The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently ordered researchers at Texas A&M University to suspend work with certain disease agents and toxins because of safety and security concerns.
The CDC regulates select agents and toxins that have the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety. Security issues at TAMU came to light in the spring after the Sunshine Project, a watchdog group, filed requests for public information. The records indicated that a university laboratory worker had an occupational exposure to a Brucella bacterium in February 2006 during experiments under Thomas A. Ficht, PhD, a professor of veterinary pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
The university didn't report the incident to the CDC until April 2007, after the inquiry from the Sunshine Group. From April 16-18, CDC inspectors reviewed some of the facilities where TAMU stores disease agents and toxins. The inspectors noted numerous and serious deficiencies in biosafety and bio security. On April 20, the CDC issued a cease-and-desist order suspending work with Brucella species at TAMU.
On June 30, following the university's responses to the inspection, the CDC expanded the TAMU cease-and-desist order to all select agents and toxins. The CDC's concerns included whether TAMU has a plan to prevent unauthorized access to select agents and toxins and whether the university has a program that provides effective medical surveillance of occupational exposures to select agents and toxins.
From July 23-27, the CDC conducted a comprehensive site review. On Aug. 31, the CDC released a 21-page report and extended the suspension of work with select agents and toxins until the university addresses the issues in the report.
One of the problems was that TAMU researchers were studying Brucella species and Coxiella burnetii, the latter of which can cause Q fever, without prior approval from the CDC. The CDC found increased serologic titers for Q fever in 17 percent of personnel who had been in laboratories where researchers were studying C burnetii.
The CDC also noted problems at the university with internal inspections, biosafety manuals, containment procedures, facility conditions, training programs, and inventory records. Some of these problems were specific to the Veterinary Medical Park. The CDC identified concerns with Dr. Ficht and three other principal investigators.
The Sunshine Project has posted copies of relevant CDC and TAMU documents at www.sunshine-project.org. At press time, the cease-and-desist order for work with select agents and toxins remained in effect.
From the AVMA
AVMF earns three stars
The American Veterinary Medical Foundation recently earned a three-star rating from Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that evaluates the financial health of more than 5,000 U.S. charities.
Charity Navigator bases its evaluations on the financial statements each charity submits annually in its informational tax returns, or IRS Form 990. Three out of four stars means a foundation exceeds or meets industry standards and performs as well as or better than most charities in its cause.
“Our immediate past chair, Dr. R. Tracy Rhodes, and an active Finance and Administration Committee are to be commended for their stewardship and oversight,” said Dr. Robert E. “Bud” Hertzog, chair of AVMF.
The three-star rating is an improvement over last year's two-star rating, and from the one-star rating held in 2005. The California VMA referred to the Foundation's low rating when it calculated the figures that contributed to submitting a resolution to the AVMA House of Delegates in 2005. The resolution asked that the AVMA Executive Board suspend its promotion of the Foundation to AVMA members until the expense-to-income ratio was reduced.
“Our program expense efficiency rating went from 64 percent to 79 percent, which demonstrates that our administrative costs are within reasonable limits and we are devoting the majority of our spending to the programs (grants) which, as a charitable 501(c)(3) organization, we exist to provide,” said Lisa Tommelein, director of development for AVMF.
“AVMF now shares a three-star rating with our colleagues at the Morris Animal Foundation,” Tommelein added. “AVMF's overall score was 59 percent. Sixty-one percent would have been four stars.”
Research in Progress
Workforce study examining breadth and depth of profession
A comprehensive study of shortages within the veterinary profession is under way at the National Academies.
“Assessing the current and future workforce needs in veterinary medicine” is an overall look at the demand for personnel in diverse sectors of the profession—both in private practice and beyond.
“There is a growing need for veterinarians to address public health issues, such as the emergence of zoonoses and the safety and security of food of animal origin,” said Dr. Henry E. Childers, AVMA past president and a member of the study committee. “Veterinarians also play an important role in biomedical research.”
