|Friday, July 09, 2004
Osteopathic college takes huge step
|New research facilities are dedicated as the school's program has grown faster than expected.
By Kevin Miller
BLACKSBURG - The Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine formally dedicated new research facilities in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center on Thursday, marking a symbolic expansion for an institution that welcomed its first class of students less than one year ago.
Faculty and researchers in the private medical college have been using laboratory space at Virginia Tech under a joint agreement between the two institutions. But the osteopathic school's research program has grown faster than expected. Officials expect the college's external research funding to exceed $12 million this academic year, up from $4.8 million last year.
When a building in Tech's Corporate Research Center became available, the college decided to move several research programs into a stand-alone building earlier than planned, said Dr. Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, the school's dean.
"It's a happy thing when you outgrow your original space," Tooke-Rawlins said during a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday.
Private donors and foundations established the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine several years ago to produce doctors - especially primary care physicians - willing to work in medically underserved communities in Southwest Virginia and throughout Appalachia.
Osteopathic doctors, or D.O.s, can provide all of the same services as the more common doctor of allopathy, or M.D. But because of osteopathic medicine's whole body, or holistic, approach to treatments, more osteopaths go into family or primary care rather than a medical specialty.
This week, the college's inaugural class is completing its first year of the four-year program. The second class of roughly 150 students will arrive in August.
The school's founders chose Blacksburg to be close to Virginia Tech, which is in the midst of an aggressive research drive. Many of the medical college's faculty members have joint appointments at Tech or use Tech research facilities. In return, Tech has ready access to medical researchers and can count the osteopathic school's research funding toward the university's total.
The facilities officially unveiled Thursday will allow those research programs to continue their rapid growth, Tooke-Rawlins said.
The college will occupy six large laboratories, several smaller labs and a few offices in a building that once housed a medical research company. Each lab will be assigned to a specific researcher, several of whom have already moved into their new facilities.
James Mahaney, an associate professor and discipline chairman of biochemistry with the college, is researching the role that calcium movement plays in heart disease. Mahaney, who also has an appointment in Tech's chemistry department, said his new 1,000-square-foot lab offers the best equipment, supplies and access to colleagues he has ever had in his career.
"Once we got this space and were able to bring all of the medical researchers together, it turned out to be a better situation for me to be part of the medical group," Mahaney said.
Down the hallway from Mahaney, Beverly Rzigalinski is still setting up her laboratory. A recent transplant from the University of Central Florida, Rzigalinski is doing cutting-edge research into using nanoparticles - that is, particles measuring in the range of one billionth of a meter - to prolong the life of brain cells or help fight inflammation.
Other labs will be used for research into cancer, auto-immune diseases and pharmacology. School officials also plan to open another research facility near the college's main building in the Corporate Research Center by 2007.