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An initial $2.2 million state investment in the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is propelling the school toward a bold goal of almost doubling admissions by next year from 120 to 200. Increasing admissions would help to meet a critical workforce need that has clear implications for not just health, but also for a safe and sustained food supply, state and national security and Louisiana’s thriving horse industry, estimated at over $2 billion. Here, three supporters of the school and advocates of animal and human health share their perspectives on the impact this key investment will have on the state.
By the end of the decade, the United States is expected to be short at least 15,000 veterinarians. While this shortage of care and expertise isn’t great news for pets and those who care for them, the wide-ranging work that happens at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine hints at much broader ramifications. In research and service, the school supports the second-largest driver of Louisiana’s economy—agriculture—where the biggest contributors, after forestry, are chickens and cows for food, and horses for recreation. Animals large and small, including livestock, receive treatment for disease and injury at the school, which also provides significant amounts of diagnostic testing to keep herds healthy, guard against animal-borne diseases crossing over to humans, fight cancer and much more.
Meet Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré
“The LSU vet school does a plethora of research with direct impact on people, pets, livestock and wildlife,” said Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, a long-time advocate of the school. “I spent 37 years protecting our country, facing down adversarial forces around the world. The vet school takes on a different mission of going after and protecting us from what we can’t see, can’t smell and can’t hear. That’s why we need to not just sustain but grow out the capacity of the vet school to meet the challenging needs of the state of Louisiana and from a national security perspective.”
The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is the only veterinary school in Louisiana and one of only 32 such schools in the nation. Lt. Gen. Honoré became a household name in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as he led rescue missions to save residents from flooded homes—many of whom chose to ride out the dreaded storm because they couldn’t evacuate with their pets. The owner of two racehorses and a parade horse, Big Red, all of which receive care through the school, Lt. Gen. Honoré has gone from being a client to a supporter.
“Big Red is 25 and I attribute his longevity to the care he’s gotten at LSU,” Lt. Gen. Honoré said. “Then Covid reminded us of the need for significant research capacity in vet schools. Many of the solutions that have been developed for humans really came through animal science and we know future pandemics will come from animals, just like bird flu, monkey pox and swine flu. What starts out as animal disease can have tremendous impacts on people’s health. Without the LSU vet school, we’d be at risk.”
Most recently, Lt. Gen. Honoré heeded the school’s warning about a toxic batch of alfalfa cubes, which are commonly fed to horses, thus helping the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sound a nation-wide alarm.
“LSU vet school research gives us early warning, and that’s biosecurity,” Lt. Gen. Honoré said. “Also, I had to have expensive work done on one of my racehorses to get him to run again, but then he went on to win three races after LSU got him ready to compete.”
“And then!” Lt. Gen. Honoré continued. “LSU’s vet school also does the blood testing for the racehorse industry in Louisiana. You know, I thought I could just go and pick up my check the next day, but lo and behold, he had to be tested first to make sure he wasn’t spiked. Team LSU keeps the equine industry honest, and that’s big business in Louisiana.”
Meet Kathleen Clucas
Louisiana has four horse-racing tracks—in New Orleans, Opelousas, Vinton and Bossier City. Kathleen Clucas, another long-time supporter of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, has never been to a horse-racing event in Louisiana, although horses have been a big part of her life.
“But recreationally, not competitively,” Clucas said. “Then I came across LSU Professor Mandi Lopez’s groundbreaking research on laminitis and I had a horse with that condition. He had been lame and we almost lost him before he recovered and did okay.”
Laminitis is damage and inflammation of the tissue between the hoof and the underlying coffin bone, so called because it’s completely encased inside the hoof. Previously considered irreversible, laminitis is now treated experimentally at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine by Lopez using stem cells. Lopez’s colleague Britta Leise, associate professor of equine surgery, is also working on new ways to treat laminitis.
“Being a veterinarian is demanding work and we just don’t have enough people to care for our large animals,” Clucas said. “We need more researchers like they have at LSU and that’s why I support their work and decided to help set up an equine scholarship at LSU.”
Meet Eric Sunstrom
A more recent client-turned-advocate for the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is Eric Sunstrom, a member of the dean’s advisory board who volunteers for the school to raise awareness of the critical role it plays for the health, safety and economy of the state.
“The LSU vet school provides an essential service to the community and a workforce that is very loyal to Louisiana,” Sunstrom said. “Three-fourths of our state’s veterinarians are LSU alumni. So, the more we can graduate, the more we can keep and spread out to rural areas where it can be very hard to find a veterinarian.”
Access was top of mind for Sunstrom when his Dobermann, Kaiser, got sick in 2019.
“Living so close to LSU’s campus, it was easy for us to bring Kaiser to the vet school, which is always open,” Sunstrom said. “We found out he had an aortic tumor over the weekend and while treatment options didn’t exist, the care he received was tremendous until it was time to say goodbye. Our other dog, a Cane Corso named Hera, was then diagnosed with leukemia in 2021 at the vet school. We were so fortunate to be able to drop her off once a week for treatment, extending her quality of life for almost a year. Having the vet school as a resource in our community is invaluable, and we want to make sure it continues to grow and flourish for others.”
Several months later, Sunstrom and his wife Meg met Oliver Garden, the new dean of the school.
“I listened to his vision and was very impressed,” Sunstrom said. “The expansion of the research labs and teaching theaters, the larger auditorium and new surgical suites were directly enabled by the $2.2 million in new state funding last year, all in hopes of rapidly expanding the student body.”
“The access my wife and I have had to veterinary care is uncommon,” Sunstrom continued. “We can drive for a few minutes to check in on our pet and have all of the specialties there, from cardiology to oncology to dermatology—everything you’d expect human patients to have. We were inspired to establish a cardiology hardship fund for LSU vet school patients who might not be able to afford the diagnostic and treatment expertise for their pets like we did. After all, we’ve been more than lucky.”
The initial $2.2 million investment in the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine by the Louisiana Legislature is helping to ensure the school’s ability to provide critical services and solutions for the state in alignment with LSU’s Scholarship First Agenda, where agriculture (including food animals), biomedicine (for human, animal and environmental health) and defense (such as against pandemics and bioterrorism) constitute three of the top five priorities.
LSU’s bold vision for the School of Veterinary Medicine includes a new Center for Comparative Oncology in line with the university’s system-wide pursuit of National Cancer Institute, or NCI, designation for Louisiana in partnership with LCMC Health; renovations and expansions of three biosafety level 3, or BSL-3, labs where infectious agents and toxins can be studied and contained, and viral RNA was extracted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, thus rapidly accelerating diagnosis and treatment of coronavirus infection in the state; and a new and improved vivarium, where animals can stay and be comfortable.
The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine will graduate an additional 800 veterinarians or more by 2028 by increasing admissions from 120 to at least 200 next year. The 94-percent graduation rate is exceptional in the nation—surpassed by few schools. More than half of the LSU vet school students are from Louisiana and one-third are underrepresented minorities, making the school one of the most diverse in the country and ensuring equitable access to a lucrative profession that still remains 90 percent white.