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Veterinary Innovation Starts at School

Veterinary Innovation Starts at School
Human and veterinary cardiologists at UC Davis collaborate on a canine surgery to correct a potentially fatal heart defect.

As I reflect on my nearly one decade of serving as dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, I am struck by the role that academic veterinary medicine has had in driving entrepreneurship and innovation to address societal needs. Our colleges and schools of veterinary medicine are training the next generation of veterinarians while developing programs, treatments and devices that provide novel approaches to solve complex issues in animal and human health.

To illustrate my point, I provide a small sampling of how veterinarians are at the forefront of innovative creativity, bringing ideas to market while expanding partnerships with industrial and government partners.

Across academic veterinary medicine, we bring together colleagues from medicine, engineering and other professions to deliver new treatments to our animal patients. Recently, two cardiologists from the UC Davis School of Medicine joined our veterinary cardiology and surgical teams to treat a dog diagnosed with a life-threatening heart defect. The standard veterinary treatments had failed, but with this partnership, the dog received a new approach taken from human medicine. These transdisciplinary collaborations are now routine across multiple veterinary specialties, bringing new treatment approaches that ultimately will become commonplace in our profession.

Veterinary schools are driving these advancements in animal and human medicine in a variety of ways. Tuskegee University’s veterinary college collaborates with its cancer center and has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to expand treatment options for human breast cancer patients. At Cornell University, veterinarians, physicians and other scientists are creating novel biobanks to collect tissues in dogs to study a type of lymphoma that frequently occurs in dogs and humans. The research leverages analysis of a patient’s metabolic profile and the tumor’s DNA to strategize new approaches to precision medicine.

Clinical trials are powerful tools for advancing medicine, and at veterinary schools they can address areas that are not being moved forward elsewhere. For instance, at Colorado State University, a new clinical trial for paralyzed dogs is enhancing an area that has fallen behind compared to human medicine. The study is trying a novel, minimally invasive spinal surgery to improve surgical success on disc protrusions, decrease complications and minimize postoperative discomfort.

Veterinary schools also expand veterinary medical technology. Veterinary researchers at UC Davis collaborated with colleagues in the engineering and medical schools to create the first full-animal PET scanner. This success led to the first total-body human PET scanner. Our researchers then worked with Longmile Veterinary Imaging to develop the first PET scanner specifically designed to image standing racehorses. It is now in use at Santa Anita Park.

Academic veterinary medical centers have been taking action to nurture innovation to even greater levels. UC Davis and PennVet both have partnered with their business schools to develop entrepreneurship academies. The intensive weeklong programs help researchers, faculty, postdocs and students across the country in veterinary medicine and science to gain the knowledge and networks to identify, develop and validate the commercial potential of their research or idea.

Through these partnerships with our business schools, we are also helping veterinarians become better businesspeople. Some schools teach business skills to their veterinary students, and a number offer students the option of a combined DVM/MBA. Two years ago, UC Davis opened this knowledge to all veterinarians and hospital administrators through our summer Foundations of Veterinary Business program. The online program is available to anyone who wants to learn the general and veterinary-specific business knowledge to successfully start, purchase and operate veterinary practices.

In the end, veterinary schools’ human capital might have the most value. Graduates go on to serve as practitioners as well as in leadership roles in government, public health and private industry, strengthening a virtuous cycle of innovation that benefits animals, people and the planet we all share.

As I end my career as dean, I look optimistically toward the future knowing that veterinary schools and colleges will continue to promote entrepreneurship to build a brighter tomorrow for our profession and the world.

Dr. Michael Lairmore is the retiring dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the past president of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.