The Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) and the Departments of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and Small Animal Clinical Sciences at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) provide expertise and facilities for veterinary patient care that are integral to service and teaching missions of the College. The CVMBS is the only veterinary college in the state of Texas, and is ranked fifth among U.S. colleges by the most recent rankings by U.S. News & World Report. During 2007, there were 14,464 patient visits to the VMTH’s small animal hospital and 5,961 admissions to the VMTH’s large animal hospital. This large number of cases of spontaneous disease managed by the clinical faculty affiliated with the VMTH represents an invaluable resource for clinical research. By clinical research, we refer to research that involves the study of spontaneous disease among client-owned animals, or research in experimental animals that can be directly applied to patients with spontaneous disease (e.g., methods for enhancing fertility in research mares can be directly applied to infertile mares examined at the VMTH). Patients seen by VMTH faculty create opportunities for veterinary and comparative medical research.
Clinical research involving animals owned by clients of the VMTH is important for a number of reasons. First, patients seen by faculty at the VMTH can be studied using either clinical trial or observational study designs to evaluate diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive interventions, or to establish prognosis. Such research directly impacts the health and welfare of companion animals and livestock. Companion animals are of societal importance through the salutary effects of the psychosocial bonds between animals and people and their assistance to those with physical or other handicaps, as well as for their roles in assisting police, rescue, and customs services. Livestock are of immense societal importance as sources of food and fiber. Second, spontaneous diseases in animals can be models of corresponding diseases in humans, such as various types of cancer, diabetes mellitus, and heart disease. Increasingly, there is evidence that experimental models of disease in mice and other laboratory animals do not adequately mimic disease in humans. Moreover, experimentally created disease in any species of animal is often a poor replication of spontaneous disease. Thus, animals with spontaneous disease seen at the VMTH are useful models for evaluating diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive strategies for the benefit of improving human as well as animal health. Evidence exists that projects involving spontaneous disease in veterinary patients can attract substantial funding from private industry and federal resources. Third, there are public health research opportunities represented by the client-owned animal populations studied. The large majority (viz., 75%) of emerging infectious diseases of human beings are zoonotic. Changes in methods of food production, trade policies, and a long international border with Mexico pose challenges for biosecurity among food animals and provide opportunities for transmission of food-animal- borne illnesses. Client-owned livestock populations provide a research resource for pre-harvest food safety and biosecurity. Fourth, there are important opportunities for translation of research findings by basic science faculty to patients. Although the VMTH is the public face of the College, a cadre of outstanding research faculty at the school conduct biomedical research that will ultimately have application to veterinary and human patients. Each of the College’s landmark research programs (Cardiovascular Diseases; Genetics/Genomics, Infectious Diseases and Biodefense; Neurosciences; Oncology and Toxicology; and Reproduction) include clinical applications and faculty members with VMTH appointments. Thus, there is considerable justification to bolster the unique clinical research program made possible by the VMTH patients and the expertise of the clinical faculty.