Volume 18, Number 1 • Winter 2017
VENI • VIDI • VICI
we came • we saw • we conquered
Dean’s Message “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker This is a special CVM Today. It is the first of 2017, the first of our second one hundred years. The Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) has been building the future of veterinary medicine for 100 years. Since our modest beginnings in 1916, we have been educating exceptional leaders and working on solutions to the most challenging health problems of the State of Texas, the nation, and the world. The CVM was born because of the need to support the livestock industries of Texas. A century later, we remain united by a common desire to make the world a better place—not only for animals, but also for people and the ecosystem that we share. Throughout our history we have worked to protect animal health and well-being, eradicate disease, ensure a safe food supply, and transform veterinary medical education. Our reach is global. We pave the way for scholars and teachers from around the world and across disciplines to work as teams. We tackle global health issues together by recognizing the inextricable link between animal, human, and environmental health. We have prepared over 300,000 students to become leaders in veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences. These generations of leaders have impacted communities across the state, the nation, and the world. Together, we have been on a non-stop journey in search of opportunities to create and share new knowledge with our students, our graduates, our animal industries, and our communities. Through the next 100 years, we will remain committed to maintaining a college that is innovative, collaborative, and transformative. We intend to expand our ability to respond to the needs of diverse populations and to the needs of the veterinary profession by linking the vast strengths of Texas A&M. Through strategic partnerships, including those with universities in the Texas A&M University System, we will expand access to veterinary education, contribute to the stability and growth of the Texas economy by supporting the livestock and wildlife industries, and advance the veterinary profession in rural and urban communities. We are working to modernize and expand our campus through the construction of state-of-the-art buildings. Our new Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex has classroom and laboratory space that will open a whole new world of innovation in education. The complex is designed to create a community of scholars, learners, and constituents and will encourage broad collaborations and sharing of ideas. As we are called on to do more, we will. Then, 100 years from now, let it be said that we did our part—we dared to discover, and we reached for the stars. We are reflecting on the past, with a vision of the future. As we create the next chapters in the life of the CVM, we are and we always will be “Serving every Texan every day.” “You are the best author of your own future. So, the next time you sit down to write your own story, remember that you are the creator of the best chapters that could ever be written.” – Catherine Pulsifer
Eleanor M. Green, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP The Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine 2•
• Winter 2017
Contents 20 Biomedical Sciences Spotlight
BIMS Student Ambassadors Lead and Inspire
22 Hospital Spotlight
Cole Lyle & Kaya: Endless PAWS-abilities CLEO the Cat is Honored at the CVM New Small Animal Hospital Reception Area All Eyes on Ophthalmology
28 Outreach Spotlight
PEER to Peer: Inspiring Children through Veterinary Medicine
30 One Health Spotlight
Bench to Shop: Making Discovery a Reality
32 International Spotlight
A Treasure Trove of Research: The Tambopata Macaw Project
36 Student Spotlight
In Their Own Words: DVM Students Graduate Student & Postdoctoral Research: Highlights from the Symposium CVM to Host the 2017 Student American Veterinary Medical Association Symposium Jessica Israel: A Pioneer in Veterinary Medicine and the Deaf Community Broad Spectrum: Celebrating Diversity in Veterinary Medicine Undergraduate Research Earns BRIDGE Internship for WTAMU 10 Innovation Student Inspiring Innovation, Little by Little
53 Faculty/Staff Spotlight
Distinguished Professor Blazes Trail in Genetics Research: A Man with a Plan A Cowboy and a Researcher: The Adventures of Dickson Varner Dr. Katrin Hinrichs: Setting the Standard in Assisted Equine Reproduction
65 Research Spotlight
Same Journey, Different Directions The Tiny World Inside Your Pet It’s Safe to Say, Impact Begins at Discovery Strengthening Foal Immune Systems, Preventing Pneumonia
75 In the Spotlight
Welcoming Our New Associate Dean—Dr. Karen Cornell
82 Curriculum Spotlight
Dr. Stacy Eckman: Primary Care, Emergency Care, and All-around Care
Unconventional Gamers: How Video Games Can Improve Bird Health
Rusyn—A Man on a Mission
Valuing Mental Health, Valuing Veterinary Community
Through the Fire and the Flood: The VET Serves Texas Communities
4 College Information 5 VBEC Grand Opening
A Q&A with Alumna Kelly Scribner
8 Facilities Update
86 Development Spotlight
2 Dean’s Message
Spotlight on Curriculum
84 Alumni Spotlight
The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center
80 Leadership Spotlight
88 Honor Roll
Living the Aggie Spirit
98 College News 102 Development News
103 Alumni News
106 In Memorium 107 Continuing Education Schedule Winter 2017 •
College Information College Administration
Dr. Megan Palsa ’08
CVM Today Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University 4461 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-4461
Managing Editor: Sara Carney ’13
Contributing Writers: Dr. Kristin Chaney Laura Gerik ’16 Heather Quiram ’95 Callie Rainosek ’17 Michelle Yeoman ’13
CVM Today is published by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences for alumni and friends. We welcome your suggestions, comments, and contributions to content. Contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A reader survey is available online at: tx.ag/cvmtodaysurvey.
Audrey Bratton ’15
Graphic Designers: VeLisa Bayer Jennie Lamb
Photographers: Tim Stephenson Larry Wadsworth
Permission is granted to use all or part of any article published in this magazine, provided no endorsement of a commercial product is stated or implied. Appropriate credit and a tear sheet are requested.
