Forget the idea of the solitary researcher toiling away in his lab. At the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) at Colorado State University, they decided long ago that cooperation beats isolation, and that inspiration and innovation can come from many different places.
Indeed, what truly sets CSU’s veterinary college apart is its collaborative spirit, its mission to work with other scientists and practitioners to develop and deliver the best possible care to its animal patients.
With more than a century under its metaphorical belt—CVMBS celebrated its 100th birthday last year—the college is consistently ranked among the nation’s top vet schools. It also operates the first, and largest, animal cancer center in the world. “We really started the idea that you could treat dogs with cancer instead of just throwing up your hands,” says Robert Ullrich, PhD, professor of oncology research at the Animal Cancer Center. “We’ve also been at the forefront of researching and treating spontaneous tumors in dogs, and translating that knowledge to human medicine.”
Here, then, are the most exciting goings-on at CVMBS.
For the past 12 years, CVMBS has operated a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) program under the direction of Narda Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, FAAMA, an expert alternative medicine, both the human (osteopathic) and animal kind. In 2006, Dr. Robinson was appointed to a full-time faculty position and now leads research projects, teaches CAM methods to vet school students and serves as director of the school’s Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine.
“We have grown in many ways and directions,” Robinson says, “but we’re still unique. Several other vet schools have added acupuncture or herbal medicine, but none have an approach solely committed to scientific and evidence-based explorations and scrutiny. And to my knowledge, no other schools have a dedicated faculty position for scientifically based complementary and alternative medicine.”
This is a big deal, she says, because more and more dog owners are looking into CAM for their pets. In fact, in 2006, CVMBS did a study of owners whose pets were being treated at its Animal Cancer Center and found that more than 75 percent were using complementary and alternative medical approaches, including herbs, supplements and acupuncture. Owners said they were looking for ways to improve their pets’ overall well-being as well as to improve immune function and reduce pain.
Unfortunately, the study also found that many owners didn’t tell their veterinarians that they were utilizing these remedies and didn’t ask veterinary experts for advice. This lack of communication creates potential for serious problems, such as drug interactions or overdose.
That’s where CVMBS’s program comes in. By conducting rigorous, science-based research and training vets in the proper use of alternative remedies, Robinson and her colleagues hope to expand the knowledge base regarding these therapies, and spread that knowledge to practicing veterinarians.
“There has been a lot of interest in the program, and it’s growing,” Robinson says. “Over a third of each veterinary medicine class takes our critical overview of CAM class, and many go on to take the ‘Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians’ course.”
Late last year, Robinson spearheaded a joint effort with CSU electrical engineering students to build “SimPooch,” a simulated Labrador Retriever designed to help students learn correct acupuncture techniques. The life-size model, based on MRI data gathered from a real dog, reproduces bone, muscle, skin and fat in all their respective densities so that students can get realistic feedback as they practice the various techniques. In the next few months, the engineering students will complete the computer software that will both teach and test acupuncture students on their point-locating ability. They have already reproduced the head in a virtual reality environment that interfaces with the physical model.