Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the University of Florida Veterinary Hospitals, part of the College of Veterinary Medicine, never stopped caring for animal patients or supporting the referring veterinarian community during the pandemic. The Small Animal Hospital caseload — currently ranked second largest in the U.S. among academic veterinary hospitals — has continued to rise. Due to the remarkable effort and commitment of clinical faculty, house officers and staff to adapt to an ever-changing landscape over the last year, the UF Veterinary Hospitals continue to provide leading-edge care. The first canine total ankle replacement in Florida was performed successfully on a dog at UF in January by one of only 12 veterinary surgeons in the world trained in the procedure.
Dr. Rhoel Dinglasan, a professor of infectious diseases in the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, was awarded $6 million in funding in March by the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund to test a new malaria vaccine in people. The process leading to a phase 1 clinical trial began in April. Dinglasan joined the UF faculty under the state’s preeminence initiative and has worked most of his career to end malaria, which disproportionately affects people living in poverty in developing countries. His vaccine has an unusual twist: It immunizes mosquitos against infection by the blood-borne Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria, after they ingest the blood of a person who has malaria but who has received the vaccine. After being exposed in this way, the mosquitoes cannot transmit the parasites and infect other people.
When classes moved to remote learning in March 2020 after the pandemic hit, one of the most logistically challenging transitions was the delivery of anatomy instruction to first-year veterinary students at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. After an initial period of entirely remote teaching via Zoom, a hybrid mode of teaching was implemented last fall, allowing anatomy instructors the ability to spend more time individually with student groups as they cycled between virtual and in-person learning. The unexpected benefits of this new approach for both students and instructors led to a shift in how anatomy will be taught going forward.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
In an effort to meaningfully advance efforts in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion across its missions, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine created a new position — the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion — and hired Dr. Michael Bowie into this important role. A national leader for decades in issues related to DEI, Bowie served as the college’s acting diversity officer since 2019 and as its director of community engagement and diversity outreach since 2018. He has spearheaded numerous DEI initiatives at the college and will work to strategically build, guide and assess policies and practices that encourage diversity, equity and inclusion as a means of improving the college’s cultural climate and supporting its underrepresented populations. Through his efforts, the college received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to launch a mentoring program aimed at high-school students from underrepresented populations, to recruit them into the veterinary profession. The program, known as Vet Start, began this fall.
Biomedical scientists from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine demonstrated their commitment to advancing COVID-19 research through important collaborations, both within the UF campus and outside of it. Dr. Leah Reznikov’s pilot grant to study the effect of approved drugs on the COVID-19 virus at the cellular level led to the finding that existing antihistamine drugs show effectiveness against the virus in cell testing. She and her team are in talks with physicians at UF and elsewhere about the possibility of conducting a clinical trial as more preclinical data is obtained.