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Vet School Profile: Colorado State University

The Supercluster essentially takes the business model of an economic cluster—Silicon Valley tech companies, for example, aggregated hubs of brainpower and marketing muscle—and applies it to biomedical research and veterinary medicine. Economic clusters create a kind of critical mass, where technology and production facilities attract other businesses and thus create a powerful momentum that benefits everybody.
CSU’s Superclusters generate a critical mass of research talent, which serves as a magnet for businesses that can quickly take those innovations to the marketplace. The traditional model—in which universities conduct their research, patent their discoveries and then look for companies willing to license their fledgling product—is not nearly as agile.

The Cancer Supercluster includes the College of Veterinary Medicine, plus four others: the Colleges of Natural Sciences, Applied Human Sciences, Agricultural Sciences and Engineering. The program includes 65 faculty members from 12 departments who conduct research in all aspects of cancer treatment and prevention, including risk assessment, diagnosis, therapeutics and genomics (the study of the relationship between genetic structure and biological function).

Much of the Supercluster, however, is based on the work of the Animal Cancer Center. For example, research from the center is being applied to a new product that will be used in human medicine. “Often, in cancer, if you can identify specific changes in the chromosomes, you can help diagnose problems,” explains Ullrich, who has studied cancer and its genetic components for more than 30 years. “Sometimes, cancers involve taking part of one chromosome and moving it to another, something called translocation. In other cases, part of the chromosome becomes inverted—this happens in some cancers and also in certain birth defects.” Until now, he says, scientists couldn’t identify these changes. But, using 15 years of research at the Animal Cancer Center, a new Supercluster company is developing a method of identifying these chromosomal inversions, and plans to launch a new birth defect–screening product for humans. “The next thing is to identify these inversions in cancer, which will help us create new markers for diagnosis and new targets for therapy, both in dogs and in people,” he says.

Applying an innovation in veterinary medicine to human patients is a fairly novel idea; most often, the protocols go the other way, says Ullrich. “Typically, we take things that have been used in humans and try them with dogs. The difference here is that we’re developing things that are so cutting-edge that they’re being moved into the human arena.”

This, perhaps, is the most compelling aspect of the work that’s being done at CVMBS, in the Animal Cancer Center as well as the Supercluster program: Developing treatments that can help today’s animal (and human) patients as well as tomorrow’s. “We are absolutely a research facility,” says LaRue. “Realistically, we couldn’t have invested in all of this equipment solely for the purpose of treating animals. But our translational research is invaluable. We can evaluate how these patients respond to treatment, and this information can go directly into the human clinic, or back to our own practice, where we can use it to help more animals down the road.”

Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical

Founded in 1907 as the Department of Veterinary Science; renamed in 1967

Number of applicants (2007): 1,604
Number of applicants admitted (2007): 138
Number of graduates (2006): 135
Ratio of male/female graduates (2006): 30/105
Ratio of male/female students, class of 2010: 38/100
Average age of class of 2010: 25
Total number of graduates since college was established (1907–2007): 6,523
Number of patients treated at James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital annually: 25,000

Academic Departments—
• Biomedical Sciences
• Clinical Sciences
• Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences
• Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology

Martha Schindler Connors writes about health, fitness and nutrition and is a former senior editor at Natural Health. In her free time, she volunteers with Pointer Rescue (pointerrescue.org). martha-connors.com

Photographs courtesy of Colorado State University

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