AVMA Members Working to Advance Animal and Human Health through Research
Scientist, Scott-Ritchey Research Center, Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine
Professor of Pathobiology, Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine
Director, Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer
I received my BA in biology from Haverford College and my V.M.D. and Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, I was in the Veterinary Medical Scientist Trainee Program, their combined V.M.D., Ph.D. program. I was also selected to be a Kleberg Fellow in Medical Genetics while at Penn. I have been on the faculty of Auburn University for nearly 22 years. I am currently a professor in the Department of Pathobiology, a scientist in the Scott-Ritchey Research Center and Director of the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer.
Do you have any pets?
Our family has five horses. My horse is named “Rocky” and he is teaching me how to ride jumpers. We also have a labrador retriever named Hermione who was bottle raised from birth and has no idea that she is a dog. We are currently without a cat, but I have enjoyed their company for many years.
What is the focus of your research?
My research focuses on the identification of genetic elements of disease and gene transfer to treat disease. This occurs in two areas, muscular dystrophy and cancer. In muscular dystrophy, my lab is engaged in identifying the molecular mechanism underlying new models of Duchenne-like muscular dystrophy, as well as creating and evaluating viral gene therapy constructs for their efficacy. On the cancer side, we are looking at ways of enhancing the immune response to tumors and targeting viral vectors to specifically infect tumors.
What is the scientific and clinical significance of your research?
Whether the disease is muscular dystrophy or cancer, understanding the genetic basis of the disease gives us an understanding of not only how the disease occurs, but how normal tissues and cells function as well. While this may then guide our approaches to therapy, what we learn when attempting those therapies often teaches us even more about both normal and diseased cells. In our research, some of the specific advances have been in beginning to understand how oncolytic (or conditionally replicative) adenoviruses can impact immune recognition of tumors cells and potentially lead to long-term immunity to tumor. We have also identified the fundamental mechanism responsible for the resistance cells of lymphocyte origin to adenoviral infections. These advances are leading to treatment approaches that will be use in both humans and dogs to better treat cancer.
What do you find most enjoyable about research?
Unquestionably my favorite aspect of research is the feeling you get with discovery. To know that no one has ever seen what you have just seen , or understood what you now understand is an amazing feeling! To be able to have those discoveries on a regular basis, and perhaps even daily on a small scale is fantastic.
What advice do you have for veterinarians considering a career in biomedical research?
Biomedical research is not an “alternative career” in veterinary medicine.
Biomedical research is the foundation upon which all medicine is based. Those who choose this path are the explorers who will define the medicine that is practiced and taught in years to come. Enjoy the path to discovery. Given the ever growing importance and investigational power of “omics” methodology, those planning to work in biomedical research should actively seek out the best possible training in some aspect of “omics” in order to position themselves to be at the cutting edge.
See how other AVMA members are advancing animal and human health