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University 4461 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-4461 vetmed.tamu.edu Dean’s Office/Administration 979.845.5051 Admissions Office 979.845.5051 Development and Alumni Relations Office 979.845.9043 Continuing Education Office 979.845.9102 Public Relations Office 979.862.4216 4•
• Winter 2017
Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Eleanor M. Green Executive Associate Dean Dr. Kenita S. Rogers ’86 Associate Dean, Professional Programs Dr. Karen K. Cornell Associate Dean, Research & Graduate Studies Dr. Robert C. Burghardt Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education & Dept. Head, Veterinary Integrative Biosciences Dr. Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni Assistant Dean, Undergraduate Education Dr. Elizabeth Crouch ’91 Interim Assistant Dean, One Health Dr. Rosina “Tammi” Krecek Assistant Dean, Finance Ms. Belinda Hale ’92 Dept. Head, Veterinary Pathobiology Dr. Ramesh Vemulapalli Dept. Head, Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology Dr. Larry J. Suva Dept. Head, Large Animal Clinical Sciences Dr. Allen Roussel Dept. Head, Small Animal Clinical Sciences Dr. Jonathan Levine Assistant Vice President of Development & Alumni Relations (Texas A&M Foundation) Dr. O. J. “Bubba” Woytek ’65 Chief of Staff Ms. Misty Skaggs ’93 Interim Director, Texas Institute for Preclinical Studies Dr. Kenita S. Rogers ’86 Assistant Dean of Hospital Operations Mr. Bo Connell Executive Director, Communications, Media, & Public Relations Dr. Megan Palsa ’08
Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate Advising Office 979.845.4941
Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences 979.845.9053
Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences 979.845.2828
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences 979.845.9127
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology 979.845.5941 Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology 979.845.7261
Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital Administration 979.845.9026 Small Animal Hospital 979.845.2351 Large Animal Hospital 979.845.3541
GRAND OPENING of the
VETERINARY & BIOMEDICAL EDUCATION COMPLEX NOVEMBER 11, 2016
Spring 2016 •
Century C of Service A
• Spring 2016
Century C of Service A
Spring 2016 •
by Heather Quiram
Equine Theriogenology Facility
This has been a grand year for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). The college celebrated an outstanding centennial year, and we have seen a dramatically positive change to the face of the college in the form of several new buildings and building expansions. In 2016, we saw the completion of the Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex (VBEC)—adding approximately 330,000 square feet of new classrooms, laboratories, office space, collaboration, and learning space to the college. The VBEC Grand Opening was a successful opportunity to welcome the public and to share what has been given to the CVM by taxpayers to better serve the State of Texas. Classes were in full swing in August and the facility is preparing to host several large annual meetings this spring—including the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) conference, the Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) symposium, Open House, and Dr. Adam Little’s Veterinary Innovation Symposium (VIS). We are very excited to welcome these groups as we begin our second century of service to the people and animals of Texas. Many other construction projects were successfully completed in 2016. The Small Animal Hospital received a renovation of the front of the building, along with an expansion of the existing lobby and the addition of three new exam rooms. In 2017, we will welcome the completion of a well-appointed, long-term waiting lounge, two more exam rooms, and other client amenities. These changes will allow a smoother, more functional flow for the hospital, while enhancing and improving the guest and client experience. 8•
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The Equine Theriogenology Facility was expanded to house equine reproductive physiology research for Dr. Katrin Hinrichs, professor and Patsy Link Chair in Mare Reproductive Studies, as well as the intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) lab. The expansion also created additional space for Dr. Dickson Varner, professor and Pin Oak Stud Chair of Stallion Reproductive Studies and his equine theriogenology colleagues. The Multi-Species Resource Building has been in use for nearly a year now and is available to our faculty under the adept management of Dr. Clay Ashley, director of the Veterinary Medical Park, and his team. While 2016 was an exceptional year, 2017 holds great promise with the move of many of our faculty and staff to VBEC, newly vacated space in our existing buildings is allowing for the expansion of programs previously restricted by space limitations. Many upgrades are being made to allow the continued growth of these outstanding programs. With the completion of new home of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL), the CVM will utilize the previous TVMDL building to expand and grow many laboratory-based programs. A 3,300 square foot expansion of the Reproductive Sciences Lab on Highway 47 is moving forward with completion anticipated in 2018. This will allow Dr. Charles Long, associate professor in Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology, Dr. Mark Westhusin, professor in Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology, and their colleagues in gamete physiology, space to expand their endeavors. As the CVM continues to grow and expand in our next century, we look forward to Serving every Texan, every day.
This facility is amazing and the undergraduate Biomedical Sciences students are thrilled to call this new facility home. The learning environment created here is not only warm and inviting, but also inspirational. It facilitates learning AND inspires us to open our minds to the limitless career opportunities available. So, thank you all for making this building possible!
-Miss Madison Bartock, Students in new classrooms
BIMS Undergraduate Student
Students playing a game in the lobby
Dr. Alice Blue teaching class
As a veterinary student with a passion for large animal veterinary medicine and general manager of the SAVMA Symposium 2017, I have been looking forward to the completion of this building to showcase this facility as well as our CVM campus to our student peers across the nation in 2017! Our SAVMA Symposium 2017 planning team is working hard to develop a program that will be inspiring to our student attendees and showcase our amazing faculty and exceptional facilities, both of which will impact our careers as future veterinarians. Thank you.
-Mr. Justin Casares, DVM Class of 2018
Grand Opening receoption Winter 2017 â€˘
NNOVATION by Sara Carney and Dr. Megan Palsa
Inspiring Innovation, Little by Little
“This program is of value to students and the college in general,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, a clinical assistant professor at the CVM who has mentored many students in VSIP. “Adam is clearly passionate about his work and so are the students.”
