Research honored at scholars symposium

Students present results, hear from accomplished researchers at annual event
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Working in research helped Dr. Patricia A. Conrad explore the world while helping to relieve hunger.

About 500 veterinary students presented research results through posters at the 18th annual National Veterinary Scholars Research Symposium, which ran Aug. 4-5 at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photos courtesy of Boehringer Ingelheim)

At a research symposium in August, she told veterinarians and veterinary students that her veterinary education, along with a doctorate in protozoology and tropical animal health, gave her opportunities to work on global problems, starting in the mid-1980s with her work in Kenya to protect cattle from East Coast fever. She had thought as a veterinary student that research was not for her, yet her career in research gave her opportunities to act on her deep concern about global hunger and surprised her by being fun.

"I think what I loved about research is big problems, a team effort, and asking 'What if?' and challenging the dogma," she said.

Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe, CEO of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said Dr. Conrad's presentation was among the most inspiring during the 18th annual National Veterinary Scholars Research Symposium, which features accomplishments of veterinary students who are completing summer research internships through the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program. Dr. Conrad, who is the associate dean for global programs at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, co-director of the university's Global Health Institute, and a professor of parasitology, received the AVMA Lifetime Excellence in Research Award during the meeting, which ran Aug. 4-5 at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The event included 650 attendees and a record high of about 515 student research poster presentations.

Dr. R. Mark Simpson, director of the NIH Comparative Biomedical Scientist Training Program, said this year's poster presentation count was up from about 430 in 2016. Dr. Simpson also leads the Molecular Pathology Unit within the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Genetics of the NIH National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research. A senior scientist and an investigative pathologist, he was one of the organizers of this year's symposium alongside fellow NIH staff and leaders of the AAVMC.

Benefiting the whole profession

Dr. Simpson said he had wanted the symposium to provide presentations by high-caliber investigators in human and veterinary medicine, providing a joint platform with perspectives from the various medical fields. The symposium provides a great opportunity for the veterinary profession, he said, because veterinarians often are considered to have a segmented role in national health care, yet the meeting showed the diversity and accomplishment of veterinary students and recent graduates.

The NIH has interests in veterinary medicine and research, including veterinarians' research that contributes to human health, Dr. Simpson said. Hosting the meeting at the NIH campus allowed veterinarians and students to become better acquainted with the NIH and its investigators.

The AAVMC has co-sponsored the national symposium for more than 10 years to ensure that students at all AAVMC member institutions have opportunities to participate in such a program, Dr. Maccabe said. Most of the students presenting posters were presenting information on their original research work for the first time at a scientific conference.

Dr. Maccabe said practicing evidence-based medicine requires that a veterinarian appreciate the role research plays. An outcomes assessment from the program shows that few of the participating students will pursue research careers, but all of them will have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the effects of research on veterinary medicine, he said.

Dr. Ed Murphey, assistant director of the AVMA Education and Research Division, said the program gives students opportunities to gain research experience they can use to consider career options as well as career starting points and mentors for those who want to work in research. He shared two examples of presentations at this year's symposium: descriptions of how studies on fruit flies are providing insight into neurodegenerative diseases in humans, and similarities between results of recent studies on dogs with osteosarcoma and observations made by bone surgeon William B. Coley in the early 1900s that, among people with bone cancer, infections often were associated with improved clinical outcomes. The latter research, he said, is being used to develop treatments for osteosarcoma in dogs and children.

Veterinarians, students honored

Four veterinarians, including Dr. Conrad, were honored during the symposium with AVMA Excellence in Veterinary Medicine awards from the AVMA, American Veterinary Medical Foundation, and Winn Feline Foundation.

Ms. Parks (R) and Dr. Alva (L)
Jenna Parks, a student at Cornell University, describes her research to Dr. Roberto Alva, executive director of the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program.

Dr. Michael R. Lappin received the AVMA Clinical Research Award. He is director of the Center for Companion Animal Studies at Colorado State University and a professor of small animal clinical veterinary medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and he helps direct the university's shelter medicine program. His research interests include infectious-disease prevention, feline upper respiratory disease complex, infectious causes of fever and diarrhea, and zoonoses of cats.

Dr. B. Duncan X. Lascelles received the AVMF/Winn Feline Foundation Excellence in Feline Research Award. He is director of the Comparative Pain Research and Education Center at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a professor of small animal surgery and pain management. He has focused on developing methods of measuring pain in pets with spontaneous disease and probing tissues from well-phenotyped animals with spontaneous disease to improve understanding of neurobiology. He has intended for that research to improve pain control in pet cats and dogs and aid pain control improvements in humans.

Dr. Darryl Millis received the AVMA Career Achievement Award in Canine Research. He is director of the CARES Center for Veterinary Sports Medicine at the University of Tennessee and a professor of orthopedic surgery in the College of Veterinary Medicine. His research has been focused on osteoarthritis, physical rehabilitation, and fracture healing, and it has included gait analysis techniques and treatments for osteoarthritis.

Three other veterinarians were honored for their presentations during the symposium.

Dr. Meghan Vermillion, Johns Hopkins, received first place in the AVMF Young Investigator Award competition for her presentation, "Modeling congenital Zika virus infection in immunocompetent mice." Dr. Xuan Pan, University of Wisconsin-Madison, received second for the presentation "Molecular determinants for polycomb group protein YY1 control of hematopoietic stem cell quiescence," and Dr. Zachary Freeman, University of Michigan, received third for the presentation "Immune checkpoints are discordantly regulated by chromatin remodeling."

Five veterinary students received the AVMA/AVMF Second Opportunity Research Scholarships, which are awarded to students who conducted a summer research project and want another summer of research experience. Those recipients are Samantha Fousse of the University of California-Davis, Kim Haight of the University of Georgia, Rachel McMahon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Courtney Rousse of North Carolina State University, and Courtney Smith of Texas A&M University.

Dr. Murphey said the scholars program has developed from a meeting among a handful of veterinary students from Georgia and Iowa to one encompassing projects at more than 30 veterinary colleges in North America, France, and The Netherlands. The program introduces first- and second-year veterinary students to biomedical research through mentored research during the summer at established laboratories, seminars, and discussions on careers in science. Research findings are presented at the annual symposium.

Dr. Conrad said in an interview after the event that her career sprang from a pair of revelations she had during a vacation in her fourth year of veterinary college at Colorado State University. She realized she wanted to live in some other country, and she had deep concern about world hunger.

"Sometimes we have to pause, and we have to listen to what's really deep inside us," she said.

At UC-Davis, Dr. Conrad tells her students to pause and be unafraid to see whether a new experience resonates and gives them new areas they want to explore.

"You should never underestimate the incredible education we're receiving and how well it prepares us to really contribute to teams and to make important discoveries that will be to the benefit of animals, humans, and the environment," she said.