for him as much as we could—we put her on any studies we could and looked for anything we could do to help him pay for things,” said Wilson-Robles. “Finally, we got to a point where we didn’t have any studies she qualified for and he just wasn’t sure he could afford treatment, so we offered him the Petco funds. He just started sobbing because he was just so grateful because he didn’t have to stop. This dog was his family. He didn’t have any other family in town.”

“I didn’t think happy tears were real until I got the financial assistance to care for Liberty, Lenfield said.

Worth Every Penny

Sadly, despite her treatments, Liberty succumbed to her lymphoma in September 2019, but throughout it all, Lenfield had no doubt that the VMTH veterinary staff was focused on providing Liberty the best care possible.

“I can’t say enough how awesome these people are,” Lenfield said. “They truly are a wonderful group of people and there’s no one else in the world I would’ve rather treated my dog. They are some of the most caring, compassionate and knowledgeable people this world has to offer and will do everything in their power to take care of you and your animal.”

Lenfield said given the chance, he would take the same course of action all over again.

“If you have the money, you should definitely spend it. She was there for me for eight years and I only had to do it for one year. Up until then I only fed her,” he said. “I would never take any of the money back. I spent like $1,500 in the last week she was alive and even that week was worth $1,500.”

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Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

CVM Faculty Members to Promote Canine Health with New Research Grants

Story by Megan Myers

Drs. Nick and Unity Jeffery, a husband-and-wife duo at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), have received canine health research grants from the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Canine Health Foundation (CHF).

Dr. Unity Jeffery
Dr. Unity Jeffery

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the AKC CHF awarded more than $2.1 million in 36 new canine health research grants in February. The selected projects were chosen based on their ability to meet the highest scientific standards and to have the greatest potential to advance the health of all dogs.

In her Dogs Helping Dogs Laboratory, Unity Jeffery, an assistant professor in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB), will conduct research for her grant “Tumor-educated Platelets: A Minimally Invasive Liquid Biopsy for Early Cancer Diagnosis.”

Studies in human medicine have shown that RNA in blood platelets is a promising marker for various types of cancer.

Unity Jeffery’s study, in collaboration with Drs. Emma Warry, Jonathan Lidbury, and Chris Dolan, from the CVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS), will act as a proof of principle to determine if this information is translational into canine medicine.

If so, her research may be the first step in developing a blood-based screening test or liquid biopsy for canine cancer.

“One of the big problems with cancer in dogs is that because dogs can’t talk, they can’t let us know when they’re starting to feel just a little bit unwell or show very mild symptoms,” she said. “That means that we often don’t diagnose cancer in dogs until very late, when the cancer’s already widespread throughout the body.”

By using a test that can detect cancer earlier, veterinarians may be able to use more targeted treatment protocols that have reduced side effects.

“The hope of early diagnosis is that maybe that’s your chance to fully eliminate the cancer rather than just prolong life,” she said.

Dr. Nick Jeffery
Dr. Nick Jeffery

Meanwhile, CVM professor and neurologist Nick Jeffery will be working to extend results from a previous research project for his grant “Clinical Trial of Prevotella histicola Supplementation to Ameliorate Meningoencephalomyelitis of Unknown Origin (MUO).”

In a previous project, Nick Jeffery found that dogs with MUO, a disease of the central nervous system that resembles multiple sclerosis in humans, have an unusual balance of bacteria in their guts. Particularly, one bacteria that is known for controlling inflammation was consistently at lower levels.

His project will focus on providing supplements of that reduced bacteria to dogs with MUO to hopefully improve the disease’s outcome.

“We’re going to culture the bacteria and then put them into capsules that dogs can take every day,” he said. “The idea is that it will help us get better control of the disease, which is quite serious and quite a lot of dogs will die of it. We’re hoping that by supplementing with this bacteria, we might improve their survival.”

In addition to improving the survival of dogs with MUO, the bacterial supplement could also provide a way to reduce the use of immunosuppressive drugs, improving the dogs’ overall health and wellbeing.

Similar to the translational aspect of Unity Jeffery’s project, Nick’s may also one day play a role in human medicine by suggesting a new treatment method for multiple sclerosis.