A Unique Learning Experience
Dr. Adam Little and his dog, Chewy For many veterinarians, especially those who operate their own businesses, entrepreneurship and business knowhow are staples of their careers. But, business is changing. Information is more readily available than ever before, and information technology is growing exponentially. It’s time for veterinarians to adapt—that’s the philosophy of the newly hired director of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), Dr. Adam Little. For the veterinary profession and its business practices to adapt, changes must also occur in veterinary school, according to Little. Early in his career, he noticed a deficit in the way companies engage veterinary students, often “undervaluing their creativity and intellectual capacity.” Companies might reach out to veterinary students through presentations over lunch, hoping to piqué students’ interest in working with the company or trying their products. He said, “The way in which most companies engage veterinary students is by saying, ‘Here’s our new product. Here’s a pizza lunch. Go off and prosper.’” Although this strategy may have been effective in engaging students at one time, Little said it’s time to try something new. In the summer of 2016, Little began the Veterinary Student Innovations Program (VSIP) for second- and thirdyear veterinary students. This program allows students to work with early stage startup companies with applications in veterinary fields. The companies that partner with VSIP are innovators, and working with them allows students to have a hand in shaping how technology impacts the future of veterinary medicine. “We wanted to support the students and see if we could not only provide them with a curriculum in entrepreneurship, but also connect them to job opportunities and other opportunities for involvement. It’s actually gone really, really well,” Little said. 10 •
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As part of VSIP, five students were matched with startup companies, some of which had applications in veterinary medicine, but did not have veterinarians on their team to help guide the company. “We were paired with five different companies, and throughout the summer we helped them develop their market strategy in veterinary medicine because a lot of them weren’t veterinarians necessarily,” according to third-year veterinary student Anna Pennacchi. The program represents a new paradigm in veterinary education, combining aspects of traditional learning styles and new teaching techniques. Students gained hands-on experience with the companies, while also being mentored by Little and other faculty at the CVM. They also received support and feedback from their peers in the program. Through VSIP, Pennacchi was paired with Scopio Labs, a biotech startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. “They are revolutionizing microscopy by using a digital platform,” she explained. “Rather than having a slide and looking at it under a microscope, you’ll have this desktop scanning device, where you put the slide in, and it takes an image of the entire slide. Then, it puts the image on your computer screen, tablet, or phone, so you can look at it and zoom in and out. It’s very user friendly and produces high-quality images.” Additionally, Scopio’s technology has advanced diagnostic applications in veterinary medicine. Using technology similar to facial recognition software, Scopio is exploring digital identification of pathogens under the microscope. “It will help down the line in saving time on analysis in a veterinary clinic,” Pennacchi said. “The software can either help veterinarians come to a conclusion faster or it can make a diagnosis for you. It would be something that every veterinarian could have in their clinic at a comparable price to your average microscope.” For Pennacchi, an officer in the CVM’s Veterinary Business Management Association, VSIP was an ideal way to further explore her existing interest in business. “I learned a lot about business operations, business management, and business development within a startup company,” she said. “I think VSIP is an awesome program for any veterinary student with an interest in business and innovation. Everyone who participated enjoyed it.” Similarly, third-year veterinary student Tyler Kosich said, “This program definitely gave me more confidence in a business sense, and I’ve always wanted to eventually own my own practice.” Kosich was paired with Embark, a company that sequences canine genomes and identifies breed and medically relevant
genetic information. “They provide a super detailed genetic history of your dog,” he said. “They can fairly accurately tell you the breed composition of your dog, but what I found most interesting is that they test for 160 genetic diseases.” This sort of information can be invaluable to veterinarians in developing a long-term health plan for their canine patients. At Embark, Kosich was actively involved in the company. “I definitely contributed more than I thought I would have. I had a variety of duties, such as contributing to their information database,” he said. “I wrote and rewrote a lot of their descriptions. I also met with veterinarians and got their opinions on Embark. I created a survey I sent out to veterinarians for feedback.” Like all the students in VSIP, Kosich was embedded within the company and made to feel part of the team. “I was very ingrained in their team, and I talked to everyone. It was just a good team-oriented atmosphere,” he said.
An Entrepreneur from the Beginning The vision of VSIP grew through Little’s early career experiences. Even in veterinary school, Little was an entrepreneur, sometimes skipping class to pursue his next business venture. However, he said the curriculum did not always accommodate his efforts. This ultimately fueled Little’s desire to provide these opportunities to veterinary students. “The process of learning about business in veterinary medicine is so important to veterinary students’ careers. Being able to give students an outlet to be creative and think differently in big institutions is critical.” After graduation, Little put his skills to work, joining LifeLearn, a company in Guelph, Ontario. While there, Little led a team that was tasked with using artificial intelligence to build a decision support tool for veterinary practioners. “We were building a tool that was using an IBM Watson artificial intelligence platform to help veterinarians make better, quicker decisions in practice,” he explained. Creating such a technology may seem like a timeconsuming process, and at first it was. The project team had to generate both the questions clients would ask and the answers the veterinarians would give, a process requiring much research and forethought. “You do that process tens of
Dr. Aaron Massecar and Dr. Adam Little with students in VSIP thousands of times, and so it’s incredibly laborious in a lot of cases,” Little said. But, Little had an idea: crowdsource the task. He selected 20 veterinary students to help. “We separated them into pairs,” he said. “And, they chose a condition that they were interested in from a list of 100. They ended up creating question and answer pairs through their conversations, and then they go into the source material and find it. In five hours, they did three times more work than we had done in three months.” This spurred Little to hire 75 veterinary students. “Over the course of the next four months, we had 10 times more question and answer pairs than anybody in the world that was working on Watson, which was pretty cool,” he said. “If we did that with 75 students, what could you do with 1,000 or 10,000? What problems could you solve? That’s the reason that we’re building this network.” These experiences laid the foundation for Little’s work with VSIP at the CVM. He said, “I honestly believe the best way for us to tackle some of the significant challenges of the profession is by having a more entrepreneurial mindset and helping prepare students for that future. That’s the lens that we brought to this initial program.”
The Future is Here Being on the edge of innovation has its challenges. Merging modern and traditional aspects of veterinary education is no easy feat. But, with the first round of VSIP being a success, Little plans to continue the program and recruit more students. To Little, the stakes are too high not to move forward. “The pace of change in the world is greatly accelerating, largely due to advancing technologies. In veterinary medicine, we are beginning to see the early days of this,” he said. “Knowing that these technologies are going to be transformative and knowing that there are opportunities to build something new, we should ask ourselves, ‘How does an academic institution drive training for the next generation of students and help push the profession forward in a positive way?’ We are starting to shape that answer.” Dr. Adam Little working with students
Winter 2017 •
ARING by Sara Carney
Dr. Stacy Eckman: Primary Care, Emergency Care, and All-around Care The CVM’s Primary Care Service provides routine medical care, including regular evaluations, sick care, treatment of minor emergencies, and senior care. It is a core service of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) and focuses on providing the best and most well-rounded care for pets along with practical experience for our fourth-year veterinary students. The Emergency and Critical Care Service is a fully functional service with the capabilities of the entire hospital and has a veterinarian and support staff in the hospital to receive patients 24 hours a day. The service provides ongoing care for critically ill or injured pets, as well as those recovering from surgery. The emergency service also provides immediate initial evaluation, stabilization, and treatment for ill or injured pets. From people to animals, clients to patients, and colleagues to students, Dr. Stacy Eckman touches the lives of many through her work at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). To many she is a doctor, a teacher, and a mentor. She currently works as a clinical assistant professor in both small animal primary care and emergency services at the Small Animal Hospital. There, Eckman splits her time between routine care and emergency medicine, depending on where she is needed. “In primary care, we try to make it as close to a regular, general practice as would be found outside of the university. We do a lot of routine wellness and healthcare, as well as acute injury and illness,” she said. “In the ER, it’s whatever comes in the door.” In addition to balancing her attention between the distinctive worlds of primary care and the ER, Eckman also teaches veterinary students and interns in clinical and classroom settings. This level of multitasking can be a challenge, but it is something in which Eckman excels. In fact, she flourishes at this level of multitasking. Her versatility makes her an asset as both a veterinarian and a professor.
