When 7-year-old miniature schnauzer, Leyna, was having seizures, her worried owners, Matthew Moore and Frank Saltarelli of Washington, D.C., knew they wanted the best possible care for her. Their local veterinarian performed a variety of tests, including an MRI, only to learn that Leyna had an aggressive glioma brain tumor.

After a consultation with Bush Veterinary Neurological Services, one of the region’s top specialty neurology practices, Moore and Saltarelli learned about a clinical trial at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech for dogs with gliomas, dangerous tumors with a very low chance of survival. 

They decided to enroll Leyna in the study and now, three years later, she is not only still alive, but thriving.

“Leyna is doing incredibly well,” said Moore, whose other dog, Maxwell, also had successful cataract surgery at the college. “You would never know she had cancer or had gone through the treatment.”

The college is now expanding enrollment in clinical trials like the one that helped Leyna. This summer, a Collaborative Research Network was formed to enable specialty practices in Virginia and Maryland to participate in the veterinary college’s cutting-edge research.

“Because the number of cases seen in the greater Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Baltimore areas far exceeds the number seen in Blacksburg, the establishment of this specialist referral network is already increasing our ability to complete clinical trials quickly,” said Mindy Quigley, clinical trials coordinator at the veterinary college. “And by increasing the number of cases within our studies, the results and findings will have greater scientific merit.”

The Collaborative Research Network brings together specialty practices with advanced services such as 24-hour emergency care, on-site diagnostics, on-site cross-sectional imaging, and board-certified specialists in the college’s major research areas. 

Six veterinary practices have already joined the network, including Dogwood Veterinary Specialty and Referral Center in Richmond, Virginia; VCA Southpaws in Fairfax, Virginia; VCA Veterinary Referral Associates in Gaithersburg, Maryland; The LifeCentre in Leesburg, Virginia; The Hope Center in Vienna, Virginia; and the Chesapeake Veterinary Referral Center in Annapolis, Maryland.

Dr. Bill Tyrrell, medical director at The LifeCentre, explained that participation in the Collaborative Research Network offers a “tremendous benefit” for specialty practices.

“We do independent research at The LifeCenter and have FDA trials here, but we don’t have some of the resources available at the veterinary college, such as access to statisticians or National Institutes of Health funding,” said Tyrrell, a 1992 alumnus of the college. “If we can help out in the Collaborative Research Network by referring clients to clinical trials, it’s a win-win for both parties.”

Dr. Greg Daniel, head of the veterinary college’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, echoed that sentiment. “We see this as a real two-way exchange,” he said. “In the future, we want to utilize the experience and expertise of the specialists in our Collaborative Research Network to refine and improve our research protocols or explore new research directions.”

Andrew Furtado, administrator at the Chesapeake Veterinary Referral Center, explained that his center joined the Collaborative Research Network “because we are excited by the opportunity to offer our patients access to cutting-edge research.”

He added, “We hope that the studies we participate in will generate new and innovative treatment options to help animals live longer and more productive lives. In addition, our specialists view research and education as critical components of their practices and are excited to add their expertise to the network.”

Earlier this year, the college established the Veterinary Clinical Research Office to facilitate clinical trials involving client-owned companion animals. 

Dr. John Rossmeisl, the neurologist at the veterinary college who treated Leyna, used electrical currents to deliver cancer-fighting medication past her blood-brain barrier. He is now testing a new chemotherapy drug and drug delivery method on the same type of tumors. He is one of several researchers at the college who will benefit from increased enrollment in clinical trials through the Collaborative Research Network.

The college maintains a complete list of current trials on its new clinical trials website. Current trials are underway with dogs, cats, and horses.

Written by Michael Sutphin.