Young scholars gain insight into research careers

Annual symposium recognizes summer projects by veterinary students
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Nearly 450 veterinary student researchers had a chance to hear renowned speakers discuss vaccine development, laboratory animal medicine, one health, retinal gene therapy, infectious diseases, and genes and genomes during the 2013 Merial–National Institutes of Health Veterinary Scholars Symposium. The event was held Aug. 14 at Michigan State University. This year’s theme was “Comparative Medicine: Meeting Global Needs.”

Dr. Marc Bonnefoi, head of the North America Research and Development Hub for Sanofi, gave a talk about the substantial research and development efforts by pharmaceutical companies with their public (universities and academic researchers) and private (biotech) partners, and how that has been essential in responding to unmet health needs and delivering innovative treatments to patients.

Kendall Annetti, a University of Illinois veterinary student, presents her poster, titled “Functional analysis of the Coxiella burnetti protein Com1,” to Dr. Robert Abramovitch of Michigan State University. (Photos by Harley J. Seeley)

“Last year, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $80 billion in the U.S. and European Union to discover and develop new medicines,” according to a summary of the talk. “Over the last decade, however, these large investment efforts have resulted in limited success, due in part to the evolution of pathologies toward difficult-to-treat chronic diseases and the realization that, in order to be really effective, medicines need to be personalized. Current conditions represent formidable scientific and biomedical challenges. In facing these challenges, the pharmaceutical industry

needs motivated, creative, young talents in many areas, including veterinarians.”

Since 1989, the Veterinary Scholars Program has provided an opportunity for veterinary schools to introduce first- and second-year U.S. students to conducting biomedical research in a laboratory and clinical setting during the summer. Doing so has allowed them to experience firsthand the process of research and help them understand potential pathways for establishing a research career.

In recent years, the program has expanded to include the veterinary schools of France and The Netherlands. Seminars and discussion groups on careers in science are part of the experience, which culminates with the symposium. The program works with the participating veterinary schools, Merial, the NIH, AVMA, and several other institutions to attract a talented pool of veterinary students who are interested in biomedical research and comparative medicine.

Veterinary students break for lunch during the opening reception of the 2013 Merial–National Institutes of Health Veterinary Scholars Symposium.

MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Christopher Brown’s advice to the veterinary scholars was to find good mentors.

“Explore many different opportunities and possibilities. Keep an open mind as to where your career may take you. Be flexible. Take risks. Expect to fail sometimes—if you don’t, you’re not taking risks. Strive to make a difference. Take time for yourself and those close to you,” he wrote in the meeting’s proceedings.

Winners of the 2013 Young Investigator Award, co-sponsored by the AVMA and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, also were announced during the weekend. The Young Investigator Award is given to graduate veterinarians pursuing advanced research training through doctoral or postdoctoral programs who presented their research at the symposium. The top three finalists were as follows:

  • Dr. Debra Tokarz of North Carolina State University, who took first place with “Zebrafish larvae reveal a novel mediator of the mammalian innate immune response.”
  • Dr. Timothy Kurt of the University of California-San Diego, who won second place for “Investigating human susceptibility to cross-species transmission of CWD prions.”
  • Dr. Sara Thomasy of the University of California-Davis, who took third place with “Elastic modules of the rabbit cornea as measured by atomic force microscopy in health and disease.”

Other awards were also handed out (see article). These included the 2013 Merial Veterinary Scholars Award. Yuki Nakayama (TUF ’14) received the honor for her research project, “Utilizing antibody titers to gauge vaccine efficacy and humoral immunity to upper respiratory tract disease in shelter cats.” Dr. Famke Aeffner (HAN ’07) was given the 2013 Merial Veterinary Research Graduate Award for her research project, “Aerosolized nucleotide synthesis inhibitor therapy for influenza A (H1N1) infection in mice.” She is a doctoral candidate in The Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Biosciences.

See more information about the Veterinary Scholars program and symposium.