Life Before the CVM Before Eckman plunged into the world of veterinary academia, she was no different than many aspiring veterinarians. She loved animals and dreamt of one day being able to help them by becoming a veterinarian. “I have a similar story to everybody else,” she said. “When I was a little kid, I loved cats and dogs. In particular, I loved cows.” 12 •
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Dr. Stacy Eckman Growing up, Eckman wanted to be a large animal veterinarian specializing in cattle. Sadly, she was discouraged from pursuing her dream. She said, “I thought I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and I went to career day in high school and the veterinarian there said, ‘It’s terrible. It’s all this work, and it’s math and science. It’s a terrible profession,’” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I should do something else.’” Eckman took that conversation to heart. Dissuaded from her dream of becoming a veterinarian, she eventually attended Texas A&M University as a civil engineering major. However, her dreams would not die so easily. During a trip to her hometown, Eckman was helping a friend with her show steer when she realized that working with animals was what she really loved. “I just thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said. When she got back to Texas A&M, Eckman headed to the CVM and met with Dr. William “Bill” Banks to discuss changing majors to biomedical sciences. “He sat me down and talked to me about what my goals were, and he said, ‘I think we can help you.’” An Aggie through and through, Eckman ended up attending veterinary school at the CVM. “I drink the KoolAid for sure,” she joked, while wearing Aggie maroon scrubs. “Since I was growing up and going through veterinary school, I was going to own my own practice in small-town America, and that’s what I was going to do the rest of my life,” Eckman said. “The reality of it is, the more time that I spend teaching, the more I really enjoy the other side of medicine, or the other side of what academia has to offer. So, it’s definitely been a trajectory that I never envisioned, but it has evolved into the plan.”
From Private Practice to the CVM After graduating, Eckman began practicing small animal medicine in Corpus Christi, Texas. Although she wasn’t working on cattle as she had intended, she discovered her love of small animal medicine. For four years, Eckman and Daniel, her husband and a fellow veterinarian, worked at competing practices in Corpus Christi. The two later joined together and purchased a small animal practice, where they worked for six years. Although working in private practice was rewarding for the couple, it was also difficult. “Not a day went by that I didn’t enjoy private practice,” Eckman said. “People always ask me why I came back to the CVM if I enjoyed private practice so much. For us it was a quality-of-life issue. Because we were co-owners, we were the only two veterinarians there, we had a young family, so one of us was always at work.” Initially, Eckman was hesitant to leave private practice. She loved the personal relationship that she developed with her clients, but she found that working at the CVM still allowed her to develop such relationships with her pupils and clients. Not only does she get to see her patients grow up from being puppies and kittens, but she also gets to see her students grow. As she began to explore professional options, Eckman remembered how much she enjoyed teaching anatomy in veterinary school. So, she applied for a position at the CVM in the ER. From there, her career flourished. “To me, it’s the best of both worlds,” she said. “I still have the patients and clients, but then I also get to teach students.”
Mentoring Students and Involvement in the CVM As a mentor and teacher to first- through fourth-year veterinary students, Eckman now has the perspective of seeing students transform from starting veterinary school to entering the veterinary profession. She teaches a correlates course to the first- and third-year students, as well as a preventative care and wellness elective and communications to third-year students. Then, she guides the fourth-year students during clinical rotations. Both ER and primary care are required rotations for veterinary students, allowing Eckman to help mentor all the fourth-year students. “Mentoring is one of the reasons why I came back—to see that light-bulb moment when it all comes together in the students’ mind,” Eckman said. “It’s really fun to see them come in as first-year students, when they don’t have a lot of confidence or opportunities to talk to clients. But I love to see how they evolve in their fourth year, and even as their fourth year progresses, they gain so much confidence in themselves and in their ability to communicate. It’s fun to watch.” Through her role as veterinarian in the primary care service, Eckman mentors fourth-year veterinary students who are practicing their clinical skills and preparing to enter the profession. “We’re there for support, but we want them to truly be the doctors,” she said. “They can spread their wings and make a decision about something but still have the luxury of referring back to us and asking, ‘Is that OK? Should I do that?’” The cases students see in primary care are a learning experience. “We try to make it the best example possible for the students, to show them that this is what it’s going to be like when they get out,” Eckman said. “We start seeing appointments at 8 a.m., then we take a break in the middle of the day for rounds to discuss the cases and specific topics. We continue to see appointments until about 5:30 or 6:00, and that’s kind of our typical day in primary care.” On the other hand, the ER rotation can be much higher stakes, and students are watched closely by supervisors, such as Eckman, so that the patients receive the best possible care. “We are highly invested in the students’ education, and I think that’s really, really important,” she said. “I think we, as faculty, take great pride in the fact that they’re getting a degree from Texas A&M, and there’s a lot of weight that goes behind that. It’s more of a family atmosphere. We’re all in this together, and we can all move forward together.”
