By Rhondalee Dean-Royce, communications manager of the AVMA GRD
Ashley Talley's "regular job" is as a fourth year veterinary student at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, but for this year, she is working as a fellow in the highly coveted Howard Hughes Medical Institute's (HHMI) Research Scholars Program. Ashley attended the 2012 SAVMA Legislative Fly In, and I got a chance to sit down with her and talk a little more about her participation in the program.
Q: What made you choose to become a fellow at the HHMI and work in biomedical research?
I first learned about the HHMI research scholars program during a summer internship at the NIH. I remember completely ruling it out at first because I would have to leave my current veterinary school class and delay graduation for a year. After some thought, however, I realized that this could be my only opportunity to truly explore research without committing to a graduate program. My previous research experiences had been part time or just over the summer and I couldn't really get an idea of what it was like to drive my own project.
I think I'm attracted to research because it goes beyond most clinical explanations of disease. I always find myself wanting to know more about disease pathogenesis than what we learn in school. I also think that learning about human disease in a research setting helps me to think about veterinary disease from a new perspective.
Q: What are you doing in the biomedical research program?
A: I work in a laboratory in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) in a smaller branch called the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases (LPD). Our laboratory focuses mostly on the immunopathogenesis of liver fibrosis using a mouse model infected with Schistosoma mansoni, a helminth (worm). Mice develop liver fibrosis in response to the deposition of S. mansoni eggs inside the liver. This response is driven by one major arm of the immune system called Th2, which is also important in other fibrotic diseases such as asthma and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
During the program, I have taken on several projects. One of my main endeavors has been to characterize a protein called periostin in the context of liver fibrosis. Periostin is a component of fibrous tissue and could be a biomarker for disease severity. Also, I am looking at the effects of intestinal microflora on Schisto-induced liver fibrosis.
Q: What are your plans for after you graduate? Will you go into biomedical research?
A: Right now, I am planning to do a small animal rotating internship following graduation. I would like to gain more clinical experience and give myself time before I pigeonhole myself into one particular category. However, I am very interested in veterinary pathology and may eventually pursue a residency. I definitely see biomedical research in my future in one way or another, whether it be clinical research or basic science. My experience this year has prepared me well to carry research over into whichever career path I choose.