“I was very pleased to get the grant, especially since it was a follow up on a previous study,” he said. “It’s fantastic to try out bacterial supplementation. This sort of approach is pretty new in all medicine, so it’s a great opportunity to test the idea and also try to fix dogs that have got a very serious condition.”

“I’m very grateful to the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the owners and breeders who donate to the charity,” Unity Jeffery said. “My Dogs Helping Dogs Lab, where we use canine patients and healthy volunteers to try to better diagnose and treat common canine diseases, fits really nicely with the AKC’s mission to improve the health of both pedigree dogs and the whole canine population. It’s a charity that I feel very honored to be funded by and very grateful for their continuing support.

“Nick and I have pet dogs at home and we love our dogs; they’re our family,” she said. “For me, I feel that I do the same type of research for my patients as a human doctor would do for theirs, and that’s what’s great about working in a veterinary school and having the opportunity to obtain funding from sources like the AKC.”

About the AKC CHF

Since 1995, the AKC Canine Health Foundation has leveraged the power of science to address the health needs of all dogs. With more than $56 million in funding to date, the Foundation provides grants for the highest quality canine health research and shares information on the discoveries that help prevent, treat and cure canine diseases. The Foundation meets and exceeds industry standards for fiscal responsibility, as demonstrated by their highest four-star Charity Navigator rating and GuideStar Platinum Seal of Transparency. Learn more at www.akcchf.org.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

CVM Doctoral Student Earns Prestigious NIH Grant

Story by Dorian Martin

Lunde-Young and Ramadoss
Raine Lunde-Young and Dr. Jay Ramadoss

Raine Lunde-Young, a doctoral student in the Ramadoss research group at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), has been awarded a prestigious F31 predoctoral grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

NIH F31 grants are unique in that they collectively recognize the quality of Lunde-Young’s research, the excellence of the research lab in which she works, the merits of her faculty mentor, and the exemplary institutional environment. These fellowships are highly competitive.

As Lunde-Young’s mentor, Dr. Jayanth (Jay) Ramadoss, the director of Perinatal Research Laboratory and an associate professor in CVM’s Physiology & Pharmacology Department (VTPP), supported her throughout the proposal writing process, from its inception to submission.

“I’m really grateful for Dr. Ramadoss’ support. An NIH F31 grant is a testament to your aptitude and potential as a researcher as well as your mentor’s and their lab’s capabilities to support your career growth,” Lunde-Young said. “It really helps get your toe in the door. It tells the scientific community that you can write a competitive grant early in your career.”

The NIH F31 fellowship grant is valued at more than $100,000 and subsidizes Lunde-Young’s tuition, fees, and stipendfor three years as she investigates Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Ramadoss’ research group.

“Raine is a very hardworking student who already has invested more than a decade in the field of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” Ramadoss said. “The NIH—and the Research Society in Alcoholism, last year, through one of their most prestigious awards—recognized Raine’s long-term commitment to this field. I believe she will do wonders as she moves on to a postdoctoral fellowship and will continue to be recognized for her contributions to the field.

“The F31 grant adds value to the career development of the graduate student as well as to the lab,” the CVM faculty member said. “Also, it’s about the message it sends. Having these grants in the lab means the lab is able to train scientists for a promising career.”

According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, an estimated 40,000 newborns—approximately 1 in 100 babies—are affected by FASD each year. FASD is more prevalent than Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), cystic fibrosis, and spina bifida combined. FASD can result in physical defects, damage to the brain and central nervous system, and social and behavioral issues.

While it’s common knowledge that alcohol consumption during pregnancy places children at risk, incidence has not decreased. In fact, a recent study indicated that1 in 10 report drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Lunde-Young is working with Ramadoss to study how fetal brain damage from developmental alcohol exposure is happening.

“Despite more than 30 years of research, we still don’t know how alcohol causes many of these neuro-developmental problems,” Lunde-Young said. “Surprisingly, an area that is understudied is alcohol’s effects on the developing brain vasculature. The brain vasculature is important because during development, blood vessels deliver oxygen and nutrients to support healthy brain growth. Diminished blood vessel function could profoundly affect nutrient and oxygen delivery, which could lead to an array of developmental consequences involving the brain.”