Beyond Teaching To further ensure that students receive a quality education, Eckman is involved in administration. Currently, Eckman is involved in the selections committee and the committee on expanding class size. “The administrative piece is interesting. There’s different aspects of it that I find just as interesting as the teaching and practicing,” she said. For Eckman, the future is now, and that means continuing to do what she is doing. The descriptors she’s earned— teacher, mentor, doctor—are ones that she hopes will stick with her for a long time. Dr. Stacy Eckman and a patient
Winter 2017 •
C URING by Callie Rainosek and Dr. Megan Palsa
How Video Games Can Improve Bird Health Playing video games has been a favorite pastime of young and old alike, and now the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is investigating the benefits of video games on an unconventional gamer—pet birds, such as parrots. Researchers at the CVM’s Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center are in the process of developing video games that can be played by birds on a tablet. Researchers hope the games will have a positive impact on the birds and will mimic the level of stimulation birds experience in the wild. “The problem is these are incredibly intelligent birds and it is challenging to provide them with all the stimulation that they require,” said Dr. Donald Brightsmith, an assistant professor at the CVM leading the project. “Owners need to provide intelligent birds with as much mental stimulation as possible. Then, there’s the physical aspect. If you sit around on the couch all day, it’s not good for you, and it’s not good for a parrot to sit on a perch all day either. Getting the parrots to continue to move is extremely beneficial.” Using vocalizations or movement, birds can play the game and win a treat that is dispensed upon completion of the game’s task. For birds like pet parrots, video games can be more than just entertaining; they can also provide muchneeded mental stimulation, as well as exercise and other potential health benefits. “Birds face some of the same health issues humans face,” said Constance “Connie” Woodman, a Ph.D. student working on the project. “They can get brittle bones; they can get problems with arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries; they can get fat. This is why exercise is important.” The first game the researchers developed is similar to the popular game “whack-a-mole.” In scientific terms, the researchers called the game a stimulus discrimination test. “Picture a pop up on the screen. If the birds yelled at the pop up to ‘scare’ it away, then the picture would go away,” Woodman said. “Then, the bird gets a reward from the dispenser. We tested whether or not the animals could learn on their own how to utilize the tablet to play the game and gain a reward, and they all showed the signs of being a content, happy animal during the process.” Additionally, the birds responded positively to the game researchers developed to encourage exercise. The birds showed emotional responses that indicated excitement when they “won” a round of whack-a-mole. One male bird, in particular, even mimicked an “end-zone” celebratory dance. “When he would win, he would hop down to the bottom of the cage and do an ‘end-zone’ dance. He would bob and lift his wings and get really excited,” Woodman said. “The bird’s behaviors indicated his internal state was really positive. He was experiencing both a mental stimulation and an emotional response, so we think it is holistically good for the birds to have this.” 14 •
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A student working on research with Connie Woodman Researchers are hopeful the gaming device will eventually be programmable, so the owner could set the times in which the game would be played while the owner is away. Additionally, the tablet could be sold with the feeder as a package, so the owner would not use their own personal tablet. Currently, the research is focusing on a clinical trial of a new game to encourage exercise. “It would be nice to come home and know that your animal had been exercising during the day,” Brightsmith said. “Video games such as these would allow pet owners to increase their bird’s activity and increase the bird’s mental stimulation, with an interest in improving the physical and mental health of the birds.” The software in development for the current clinical trial tracks the birds with a camera and rewards them with colors, sound, and treats. The researchers also said that they could see potential use of this technology in other species, including other pets and zoo animals. The games could also potentially serve as a health indicator. Instead of using traditional means of diagnosing animals, the researchers have considered designing games that could help indicate an animal’s illness or disability. For example, struggling to complete the task may indicate that the bird has poor eyesight or limited mobility. Pets and zoo animals may hide their symptoms from strangers, such as during a visit to a veterinarian’s office. The researchers think that games could work as an at-home test for certain health problems. “If an animal is not your friend and doesn’t trust you, then how can you identify subtle signs and symptoms? The birds could self-report their symptoms through a video game,” Brightsmith said. “Say the bird has an illness that affects their vision in a subtle way.
We could give them a game where the difficulty of the game goes up, and it gets harder to see the image on the screen. If the high score goes down, and the animal is equally motivated to use the game, then the problem could be the vision system. By giving animals fun tasks that they can enjoy that also examine different parts of their body, we may be able to do several diagnostics that don’t involve scanning or taking a sample, just the animal playing a game.” Developing the video games stemmed from an Undergraduate Research Scholars project conducted by Woodman and Taylor Strange, a senior biomedical sciences student at the time. Strange won the Vice President for Research Award, creating a wide awareness of the project. Since then, the project has flourished and potential for commercialization has been pursued. To explore the market, Woodman and Brightsmith were invited to participate in an entrepreneur training course sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps Program. “We figured out that the idea we have is definitely fit for commercialization,” Brightsmith said. “There’s a need out there in the real world for this sort of technology.” The researchers were given $50,000 through the NSF to identify customer needs. They interviewed 127 bird owners and animal keepers and found a need for this technology. “Our research showed that, in fact, there’s a market among bird owners for a technology like this,” Brightsmith said. Woodman added, “If we are successful with birds we will consider cross-over markets. Zookeepers indicated that they’d love a game that was fun and automatically taught the animals to walk into a crate or chute for medical care or enclosure repairs.” The researchers will soon be conducting additional market research where birds and bird owners can interact with the game and provide additional feedback to make the design more user-friendly and resilient to wear and tear. Researchers are hopeful these improvements will lead to an even bigger impact in the future. Pets and animals kept in captivity would be given a greater opportunity for mental and physical stimulation, which could improve their quality of life. “We are a little surprised by how this project is turning out,” Woodman said. “Originally, this was a small side project where we exercised rare birds to make them healthy before their release into the wild. We can still meet that goal, but now we may be able to carry our work beyond the university and make it available to the public.”
Connie Woodman and a quaker parrot
Studies show that parrots can learn to solve math problems, read written words, and invent and use tools. Due to their intelligence and complex social needs, parrots require toys and attention from people or other birds throughout the day, which can be a challenge to provide. The research at the CVM may help keep pets entertained while also improving their health. Parrots are susceptible to boredom, so it is important to provide them with plenty of toys and companionship. A lack of mental stimulation and physical movement can lead to many health conditions, such as obesity and selfplucking of feathers. By designing video games that will mentally and physically challenge parrots while their owners are away, researchers at the CVM are hopeful their games will aid as a supplement in improving bird health.
Connie Woodman Winter 2017 •
REATING by Dr. Megan Palsa
Rusyn–A Man on a Mission
Ukraine for the summer. When school started, he went to his father’s hometown in western Ukraine for the semester. It was nearly a year before he returned to his parents’ home in Kiev.
