October 01, 2011


 Vet student developing database software

Jonathan Lustgarten, PhD, has multiple passions in life.

He went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he received his bachelor's in computational biology with a minor in bio-organic chemistry. He then obtained master's and doctoral degrees in bioinformatics and biomedical informatics, respectively, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Now he is a third-year veterinary student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine who enjoys working with computers and learning about human and animal medicine.

Dr. Lustgarten recently was named the 2011 Penn Vet Student Inspiration Award winner for combining his interests into a program designed to help veterinarians better handle record keeping out in the field, especially during disaster-response situations.

The idea came to him about a year ago when he heard Dr. Erica A. Miller of the Tri-State Bird Rescue speak at his school. He was inspired by the organization's experience as one of the principal responders to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this past year.

Dr. Miller explained her staff kept hard-copy records and noted the lack of uniformity of record keeping among rescue responders.

At one point, the group had to evacuate because a hurricane was coming. That meant shipping all medical records, which the organization was federally mandated to maintain and were needed for use in later legal procedures, to another rescue center.

"That was crazy because thousands of papers had to be arranged in a short time period. The manpower and stress that requires ... . I was amazed at how well they did it, given their circumstances," Dr. Lustgarten said. "I thought there are things technology can offer (in these circumstances)."

And that's how his Relief and Emergency Computerized Veterinary Records system began.

In essence, the computer software program has the ability to centralize mounds of data and allow veterinarians to record and observe their findings quickly and efficiently, making the process easier and more accurate.

It's an Internet-based medical record platform. Therefore, anywhere in the world, users can recover the information by using a hand-held device or computer with the appropriate software.

RECOVER can be used for more than disasters, insists Dr. Lustgarten, including surveillance. For example, researchers tracking a virus can take pictures of infected wild animals, record the location, and send the information to a central database. The information is received in real time to give a faster picture of what's happening on the ground. Animals that have been captured will have immediately recoverable information on where they were last found and whether or where they were released.

Dr. Lustgarten will use the money from the award to build the beta version. Tri-State Bird Rescue has agreed to try out the system first. This should happen sometime this fall, complete with a mobile phone application.