Under this NIH F31 grant, Lunde-Young will use ultrahigh-frequency ultrasonography to noninvasively study regional blood flow distribution in the fetal brain. She also plans to assess blood vessel function by simulating in vivo-like conditions (i.e., temperature, pH, etc.) in an ex vivosetting outside the body, and will evaluate how these blood vessels respond to changes in pressure.

“She’s using state-of-the-art technology to image the fetal brain, to determine how fast blood is flowing in mainly small vessels supplying different brain regions,” Ramadoss said. “She will evaluate whether different parts of the brain are responding differently.”

“These vessels are less than a millimeter in diameter, so until recently, imaging was not really an option,” Lunde-Young said. “Now, with technological advances, we can really get a clear picture of how many hemodynamic parameters are being altered in response to alcohol.”

Lunde-Young’s overall goal for her work that will be supported by the F31 grant is “to lay a foundation for developing potential therapeutic or pharmacological intervention studies that can manipulate, improve, or ameliorate some of the effects of alcohol exposure on development,” she added.

“This research will give us an understanding so that we can move forward and think about treatment options,” she said

 

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Interim Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Texas A&M CVM To Lead $3.3-Million Project Investigating Inter-Individual Differences In Chemical Toxicity

A team of researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and College of Medicine, in collaboration with scientists at North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota, have been awarded a five-year, multi-million-dollar grant by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The $3.3-million project was funded as part of a highly competitive call for proposals to explore population-based models to better understand the linkages between chemicals and their potential adverse health effects in both humans and animals.

Using the chemical butadiene, the team will test the linkages between DNA damage—changes to cells’ chromatin—and genetic differences among individuals. This work will be conducted using novel, experimental tools to study inter-individual variability in a mouse population called “Collaborative Cross” and human cells from more than 100 individuals.

The researchers participating in this project—including collaborator Dr. Natalia Tretyakova, a professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota—have previously established that butadiene, a chemical used industrially in the production of synthetic rubber and is also present in cigarette smoke, is linked to DNA damage.

“It is well established that exposure to butadiene can result in damage to the genomic code of cells and, thus, has been classified as a known carcinogen in humans and animals,” said Dr. Ivan Rusyn, a professor of toxicology in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS). “But even though this chemical can damage DNA in all cells, it doesn’t cause cancer in every tissue, as has been shown by studies in animals.

“This means there are additional mechanisms that may be protective or that make certain tissues more susceptible, and we want to understand the factors that make those certain tissues or certain individuals more or less susceptible to the potential adverse effects of butadiene and other chemicals,” he said.

“This project relied on a series of previous studies that showed that if different strains of mice are exposed to the same amount of this chemical, there are very different amounts of DNA damage,” he said.

The study is significant because while the potential for inter-individual variability in the effects of pharmaceuticals on humans are studied through clinical trials, the effects of environmental factors are not investigated for their potential to be more hazardous to certain individuals.

“The reason the NIH is interested in determining which experimental models can be used to study variability in responses to environmental chemicals is that almost all of the testing that is done now is based on rodent strains that are, essentially, identical twins of each other,” said Dr. Fred Wright, a statistical geneticist from North Carolina State University and a collaborator on the study. “So, while we do have much data on the safety or hazards of many chemicals in those particular model systems, we make leaps of faith to then generalize to the human population without data on inter-individual variability.”

Translationally, research has generally worked the same way in humans—one population is studied through research such as a clinical trial, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the results are applicable to all humans around the world.

Ultimately, by exposing human cells from different individuals to butadiene through studies that aim to translate findings from mouse population to humans, the researchers also will be able to better ascertain how their findings can be related to human health.

“The practical application of this project is that we really are trying to understand what, if any, polymorphisms (genetic differences among individuals) actually confer susceptibility or resistance to DNA damage in general,” said Dr. David Threadgill, distinguished professor and director of the Texas A&M Institute for Genome Sciences and Society. “If we would understand that, we can, perhaps, enable improvements in testing future chemicals, in understanding what these chemicals can do when individuals have these particular polymorphisms.”