Dr. Ivan Rusyn
Educational Path to Science
A Life We Can Only Imagine Dr. Ivan Rusyn, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, was born in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of two engineers. From the beginning, the importance of education played a large role in his family; his parents were each first-generation college graduates who impressed their appreciation for science and learning on their children. So, it came as no surprise to the elder Rusyns when their son went on to get his M.D., then Ph.D. in toxicology, and their daughter a Ph.D. in biochemistry. “We’re trying to one-up our parents,” Rusyn joked. It was his parents’ education that brought the Rusyn family from a coal-mining community in southeastern Ukraine and a farming village in western Ukraine to the capital city, Kiev. His parents were sent there in the 1960s after getting their college degrees to “repay” the free education the government provided. As a result, Rusyn grew up in Kiev during a unique period in Ukraine’s history. In May of Rusyn’s eighth-grade year, the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident occurred—only 30 miles from Kiev. Despite the lack of official information in the immediate aftermath, news of the danger spread fast. “The biggest immediate threat was from radioactive iodine,” Rusyn explained. Although it wasn’t potentially hazardous for Kiev adults, children were at risk because the iodine could affect thyroid development. “All of that wasn’t common knowledge, but it became common knowledge fast enough,” Rusyn recalled. “It took about two weeks for the [government] propaganda machine to actually admit what happened, but the rumor mill worked very fast. A lot of kids started disappearing from school.” Rusyn soon joined the flight of children from the affected area to “safer places.” His parents stayed behind, sending him to his maternal grandmother’s home in southeastern 16 •
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After high school, Rusyn went on to medical school at the Bogomolets National Medical University in Kiev, where he spent the next six years training to become a physician. However, as he progressed through his studies, his interests began to veer away from clinical medicine. “I was really enjoying training to be a physician,” Rusyn said, “But I dabbled into research in the last two years [of medical school] and really, really liked it.” Once again, the Chernobyl blast altered the course of Rusyn’s education, albeit a bit more subtly this time. “[In our research] we were working with [Chernobyl] first responders and their blood samples and looking into reactive oxygen species and DNA damage. This work was both important and immediately applicable to prevention of the deleterious effects of radiation.” Although Rusyn started his residency in ear, nose, and throat surgery, he couldn’t resist the research career. During a trip to a conference in Germany he met Helmut Sies, one of the leading researchers into oxidative stress at the time. Sies made Rusyn an offer he couldn’t refuse: an invitation to work in his lab for a year on a German government fellowship (DAAD). Rusyn leapt at the opportunity. He left his residency in Kiev for Germany and never looked back. After spending a year in Germany, Rusyn was thoroughly hooked on research—with a particular interest in toxicology. On the advice of colleagues, he applied to graduate school in the United States. In 1996, he began his doctoral studies in toxicology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, followed by two years of post-doctoral work at UNC and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He then returned to UNC in 2012 to launch his career in academia as an assistant professor. He made full professor in just eight years—quite the feat.
Texas A&M University Snatches Rusyn In 2014, Rusyn moved to College Station to join the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) team. As with many of his career changes, it wasn’t an expected move. He was happy at UNC, but was ultimately swayed by Texas A&M’s commitment to the One Health Initiative, which fit his research in environmental health. “The concept of One Health was a very big attraction because I knew this wasn’t just an attempt by university administrators to bring in one person,” he explained. “It was a concerted effort with all these outstanding researchers coming together in the college, having this drive. It was very important for me to feel that the administration had a commitment
to the broader [One Health] picture, rather than just a commitment to me and my lab.” Since moving to the CVM, Rusyn has devoted himself to filling in the gaps in knowledge about the chemicals in our environment that affect human health. “The biggest problem in the field of environmental health and toxicology is lack of comprehensive safety information on most chemicals in the environment and commerce. There is this paradigm: no data, no hazard; no hazard, no risk. Most of the chemicals in the environment have not been tested for safety, so we just assume that they’re safe,” Rusyn explained. Here at the CVM, Rusyn is working to develop experimental models that explore the connections between chemicals and human health and quantify inter-individual differences in chemical effects. Using his background in medicine and toxicology, Rusyn seeks to understand the root causes of environmental disease and to assist both the government and industry with making science-informed regulatory decisions. “As a former physician in training, I would much rather prevent diseases than treat them, but you also need to make sure we are using solid science to protect human and environmental health, while allowing safe use of chemicals in our lives,” he said. “Dealing with people that are sick is A, expensive, and B, not very effective. Trying to prevent diseases has a potentially larger impact.” To that end, Rusyn works with both regulators and the industry to develop models that determine the safest levels and combinations of the chemicals in our environment. He works with industry toxicologists to identify gaps in knowledge about their products, then designs and conducts experiments to produce safety information. On the other side of the aisle, Rusyn addresses the big-picture concerns of regulators at state, federal, and international levels, listening to their questions, using his research to produce answers, and understanding how best complex scientific information can be communicated. “We’re trying to serve as an impartial broker between the regulators and the regulated and listen to both sides and try to come up with solutions,” Rusyn said. “A strong institutional commitment to multi-disciplinary research and applied solutions creates an incentive for our work with the industry and governmental partners to figure out what challenges they have. We can design and do experiments and connect all the dots, and that’s extremely rewarding to me.” Much of Rusyn’s research focuses on analyzing the combined effects of multiple chemicals on human health. By focusing on complex substances, such as petroleum refining products which “may contain a myriad of individual chemicals,” he seeks to develop experimental models that will radically change the way we look at chemical toxicology, shifting the focus from testing and regulating individual chemicals to complex mixtures, a much more realistic exposure scenario. “Human exposures are not one chemical at a time, but we try to regulate and protect human health one chemical at a time,” Rusyn explained. “Petroleum substances are an excellent example of complexity of chemical exposures and we’re trying to stay on the cutting edge of the field.”
Rusyn and his lab and collaborators are developing models that look at mixtures both forward and backward. He’s not just looking at known chemical combinations, but also creating methods to analyze the effects of an unknown mixture to predict the chemical components and how they will affect human and environmental health as a whole. In addition, he led a team of researchers at A&M and beyond to propose a large research program to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to analyze the impact of chemical disasters and develop first-response tools to protect human health. From tropical storms and flooding events to oil and chemical spills, we live in a world of constant environmental threats. The consortium’s goal is to “develop faster, cheaper, better tools for decision-makers to decide quickly whether there is a danger or hazard” and how those dangers may affect different individuals or populations. “We’re trying to develop tools that can be used to actually get a [high-level] answer within days rather than months or years, because within months or years, it’s too late. Most decisions right now are, ‘Let’s just move people out because we really have no idea,’” he said. Rusyn is a pragmatist at heart. His ultimate goal is to provide the research tools and data that will allow for responsible decision-making on both sides, to identify acceptable exposures rather than ignore problems or raise false alarms. “The challenges are many and daunting, but they’re not completely intractable,” he said. “What makes me excited is that we’re trying to bridge between the industry and the regulators and while being protective of human health, at the same time bring facts and data for them to make decisions.”
