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Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center

Welcome to Penn Vet's Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center (VCIC). We are a center  for the advancement and coordination of clinical studies and trials.

VCIC is located within the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The center's primary focus is the establishment of clinical trials directed at investigating novel treatments or diagnostic tools in a variety of spontaneous disease processes in client-owned pets. 

The VCIC collaborates with institutions including the School of Medicine at Penn, the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Investigational Drug Service at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The various trials of the VCIC are sponsored by external foundations and industry including pharmaceutical and pet food companies, as well as internal funding provided by the Department of Clinical Studies-Philadelphia.

The VCIC works closely with individual clinicians at Ryan Veterinary Hospital with active trials aimed at advancing medical care of veterinary patients in such specialties as cardiology, internal medicine, oncology, critical care and clinical nutrition.

Translational research is where laboratory science and clinical medicine meet to develop novel therapeutics to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. Translational research is often associated with clinical trials and is the first step in bringing a new treatment, medication or technique to the market for use in the general population.

At the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center, we are able to bridge the gap between bench-to-bedside by conducting clinical trials with client-owned dogs and cats. Conventionally, new medical advancements move from experiments with laboratory animals, such as mice, rats and pigs, directly to human clinical trials. The use of client-owned dogs and cats gives scientists and doctors a better understanding of the outcome of therapeutics in patients whose day-to-day lives more closely resemble our own. While laboratory animals live in a very controlled setting, our pets live in our homes, sometimes eat what we eat and experience the environment in a similar way that we do. Not only does translational medicine in the veterinary setting benefit the pets we aim to treat, but it brings us one step closer to treating humans with comparable disease processes. 

Many diseases that occur in humans are also recognized in nonhuman species. The Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center (VCIC) provides the infrastructure to facilitate the translation of novel interventions from basic scientists to high quality investigations in companion animals with naturally occurring diseases that parallel the human conditions.

An Alternative Approach to the Discovery/Development Paradigm

Studies in companion animals with clear parallels in disease pathogenesis, progression and symptoms, can be an effective intermediate step in screening for efficacy and complications of compounds that appear promising in induced rodent models, before committing them to human clinical trials.

Advantages of Studying Human Diseases in Companion Animals:

  • The conditions can be naturally similar biologically, histologically and in clinical course
  • Since the disease is not induced, complex and sometimes unexpected tissue interactions can be studied
  • Many diseases are the consequence of complex interactions with environmental factors, therefore, it is relevant that pets share a common environment with people.
  • Heterogeneity and diversity of the pet population is more similar to people than rodent models.
  • Comparative genomic analysis suggests significant similarity between canine and human lineage in such things as nucleotide divergence and rearrangements
  • Sampling is easier in companion animals compared to rodents
  • Diagnostic and monitoring technologies comparable to human patients are used in veterinary patients
  • The physiology of the dog is such that it responds to and metabolizes drugs in a comparable way to humans, which is why dogs and cats are routinely used for pharmaceutical and toxicological studies.
  • Treating naturally occurring disease does not attract the ethical dilemmas seen with experimentally induced disease.
  • Data collected is useful both as clinical data for veterinary patients and preclinical data for human patients

The Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center (VCIC) is a center within the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine focusing on the implementation of high-quality clinical trials for client-owned companion animals. The director of the VCIC, Dr. Dorothy Cimino Brown, is a board-certified small animal surgeon with an advanced degree in clinical epidemiology/clinical trials from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The center is staffed with full-time nurses certified in Good Clinical Practice, whose effort is devoted to all aspects of clinical trial implementation, from study set-up and recruitment to data collection, data management and study closeout. The VCIC is involved in the coordination and implementation of industry, foundation and government funded studies including FDA- and USDA-regulated studies. All studies are conducted to the level of GCP / VICH GL9 regardless of whether or not data will be submitted to a regulatory agency.

The VCIC has been active in the successful completion of both single center and multi-center trials. Past studies have focused on a broad spectrum of conditions including acute and chronic pain, infectious disease, obesity, sepsis and trauma, and have involved many hospital services including oncology, cardiology, dermatology, neurology, endocrinology, interventional radiology and internal medicine. The VCIC matches an investigator from the faculty and staff at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (MJR-VHUP), who has the expertise needed for a given sponsored study, and then facilitates the efficient start-up, high quality data collection and successful completion of that study. For research involving investigational compounds including blinded, placebo-controlled studies, the VCIC works collaboratively with the Investigational Drug Service (IDS) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The IDS is a research-only pharmacy that can provide 21CFR11 inventory monitoring, compounding and dispensing of investigational medications.

Our Available Facilities and Equipment

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Computed Tomography
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Digital Radiology
  • Intra-Oral Radiology
  • Ultrasound
  • Echocardiology
  • Electromyography
  • Endoscopy
  • Interventional radiology
  • Behavior clinic
  • Exotic animal service

A successful companion animal trial begins with the ability to recruit the number of animals necessary to deliver meaningful results. The VCIC has a successful recruitment program, which utilizes print, Internet and radio advertising, as well as listserv and flyer recruitment through our network of over 3,000 referring veterinary practices. When a trial requires more animals with a specific condition than would normally be presented in the 34,000 pets that come to MJR-VHUP annually, the VCIC has a proven record for targeted recruitment of animals at over 400 percent above baseline presentation rate. The VCIC documents which recruitment modalities are most effective for a given target population and can guide sponsors on the most efficient means to enroll the desired number of animals in a specified period of time for a given study.

If you would like more information about the Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center please contact the Associate Director, Michael DiGregorio at (215) 573-3885 or email mdigreg@vet.upenn.edu

The VCIC staff is comprised of one veterinarian who assists and guides principal investigators through the process of protocol development and study design as well as several veterinary nurses who are responsible for providing quality patient care as well as data collection and recruitment for our various studies.
Our Clinical Team
  Name Title
Dr. Dorothy Brown  Dorothy Cimino Brown, DVM, MSCE, Diplomate ACVS Director, Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center
Professor & Chair, School of Veterinary Medicine
Associate Scholar, Epidemiology & Biostatistics, School of Medicine
  Michael DiGregorio, BS, CVT Associate Director
  Molly Love, MSN, CRNP Clinical Research Nurse
  Rene Newman, CVT Clinical Research Nurse
  Angie Cosey CVT, VTS (Anesthesia) Clinical Research Nurse