“It’s a very aspirational goal, and may not get there in five years, but it’s both fundamental research and a project that will generate knowledge that is more immediately applicable to the decision-making with respect to chemicals and their hazard in people,” Rusyn said.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; mpalsa@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)

Texas A&M Veterinary Oncology Service Receives PetCo Funding To Subsidize Animal Treatment

Oncology Service
The Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital’s Oncology Service team members

Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles and the Oncology Service at the Texas Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), have received $200,000 from the Petco Foundation that will financially assist owners with their pets’ cancer treatments.

The Pet Cancer Treatment grant, supported by the Blue Buffalo Foundation for Cancer Research, Inc., provides support for the treatment for domestic companion animals suffering from cancer to pet parents of modest means or to pet parents whose pets have provided a service to others.

Funds will be used to offset the cost of cancer treatment for qualifying owners who are seeking treatment for their pet at the VMTH.

“In our everyday work, research is important and, yes, teaching is our mission, but the clients are why we get out of bed every day—to come in and see these cases and treat cancer,” said Wilson-Robles, associate professor and Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology.

“One of the big things about these funds and how they help clients is that they allow pet owners to treat their animals in a more affordable way; owners cannot always afford treatment, so having these supplementary funds, in some cases, helps owners to not have to make a choice about what they can do—it allows them to treat their animal when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. It’s huge for them.”

The Petco Foundation makes grant investments in organizations that work to make the most significant impact possible with the support provided by the Petco Foundation. The foundation desires to support and encourage the work of those organizations that work together in an effort to create a nation where no animal is needlessly euthanized, where domestic animals can be trained to provide service to people and organizations in need, and where all domestic animals can be healthy and find lifelong homes and lifesaving medical care.

As the only veterinary hospital in Texas to offer an integrated oncology service, the VMTH’s Oncology Service provides cutting-edge, comprehensive cancer care, offering medical, radiation, and surgical oncologists working closely together in one location.

Since 1999, the Petco Foundation has invested more than $200 million in lifesaving animal welfare work help animals live their best life.

With more than 4,000 animal welfare partners, the foundation works to inspire and empower communities to make a difference by investing in adoption and medical care programs, spay and neuter services, pet cancer research, service and therapy animals, and numerous other lifesaving initiatives.

For more information about the VMTH’s Oncology Service, visit http://vethospital.tamu.edu/small-animal-hospital/oncology, and for more information on the Petco Foundation, visit www.petcofoundation.org.

 

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Interim Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

 

Center for Educational Technologies Faculty Awarded Texas A&M Research Grant

Drs. Nicola Ritter, Molly Gonzales, and Karen Cornell, in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, have been awarded a $25,000 seed grant from the Texas A&M University Division of Research’s Program to Enhance Scholarly and Creative Activities (PESCA).

These funds will allow the Center for Educational Technologies (CET) to explore how learning analytics can be leveraged to predict first-year student success within the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) professional program.

The project focuses on two main research objectives, including the development of multi-level predictive models for veterinary student success using pre-admission criteria as predictor variables and the creation of interactive dashboards to visualize resulting data from three stakeholder perspectives: program stakeholders, instructors, and student.

This collaborative effort addresses the educational challenges unique to veterinary programs.

Results of the project have the potential to impact veterinary education through establishing a data-driven matriculation process for a competency-based education program that promotes pre-enrollment adaptive interventions to increase students’ first-year academic success in a DVM program.

“Texas A&M University’s CVM is the first veterinary college to launch learning analytics. We are excited to have the opportunity to advance evidence-based education to support program, faculty, and student needs through this project,” said Ritter, an instructional assistant professor and CET director. “We’ve been collecting educational data for decades, but the research done in this area was siloed by course challenges or instructor interests. This project will move the DVM program from data-rich and information-poor to data-rich and information-rich.”

This deep dive into learning analytics research is led by an interdisciplinary team of faculty-researchers who have collective expertise in data science, veterinary education, and learning science.