Collaborative Efforts Since joining the CVM, Rusyn has been impressed by the interdisciplinary cooperation that makes his research possible. “The beauty of this campus is that there are lots of very smart people and you can collaborate with many of them. The overall intellectual and physical capacity of this campus is just staggering.” He embraces the CVM’s spirit of innovation and gets just as much satisfaction from teaching the next generation of toxicologists as from his research. Just as his parents encouraged him to exceed their accomplishments, he enjoys training his students to succeed in their own rights. Rusyn measures his own success not by recognition or awards, but by the accomplishments of his mentees and colleagues. “Success of trainees is easier to measure,” he said. “I see how many of them have successful careers in academia, industry, or government, how many of them I see being successful and sought after and become stars. I think that would be a better measure of my contributions to the field.” Rusyn’s emphasis on sensible, data-driven solutions and collaborating for a better future falls in line with his pragmatic world view. “I’m just a simple person. I’m trying to communicate at the right level,” he said. Whether he’s working with industry or government, teaching students, or speaking in the international media, Rusyn’s goal is clear: Get the facts, communicate the message to the right people, and make this world a safer place for all. Winter 2017 •
OMMUNICATING by Sara Carney
Valuing Mental Health, Valuing the Veterinary Community
Left to right: Dr. Laura Peycke, Chris Dolan, Lanice Chappell, and Mike McEntire Veterinary students face numerous challenges every day. Long hours, high-pressure exams, and large volumes of content to absorb are just a few of the stresses veterinary students are faced with; these challenges don’t end after graduation either. Demanding situations and long workdays can also take a toll on a veterinarian’s mental health. Mental health issues affect the veterinary community disproportionately compared to the general population, according to a paper published in ‘Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology’. Approximately 21 percent of veterinarians in the United Kingdom reported suicidal ideations, in contrast to 3.9 percent of the general population. Similarly, a survey of Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) members found that approximately 47 percent of respondents report a personal history of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Such statistics are unfortunate and troubling, and though mental health is a difficult subject to tackle, it’s one that the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) refuses to ignore. Through a number of efforts, the college is working to promote the mental well-being of veterinary students by decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness, fostering mental and physical wellness programs, and providing easily accessible counseling services.
Achieving Balance At the heart of the CVM’s mental health efforts is the notion of achieving balance. Many of the pressures associated with being a veterinarian cannot be removed, but how an individual responds to these pressures can be managed. In particular, the CVM is considering the importance of resilience, or how an individual can bounce back from challenges and difficulties. Dr. Laura Peycke, clinical associate professor at the CVM, noted how the veterinary 18 •
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community can benefit from resilience and suggested reframing thinking, moderating stress, and managing emotions as a few ways to be resilient. “How can we promote resilience? As instructors, we must focus on helping students learn to recenter or ‘bounce back’ in response to the rigors of veterinary life,” said Dr. Laura Peycke. “More importantly, however, we can be realistic about what level of commitment is sustainable in their careers in veterinary medicine, as it relates to their professional and personal lives.” Here at the CVM, the push for better wellness begins on day one. The CVM hosts a day dedicated to wellness at orientation for first-year veterinary students. Schoollife balance and stress management are some of the main topics discussed. Speakers share strategies for prioritizing and improving wellness, as well as where to find additional resources, if needed. The CVM also hosts monthly Lunch & Learns centered around stress management, creating balance, and other wellness topics.
Student Efforts Many of the efforts to support mental wellness begin with the students. Chris Dolan, a fourth-year veterinary student and president of the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA), saw the need to schedule breaks for veterinary students studying for finals. Dolan started “Find the Joy Week,” which offers veterinary students a chance to take a break the week before finals through events such as yoga classes and ice skating. “Getting students to take time for themselves during finals is vital to keep them from burning out,” Dolan said. “My hope is that these events help students have fun and relieve the stress of finals while spending time with their classmates.” Student efforts go beyond the CVM. Fourth-year veterinary student, Mike McEntire, serves on the SAVMA Wellness Task Force and helped create the “It’s OK” campaign, which aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health in the veterinary community. The campaign includes a video reaching out to veterinary students who may be suffering from a mental illness to say that they are not alone and it’s okay to seek help. “As we began talking about wellness, I had students in every year approach me, telling me their own stories of struggling with wellness,” McEntire said. “None of them had wanted to talk about it, because nobody was talking about it. So we created our ‘It’s OK’ campaign to let everybody know that it’s okay to talk about these issues.” Additionally, McEntire and the SAVMA Wellness Taskforce conducted a wellness survey to better understand the struggles faced by veterinary students. “We asked the 14,000 SAVMA members to take this survey, and nearly 4,000 of them responded, showing just how much students care about this issue,” McEntire said. “We found that 67 percent of veterinary students have experienced a period
of depression, and that 37 percent of students said those periods lasted longer than two weeks, which is the clinical definition of depression. Five percent of veterinary students reported having seriously contemplated suicide.”
Counseling at the CVM A minute’s walk from the CVM’s main entrance is an in-house counselor, Lanice Chappell, who is available for individual counseling sessions. Chappell is a counselor with Texas A&M’s Student Counseling Service (SCS), whose office serves as a satellite of the SCS within the CVM. “The deans and many others recognized it was difficult for veterinary students to access the main counseling office because of the students’ very full schedules,” Chappell said. “The partnership between the SCS and CVM was created to reduce accessibility barriers for veterinary students.” A number of the services available to students on main campus are available nearby for students in the vet school, such as personal, career, and even couples counseling. “Being embedded in the CVM school directly has allowed me to interact with students outside of the counseling office at orientation, outreaches, and in the hallways so that stigma is reduced,” Chappell said. While Chappell mainly focuses on individual counseling, she also offers workshops, some of which are presented in collaboration with the Texas A&M Professional Program’s Office. “We’ve presented topics on stress management, habit formation, communication, nutrition, and many others.” In particular, one program that Chappell leads and recommends is QPR—which stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer—training, which focuses on suicide prevention. QPR training is open to faculty, students, and staff throughout Texas A&M and is held throughout the semester.
