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Biomedical Research Programs Set CVMBS Apart
When most people think of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, they tend to focus on the veterinary medicine part. The College is, after all, home to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital and world-renowned research and treatment programs in animal cancer, equine orthopaedics, veterinary cardiology, critical care, and more. But it is the biomedical sciences, that last bit dangling onto the College's name, which truly makes the College a unique place to study, teach, and conduct research.
The College was the College of Veterinary Medicine until 1967 when the official name was changed the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The change was a long time in coming. During Dr. Rue Jensen's tenure as dean, from 1957-1966, the College was actively investing its resources in the biomedical sciences. This was in part to offset declines in state funding with greater federal dollars, in part to offer greater research and teaching opportunities to non-D.V.M. faculty, and in part to give the College a strong position in a number of growing and dynamic fields, including environmental health.
"The development of the biomedical sciences is a good example of the advantage that existed for the University in having a strong program in veterinary medicine and in having an opportunity with increased federal funding to develop an interest in the biomedical sciences," said Dr. Robert Phemister, former Dean of the College, in a 1982 interview. "Building on the faculty and the reputation of the College, the University did a smart thing to capitalize on it and make it become a further strength for the University. The biomedical-veterinary medicine combination is virtually unique among veterinary fields."
Biomedical sciences describes the interface between biology and medicine. It is a huge field that allows individuals at the College to participate not only in veterinary medical research but human medical research, as well. Nearly 20 years ago, the College decided to focus its efforts in five areas of the biomedical sciences in order to compete more effectively for extramural funds. These areas included cancer biology, neuroscience, infectious disease, environmental toxicology, and animal reproduction. Each of these programs is now designated a University Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence (PRSE), five of the 14 so designated programs at the University.
In 2002/2003 the College received almost $50 million in external funding for these and other research programs at the College, with 85 percent of that coming from the federal government, mainly the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense. The Homeland Security Act, established in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, dramatically increased funding for infectious disease research. While this is good for the College's program in infectious disease, it could make funding more difficult to obtain for other areas of research.
"The challenge will be maintaining the breadth of biomedical research we currently enjoy," said Dr. Torrance Nett, Associate Dean for Biomedical Sciences with the College. "With the Homeland Security Act, the dollars are changing. The finite pool of funds available from the federal government is being shifted from general biomedical research into biodefense. That means that the funding for some other areas will suffer. We haven't seen the true impact yet because most research grants run two to five years, but in the next two to three years, we will begin to see the impact of these changes. Our goal will be to maintain our diversity and strengths with tightening dollars. A part of that is striving to maintain and recruit the best faculty available so that we have the best people competing for those limited funds."
The College's five PRSEs will continue to receive emphasis in terms of the College's resources for the foreseeable future, but efforts also are being put into developing new programs, including a joint research and teaching program in orthopaedics with the College of Engineering, focusing primarily on humans and horses. Two other areas of emphasis are the scientific fields of proteomics and genomics.
In the coming decade, Dr. Nett also wants to keep the College at the forefront of what he says will be some dramatic changes in biomedical research.
"Technological innovation will enhance our ability to understand how organisms function," said Dr. Nett. "We will see dramatic advances in structural biology, specifically three-dimensional images of molecules that allow us to see how molecules interact with each other. This will allow us to better research and maybe even remedy diseases like Alzheimer's and cystic fibrosis that are based on interactions between molecular structures."
Another area Dr. Nett sees as critical to biomedical sciences is continued public support and public education - education that should begin in grammar school.
"We need to do a better job of instilling a sense of wonder in children when it comes to the scientific world," said Dr. Nett. "I don't think we do a very good job of educating the public about what it is we do. A number of scientific organizations are beginning to tackle this problem with programs directed at educating our youth about the sciences and fields in scientific discovery and educating adults about the importance of science in everyday life. If you look at the television show CSI, this is one example of how education about science - though perhaps not intentionally -- is taking place in an effective and interesting way. But scientists need to be doing so much more if we want support from the populace and to continue to attract the best and the brightest to scientific professions."