Ritter will provide expertise in data science, through which statistical methods will be applied to generate predictive models of student success. Data scientists can analyze data to discover hidden information, such as students’ learning patterns, and anticipate which competencies will be a challenge for students to acquire.

Cornell, associate dean for the CVM Professional Programs Office, will provide her expertise as a veterinarian and coordinate multiple stakeholders involved in the DVM program’s matriculation process.

Gonzales, CET instructional assistant professor, will serve as co-principal investigator and will share her expertise in learning science, through which theories and empirical findings help researchers understand how students learn knowledge content and acquire competencies. Learning analytics can provide learning design specialists with insight into student real-time engagement, learning progression, achievement, and evidence-informed teaching and learning strategies.

This information informs the adjustment of course structure and curriculum design and the provision adaptive intervention based upon students’ progress. Gonzales will provide insight into how students’ predictive learning performance can inform learning design.

For more than 10 years, the Texas A&M University’s Division of Research PESCA Research Seed Grant program has functioned as an effective pathway for faculty members to obtain needed research seed funding for their collaborative projects.

This year, the Division of Research received 70 proposals from across 15 colleges. Of these proposals, 13 were accepted from principal investigators across 11 different colleges.

The Division of Research will invest more than $250,000 in these accepted PESCA Research Seed Grant projects. To learn more visit: https://today.tamu.edu/2019/01/30/division-of-research-awards-13-grants-to-texas-am-faculty/.

At the forefront of veterinary education, the CET is making significant contributions to advancing education by developing, implementing and evaluating innovative educational tools and resources.

Research conducted at the CET represented annual expenditures of more than $3.25 million in fiscal year 2018.

The CET continues to serve our state, nation, and world through various research, teaching, and entrepreneurial endeavors–all of which are centered on providing engaging online educational resources. To learn more visit: http://www.tamucet.org.

Texas A&M Center Secures Funding To Continue Tissue Chip Testing And Promotion

Professor Ivan RusynFollowing the completion of their first two years of comprehensive, independent testing of 11 tissue chips, researchers in the Tissue Chip Validation Center at Texas A&M University (TEX-VAL) have been successful in securing a competitive renewal award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The competitive, multi-million-dollar grant from the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) will facilitate the creation of a public-private partnership that builds on the existing infrastructure and expertise of TEX-VAL and promotes the use of tissue chips by industry and regulatory bodies. The center also will continue their work to validate the tissue chip technology developed by their partners at a number of public and private academic centers in the United States.

Led by College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) professor Ivan Rusyn, the TEX-VAL Center will work with key members of the Innovation and Quality, or iQ, Consortium, comprising toxicologists from pharmaceutical companies that are interested in exploring the use of tissue chips for drug testing and development.

The TEX-VAL Center has secured commitments to test 19 new tissue chips from NIH-funded developers, as well as an interest in discussing the consortium framework from key members of the iQ Consortium and governmental agencies.

“We have already been successful in building close partnerships with the academic laboratories that develop tissue chip technology. I am delighted that our center brings value to our partners and that they are happy to continue working with us,” Rusyn said. “The major focus for this second, two-year grant is to engage even more closely with companies, as a group or individually, and government agencies to build a consortium that becomes a place where people can discuss their experiences with the technology, but also can actually do new testing and then share this information with others.”

 

A tissue chip (courtesy of NCATS)

The ultimate goal is to establish a public-private partnership that will transform the TEX-VAL Center into a self-sustaining public-private consortium for tissue chip validation.

“As happens with many novel and complex technologies, industry and regulatory agencies have been slow to adopt tissue chips because of a lack of confidence in the reliability and relevance,” Rusyn added. “The consortium will work to encourage tissue chip adoption and serve as a practical pathway to what we hope will be the eventual replacement of animal testing in the future.”

Other TEX-VAL Center investigators are: Weihsueh Chiu at the CVM; Clifford Stephan at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology; Terry Wade with the Texas A&M Geosciences and Environmental Research Group; and Arum Han at the Texas A&M College of Engineering.