Dr. Childers said recent reports from the National Academies—“National needs and priorities for veterinarians in biomedical research” in 2004 and “Critical needs for research in veterinary science” in 2005—provided evidence of shortages of veterinarians in sectors such as biomedical research and veterinary pathology.
“They also comment on the lack of data in other sectors and the need for analysis and an understanding of the veterinary workforce in general,” Dr. Childers said.
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges gathered some data about other sectors for the report “Veterinarians in population health and public practice: Meeting critical national needs” in 2003.
The 2003 report noted that federal agencies face shortages of veterinary staff. That year, the mean age of a veterinarian in the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service was 54. Half the veterinarians in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps were eligible for retirement. The Army Veterinary Corps required an additional 45 veterinarians annually to maintain its strength.
The AAVMC report also noted that 20 percent of veterinarians engage either in private practice with a substantial food animal component or in public practice focusing on population health. The report estimated that 500 veterinary graduates need to enter this overall area annually to meet demand.
The new, overarching workforce study from the National Academies follows from the more specific reports. The study committee includes members from academia and from clinical, regulatory, research, and administrative areas relevant to animal and public health. The chair is Dr. Alan M. Kelly, past dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Funding for the $608,000 study is primarily from the AAVMC and the AVMA. Other backers include Bayer Animal Health, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the American Animal Hospital Association.
Dr. Lawrence E. Heider, the AAVMC's outgoing executive director, said one hope is that the study will inform Congress of the importance of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act. The act would authorize a grants program to expand the infrastructure and enrollment of veterinary colleges.
“We know that there will be many questions about the need for increased capacity in our schools and an increased number of veterinarians for service to our country,” Dr. Heider said.
Congress might pass the authorization bill before the workforce study is complete, but the final report will provide evidence to support appropriations for the program to expand colleges.
“Across veterinary medicine, all of the employment sectors are competing for scarce human resources today,” Dr. Heider said.
Information about the workforce study is available by visiting http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/, clicking on View Projects by Project Title, and finding “Assessing the current and future workforce needs in veterinary medicine.” The site includes details about the study committee's membership and meetings.
Company funds research on porcine circovirus
Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. has announced funding of $25,000 apiece for three one-year studies of porcine circovirus-associated disease.
The 2007 PCVAD Research Awards went to the following two recipients:
• Dr. John Harding, University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine, for a study to determine whether immune capacity impacts porcine circovirus type 2 viral load and disease expression
• Dr. Tanja Opriessnig, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, for a study to determine the amount of PCV2 needed for intrauterine transmission and a study to evaluate the effects of PCV2 vaccination on replication of PCV2 in fetuses
Research training programs open to veterinary students
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization, has opened its two research training programs to veterinary students for the 2008 competitions. Previously, the programs were open to only medical and dental students.
The programs are meant to encourage more physicians, dentists, and now veterinarians to pursue academic research careers. Veterinary students are eligible during any year of veterinary school, but they cannot have already received their DVM degree. If they apply in their fourth year, they have to defer graduation and receipt of the degree. To participate in either training program, the students must take a year off from school.
One of the two training opportunities is the HHMI Research Training Fellowships for Medical Students Program. The program enables medical, dental, and veterinary students from U.S. schools to spend a year conducting basic, translational, or applied biomedical research at any school or nonprofit research institution in the United States, except at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
For the 2008-2009 program year, fellows will receive a stipend of $27,000, an allowance of $5,500 that may be used for health care and other expenses, and a $5,500 research allowance. The application deadline is Jan. 11, 2008, and more details are available at www.hhmi.org/medfellowships.
The second program is the HHMI-NIH Research Scholars Program, which represents a 22-year partnership between the HHMI and the NIH. In this program, medical, dental, and veterinary students from U.S. schools spend nine to 12 months conducting basic, translational, or applied biomedical research in one of the many laboratories on the NIH campus.
