​Research symposium inspires with one-health success stories

Veterinary Scholars Program provides opportunities to over 470 student investigators
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The importance of veterinary biomedical research was fully evident at the 2016 Merial–National Institutes of Health National Veterinary Scholars Symposium, which took place July 28-31 at The Ohio State University. This year’s theme, “Transdisciplinary Approaches to Health and Wellness,” highlighted a number of one-health research topics, including infectious diseases, translational oncology, and regenerative medicine.

Dr. Ab Osterhaus, a professor of virology at Erasmus University and Utrecht University, both in the Netherlands, gave the keynote presentation, “Combatting Emerging Viruses: One Health Approach.” A leading authority on zoonotic diseases, Dr. Osterhaus and his team at the Erasmus University Medical Center Viroscience Laboratory reacted quickly after the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak of 2003 when—in a collaborative effort with the World Health Organization—they determined that a coronavirus was the causative agent. Earlier, in 1997, Dr. Osterhaus and his team found that the H5N1 avian influenza virus could be transmitted to humans.

The 2016 Merial–National Institutes of Health National Veterinary Scholars Symposium, which took place July 28-31 at The Ohio State University, had over 470 veterinary students present the results of their summer research project. Here, Thisuri Eagalle (left), a student at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College, presents her poster “Determination of causes of mortality in captive psittacines submitted to the Ontario Veterinary College.” (Photos courtesy of Merial)

Over the course of his career, Dr. Osterhaus and his team have identified around 20 new viruses in humans and other animals, defined the pathogenesis of major human and animal virus infections, and developed novel intervention strategies.

After handing over the chairmanship of the Viroscience Laboratory in 2014, he recently helped establish the Netherlands Centre for One Health in Utrecht and the Research Center for Emerging Infections and Zoonoses in Hannover, Germany. He is also chair of the One Health Platform.

Dr. Osterhaus emphasized in his talk that he firmly believes scientists have a role to play in translating their knowledge for the benefit and protection of society.

That message continued in other talks by researchers who discussed their study findings that not only have direct implications for animals but also in the human medical field.

Dr. Ab Osterhaus, a leading authority on zoonotic diseases, gave the symposium’s keynote presentation, “Combatting Emerging Viruses: One Health Approach.”
Dr. James Cook, director of the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri, discussed what he’s learned in animals regarding resurfacing cartilage in joints and applying that knowledge to people.

Dr. Cheryl London’s talk, “Leveraging Comparative Oncology to Maximize Translational Outcomes,” touched on her research in the field of canine oncology, and how cancer research in dogs is more useful than in mice when adapting cancer treatments to humans. Dr. London is director of The Ohio State veterinary college’s clinical trials office as well as director of translational therapeutics at the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences at the OSU College of Medicine. She is also a research professor at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. James Cook discussed what he’s learned in animals regarding resurfacing cartilage in joints and applying that knowledge to people. He is founder and director of the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri, a multidisciplinary team of physicians, veterinarians, engineers, and basic scientists dedicated to translational orthopedic research.

Creating future investigators

More than 570 veterinary researchers and students attended the symposium. Attendees represented veterinary schools in the U.S., Canada, France, and the Netherlands.

Since 1989, Merial has funded the Veterinary Scholars Program to provide an opportunity for first- and second-year veterinary students to participate in a biomedical research project in a laboratory or clinical setting for eight to 12 weeks during the summer.

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, the AVMA, and several other institutions to support a talented pool of veterinary students who are interested in biomedical research and comparative medicine. This year, over 470 veterinary students presented the results of their summer research project.

Dr. Ed Murphey, an assistant director in the AVMA Education and Research Division, said that, while the symposium is the most visible part, “The true contribution is finding slots for all of those students to participate in research projects under the mentorship of experienced investigators and get a feel for it to determine whether they are interested. At the very least, they learn the value of research to the veterinary profession and hopefully will be supportive of it, whether they participate in research later or not.”

Data collected by Merial indicate that a sizable number of past program participants have gone on to become investigators.

Nearly half, or 47 percent, of Veterinary Scholars Program participants from 2000-2013 went into advanced education as their first position after earning their DVM degree, while 45.4 percent went into private practice. From that same cohort, 37.2 percent are currently in academia or research, and 50 percent are in private practice. Comparatively, U.S. veterinary positions among employed veterinarians show that 61 percent are in private practice, and only 6 percent are in academia or research, according to AVMA market research statistics.

“You could say that there might be selection bias because students who chose to participate might have been more predisposed to a career in research, anyway. Despite that, I think it demonstrates it’s money and time and effort well spent on everyone’s part. The program exposes students who might not have considered a career involving research, and nurtures that interest in those students who might have considered it, anyway,” Dr. Murphey said.

Dr. Katti Horng (right), a DVM-degree and doctoral student at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, presents her research project, “Beneficial effects of probiotic microbes on inflamed gut mucosa in the rhesus macaque model of HIV infection.”

Increasing awareness

Next year’s symposium will be held at the NIH campus in Washington, D.C., for the second time in the program’s history. Dr. Murphey hopes it will promote greater awareness among veterinary students of the biomedical research opportunities out there for them through the NIH. For example, the NIH has its Medical Research Scholars Program. It is a comprehensive, yearlong research enrichment program designed for U.S. citizens and permanent residents currently enrolled in a medical, dental, or veterinary program who have completed their core clinical rotations. On the main NIH campus or nearby NIH facilities, student scholars engage in a closely mentored basic, clinical, or translational research project that matches their research interests and career goals. The 2017-2018 program application will open Oct. 1. For more information, go here.

Dr. Murphey said the exposure also works the other way around.

“The symposium could provide visibility for veterinary medicine at the NIH. They can see we’re engaged in research of our own; see the quantity and quality of it and application of it, for human medicine, too. Hopefully, there will be good synergy for interaction between veterinary medicine and human medicine,” he said.

The AVMA and AVMF also presented awards for excellence in research (see story) and to student investigators for their summer research projects (see story).

For more information on the Veterinary Scholars Program, visit here.

Related JAVMA content:

The next generation of veterinary research (Oct. 15, 2015)

AVMA to lobby for biomedical training access (June 1, 2015)

Veterinary students wanted for NIH program (Sept. 15, 2013)