Additional information on the award (U24 TR002633) is available via the NIH Project Reporter, at https://projectreporter.nih.gov/project_info_description.cfm?aid=9671095&icde=41336148.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; mpalsa@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)

Texas A&M PEER Program Receives $1.26 Million Grant To Support Rural STEM Education

Dr. Larry Johnson presenting to studentsDr. Larry Johnson, a professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS), has received a five-year, $1.26 million Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant from the National Institutes of  General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in rural middle schools.

The funds will enable the CVM’s Partnership for Environmental Education and Rural Health (PEER) program to:

  • Develop a student-centric app improving the accessibility of PEER materials to rural educators;
  • Revitalize the PEER program website to include compatibility with the newly developed app, updated resources, and enhanced navigation; and
  • Provide teacher trainings focused on student-centered instructional strategies and resources for teaching life science in the motivating context of One Health, which involves the integration of human, animal, and environmental health.

To achieve these aims, the PEER project team will partner with the Center for Educational Technologies and Texas A&M University Departments of Computer Engineering and Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications to incorporate curricula materials Johnson and the PEER scientists/educators have created over the past 15 years.

“The partnerships formed with educators and their students here and around the world through our PEER program to support STEM are making lasting, positive impacts on our rural middle school communities,” said Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. “We are proud of this PEER team and the work they do; this NIGMS SEPA award will allow this team to serve rural communities in an even more remarkable way.”

The goal of the project is to further prepare middle school teachers to teach STEM, increase the number of youth who have interactive STEM experiences in school, and increase the number of underrepresented minority students who are knowledgeable about STEM and STEM careers.

This project will target underserved rural communities, concentrating specifically on middle school students who are at a critical period for developing academic competence and choosing a career.

“We generally target middle school students because students in this age group tend to start middle school liking math and science, but leave middle school with a less favorable impression of it,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to prevent this by applying science to something they all like—animals.”

Rural schools often have large minority and educationally underserved populations and are geographically isolated; therefore, students there often have few opportunities to interact with scientists and academic health professionals who might increase their motivation to engage in STEM education and careers. Giving students the opportunity to engage with these professionals offers them the chance to establish mentorships or role models, which, in turn, will allow them to envision themselves in a health or medical career, according to Johnson.

As part of the project, the team will also host teacher professional development workshops at the CVM, during which five educators will travel to College Station to assist in developing curricula that will meet state and national STEM education standards and contain content engaging to students.

“They will help us create materials that match what teachers need in their classrooms by bringing firsthand classroom experience that guarantees resources created are effective and relevant,” Johnson said. “Teachers won’t use our materials if they don’t conform to state standards or can’t be realistically used in a classroom.”

Those materials will cover seven different One Health topics, which also will be translated into Spanish.

“We often create lessons about animals; kids love animals and so it’s an easy transition from teaching them about the science in their pets to the science in themselves,” Johnson said. “We encourage children to learn through things that they like.”

Finally, during the third, fourth, and fifth years of the grant, PEER will travel across the state to host middle school teacher trainings instructing teachers on the use of not only the PEER app, but also the student-centered instruction and curriculum that the app and web-based resources make possible.

“We will help teachers implement the materials we’ve created into their classrooms,” Johnson said.

Other Texas A&M faculty and staff assisting in the project include Christine Budke, Maria Esteve-Gassent, Julie Harlin, William R. Klemm, Noboru Matsuda (now at North Carolina State University), Nicola Ritter, Duncan Walker, and Torri Whitaker.

The PEER program has been providing activities that encourage interest in STEM education for more than 17 years. The popularity of PEER-produced curricula has led to a mailing list that includes 35,000 teachers from across the United States and a YouTube channel with viewers from around the world. PEER curricula receives 50,203 downloads yearly by 2,201 teachers, generating an impact of 199,609 students, 52 percent of which includes minority populations.

In addition to the new project, PEER will continue to have veterinary student led outreach events and scientist-hosted webcasts in support of the SEPA mission.

“Dr. Johnson and his team have had a huge impact, inspiring children and teachers, not only in Texas but throughout the nation with this program,” said Jane Welsh, VIBS interim department head and professor.

The SEPA program which supports pre-kindergarten to 12th grade STEM, informal science education, and science center/museum projects, is located in the Division for Research Capacity Building at NIGMS.  The PEER-based project, Science Promotion in Rural Middle Schools, received a prior (2007-2012) SEPA award .