As part of this program, all scholars are housed together on the NIH campus, and students select their research project after arriving. For the 2008-2009 program year, scholars will receive an annual salary of $27,000, health insurance, and other benefits. The application deadline is Jan. 10, 2008. Visit www.hhmi.org/cloister to learn more.
Scholarship offered to attend AVMA convention
The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine is offering a one-time scholarship of $1,500 to support a licensed veterinarian who has developed a recent interest in or who has recently worked in the field of laboratory animal medicine to attend the 145th AVMA Annual Convention in New Orleans, July 19-22.
Applicants must be AVMA members in good standing. The award is not intended for established laboratory animal veterinarians or for current or recent veterinary residents, graduate students, or postdoctoral fellows in laboratory animal medicine or a related field.
Applications should include a onepage statement of interest, a curriculum vita (two pages maximum), and two brief, professional letters of reference, preferably from individuals aware of the applicant's recent interest in laboratory animal medicine. Letters of reference should be sent directly by the referee, with the applicant's name included in the document title.
Applications are to be sent electronically in PDF or RTF format to Dr. Melvin Balk, executive director of ACLAM, at email@example.com by 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Dec. 28. A notification of the application outcome will be sent to applicants by the end of January 2008. For general inquiries about the award and application, contact Dr. Patricia Turner, chair of ACLAM Career Pathways Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AAFP requests research proposals
The American Association of Feline Practitioners is seeking proposals for its 2008 grant for meaningful research in feline medicine. The $20,000 award will be given to the researcher whose proposal shows the most clinical merit.
The research committee will give preference to funding complete projects, but does not preclude matching funds. Only nonterminal studies will be funded. The committee also will give preference to clinical studies of patients rather than research animals.
The deadline for submissions is Dec. 15 to AAFP, 203 Towne Centre Drive, Hillsborough, NJ 08844. The AAFP's contact information is email@example.com; phone, (908) 359-9351; fax, (908) 359-7619.
Applications are available at www.aafponline.org under Resources and then Research Grants.
The Veterinary Community
Symposium brings together student researchers
More than 450 veterinary students and scientists gathered Aug. 1-4 on the campus of the National Institutes of Health for the 2007 Merck-Merial-NIH National Veterinary Scholars Symposium.
The University of Pennsylvania hosted the symposium, which offered a forum for veterinary students to present work from summer research programs in the United States and Canada. This year's event marked the first national gathering of veterinary students in combined-degree programs. The event also highlighted research from postgraduate and more senior veterinary scientists.
The symposium focused on comparative oncology and the contributions of veterinary scientists to public health. Sessions also covered other topics in immunology, genomics, stem cells, genetic disease, neurobiology, oncology, infectious disease, and laboratory animal medicine.
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges hosted a concurrent conference on “Veterinarians in biomedical research: Building national capacity,” which sought to identify barriers to students entering research careers. Student leaders participated in the AAVMC meeting and then led discussions on the subject matter during the symposium.
About 275 veterinary students attended the symposium, including 33 combined-degree students. Also in attendance were about 75 university faculty members, almost 50 NIH scientists, and scientists from Merck and Merial.
Financial supporters included the AVMA, Merck, Merial, NIH, AAVMC, American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Morris Animal Health Foundation, University of Pennsylvania, and other universities.
Financial support for student research comes from the Merck-Merial Summer Scholars Program, NIH National Center for Research Resources, and other organizations.
Dr. Michael Blackwell, dean of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, has announced that he will leave his position Jan. 1, 2008, and retire effective March 1. He has been dean since 2000.
Dr. Blackwell said the veterinary college has expanded in a number of areas during the past seven years. The college partnered with the College of Social Work to create the Veterinary Social Work program, established a program allowing veterinary students to earn a master's degree in public health, and founded the Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness.
Also during Dr. Blackwell's tenure, the veterinary college has begun a $9 million expansion of the small animal clinic. The project will add about 32,000 square feet.
Before joining the veterinary college, Dr. Blackwell served as chief of staff in the Office of the Surgeon General, Department of Health and Human Services. Previously, he had been deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine. He graduated from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1975.