Sarah McDonald, an assistant professor at both the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, received the Zoetis Award for Research Excellence at the veterinary college’s 26th Annual Research Symposium.

Established in 1985 as the Pfizer Award for Research Excellence, the Zoetis award is a nationally recognized honor for a faculty member at each veterinary school in the United States. The award seeks to “foster innovative research, on which the scientific advancement of the profession depends, by recognizing outstanding research effort and productivity.”

McDonald, a virologist in the veterinary college’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, studies the evolutionary dynamics and pathogenesis of rotavirus, which is responsible for the deaths of as many as half a million infants and young children globally each year.

“Dr. McDonald is off to a remarkable start and I anticipate that she will continue to maintain this level of high achievement,” said Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed, head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded McDonald a $2 million, five-year grant to study the early stages of how rotavirus replicates its genome — an important gap in scientists’ virus knowledge that might aid in the development of next-generation vaccines. She was previously the recipient of two National Institutes of Health grants totaling $1.4 million.

Rotavirus causes severe diarrhea and dehydration in children. Although rehydration therapy can treat symptoms, lack of medical care and infrastructure leads to the death of between 350,000 and 600,000 children every year in the developing world, according to figures from the World Health Organization. New and improved vaccines, which McDonald hopes to develop in her laboratory, could significantly reduce mortality rates.

McDonald also serves on the editorial boards for Virology and the Journal of Virology and has published 34 peer-reviewed publications. She was an invited speaker at several high-profile scientific meetings and at several universities, including the University of Maryland and Cornell University.

McDonald completed a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Florida State University and a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from Vanderbilt University. She previously held positions as a postdoc and a senior research fellow for the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Written by Michael Sutphin.