For more information on the PEER program, visit http://peer.tamu.edu. For more information on the SEPA program, visit https://nihsepa.org.

Texas A&M Receives Funding

 Outreach Center
A schematic of the CVM’s new Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach Center that will be housed at West Texas A&M University.

West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) and the Texas A&M Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach (VERO) Center received a four-year, $243,500 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).  Project director Dee Griffin, DVM, and co-director Dan Posey, DVM, both Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences faculty, relocated to WTAMU to establish the partnership between CVM and WTAMU

The grant funding will be used to support the development and initiation of seven veterinary-centered programs, including:

1) developing fourth-year veterinary student rural clinical training externships;

2) developing summer working internships for Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) veterinary students finishing their first or second years;

3) supporting CVM veterinary food animal student mentoring for all students interested in food animal practice;

4) supporting an annual rural veterinary practice and livestock operations tour for selected third-year CVM veterinary students;

5) aggressively recruiting qualified students with rural backgrounds;

6) recruiting outstanding rural students from 4-H and FFA programs to consider a veterinary career;

7) practicing sustainability workshops for Texas Panhandle & Plains (TPH&P) rural veterinarians, which will include training for mentoring veterinary students and improved community communication skills.

Recognizing the need to revitalize veterinary service to animal agriculture in the TPH&P region’s rural communities, the TAMU-CVM created the VERO partnership with WTAMU in Canyon, Texas, hiring two seasoned food animal veterinarians and charging them with aggressively addressing the veterinary shortage issue in rural TPH&P. These two veterinarians, working with TPH&P veterinarians, students, high school teachers, and producer groups have laid the groundwork to ensure program success.

Rural TPH&P has significant veterinary opportunities. The organization and necessary collaborative partnerships are in place at WTAMU and the VERO to achieve the unique grant funding objectives, and for several of the objectives to become self-sustaining.

Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the CVM, said that the USDA-NIFA funding of this proposal will have a tremendous impact on the ability to grow our efforts and multiply the impact through regional livestock and veterinary groups, such as the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the High Plains Veterinary Medical Association, and the Panhandle Livestock Professionals.

“The revitalization of veterinary health care in the Texas Panhandle and High Plains regions has been on the agenda of West Texas citizens for some time,” Green said. “Their concern has matched our recognition of the need to further support veterinary health care in the beef epicenter of the nation and in surrounding rural communities in a way that has the potential to be a national model.”

“The USDA-NIFA grant will make a tremendous impact on the TAMU-CVM efforts to revitalize Texas Panhandle veterinary service,” said Walter V. Wendler, president of West Texas A&M University. “Currently, TAMU-CVM is making a significant investment at West Texas A&M to better serve the veterinary needs of Texas Panhandle communities through veterinary student training, veterinary research, and veterinary outreach. The educational goals target TAMU-CVM students to provide training in livestock services and service to rural communities. We believe that if we recruit and train veterinary students in the Panhandle, we have a better chance of getting them to return to build their practices and build their lives in our rural communities.”

Griffin, who is also professor and director of the VERO, said, “With the successful funding of the USDA-NIFA grant, the TAMU-CVM, along with WTAMU, is taking another step forward in firmly establishing a CVM satellite in the Panhandle.  The satellite will support training of veterinary students at every level of their education.”

“Being awarded this grant for the next four years allows us to have a positive impact to assist in the rural practice revitalization,” said Posey, who is also professor and academic coordinator at WTAMU. “We are very excited about our ability to continue to offer innovative training for veterinary students through this grant and to support a food animal mentoring program, aggressively recruit future veterinarians, and hold workshops on rural practice sustainability. This is an exciting time in the Texas Panhandle.”

Collaborators on the grant include: Brandon Dominguez, DVM; Amanda Hartnack, DVM; Glennon Mays, DVM; Tanner Robinson, Ph.D.; Juan Romano, DVM, Ph.D.; Allen Roussel, DVM; Kevin Washburn, DVM; and Kevin Williams, Ph.D.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; mpalsa@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)