Changing the Culture Change does not come easy, but when it comes to the health and well-being of the veterinary community, change may be necessary. Numerous faculty members in the CVM have called for a cultural change to combat mental illness. The CVM recognizes the importance of mental health through efforts to increase and emphasize diversity. “A sense of belonging and inclusion is closely linked to an individual’s happiness. We want each student to feel as if they are part of the woven fabric that constitutes the DVM family,” Chappell said. Peycke offered several recommendations for how professors can facilitate a cultural change. She suggests breaking down the illusion of perfection by being open and admitting that we all have bad days. Additionally, she suggests professors inviting students to participate in hobbies outside of the classroom. “I try to let the students know that it is unrealistic to think that we are going to be perfect every day,” Peycke said. “Rather, it is more about showing up with the willingness to try to help and maintain the attitude that we are going to do our very best. It is that simple.” Part of changing the culture also means recognizing when someone is struggling and helping them get the help they
need. “We are a community, and as such, it’s more likely someone else will notice if a person is struggling before that individual reaches out to me,” Chappell said; however, she cautioned that “forcing someone to come see me is usually a recipe for a poor treatment outcome because the student may feel the referral is punitive. We encourage faculty, staff, and peers to connect with the person and let them know people care and would like to help. Help can be as simple as a listening ear free from judgment or advice.” Changing the culture and successfully combating mental health issues won’t happen overnight. Instead, the CVM’s faculty, students, and staff are chipping away at the stigma and adversity associated with mental illness and moving toward a healthier, happier, and more well-rounded veterinary community.
Need Help? To learn more about the services offered at the Student Counseling Service, visit: scs.tamu.edu or call 979.845.4427. From 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. during weekdays and all weekend, students can reach the Student Counseling HelpLine at 979.845.2700. If you are CVM staff or faculty and are worried about a student, please contact the Professional Programs Office at 979.845.3878. Additionally, students, faculty, and staff can visit TellSomebody.tamu.edu to report concerning behavior.
The Student American Veterinary Medical Association with the #vetmedunited sign that hung in fish bowl to raise awareness about mental health in veterinary school
Winter 2017 •
B IOMEDIC AL
S C I E N C ES
by Sara Carney and Callie Rainosek
BIMS Student Ambassadors Lead and Inspire
Jacquie Macias Upon entering the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), each visitor is greeted with a “Howdy” and the smiling face of one of the CVM’s student ambassadors. Responsible for assisting visitors and guiding tours of the CVM, the ambassadors are the face of the CVM to many visitors. Some ambassadors are veterinary students, and others are undergraduate students studying biomedical sciences (BIMS). Through the Ambassador Program, BIMS students gain valuable leadership experience and contribute to the CVM in a unique and meaningful way. Student ambassadors, Jacquie Macias and Alex Casas, are pre-professional students who were looking for a way to become involved at the CVM and gain professional and leadership skills. Although Macias is pursuing veterinary school and Casas is interested in a career in public health, both consider the ambassador program invaluable to their future. “I think being a student ambassador is a great opportunity,” Casas said. “I have met a lot of different administrators, and being around different professors and clinicians has given me a unique perspective of professionalism.” 20 •
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For Macias, the ambassador program has helped in preparation for applying to veterinary school. “Since I talk to people all the time about the requirements and prerequisites for veterinary school, I have all of that information memorized,” she said. “If I get lucky enough to go to veterinary school here, I’ll already know where everything is.” Additionally, both students have experienced meeting new people and learning more about the CVM while giving tours. Every day is a chance to learn something new. “When alumni come in, it’s really interesting to hear them talk about what the CVM was like in the past, the resources that helped them graduate, and the academics they focused on,” Casas said. “They always give me tidbits about the tours that I didn’t know about. It’s always refreshing to get their perspectives.” “I’ve had veterinarians that have graduated from the CVM come and talk to me about their experiences, and they have actually helped me with my tours before,” Macias said. “I’ve met really great people at the CVM.” Both ambassadors have also had the opportunity to lead VIP tours for people who most students would not be able
Alex Casas with Texas Representative Ken King and his daughter, and Texas A&M Vice President of Goverment Relations, Michael O’Quinn. to meet. Casas has toured with Texas Representative Ken King of Brownsville, Texas, and Senator Bill Flores of Bryan, Texas. Similarly, Jacquie toured the parents of country singer Miranda Lambert. “When I gave a tour to State Representative Ken King, it was great to see how impressed he was with the facilities,” Casas said. Being an ambassador has also complemented the students’ coursework in some unexpected ways. Macias, who
Jacquie Macias leading a tour of the college facilities
is pursuing the Spanish certificate program at Texas A&M, has given tours in Spanish. “It feels great to be able to help people like that,” she said. Although the two students have given countless tours during their time as student ambassadors, giving tours never seems to get old. With new faces, people, animals, and questions, Macias and Casas love representing the CVM and helping prospective students, former students, and other visitors. “I really enjoy talking to high school students who are on the fence of which school to choose, and being that deciding factor and pushing them to come here,” Casas said. “I like telling visitors about all the cool classes you get to take as a veterinary student,” Macias added. In addition to belonging to the student ambassador program, both Macias and Casas are involved in other organizations on and off campus and stay busy studying for their BIMS classes. It may not be easy balancing it all, but both are dedicated students. “I have a planner, and honestly, that’s the best way to stay organized,” Casas said. “I never thought I would use a planner, but in college, time management is important.” With the addition of the Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex (VBEC) building in summer 2016, student ambassadors will be changing up their tours to include the new facilities. Ambassadors like Casas and Macias are looking forward to the CVM’s expansion and to even more interesting tours. “The alumni know this is a great university, and we are only going up,” Casas said. “We are building new facilities and only getting better, and I think that’s a trend we are going to be on for quite some time.”
Winter 2017 •
H OS P I TA L
by Callie Rainosek
Cole Lyle and Kaya: Endless PAWS-abilities
Cole Lyle, Kaya, DVM student, and Dr. Stacy Eckman Cole Lyle, a 26-year-old veteran of the Afghanistan War, is working to combat the tragic effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition triggered by experiencing a terrifying event, such as war. With his service dog, Kaya, at his side, Lyle is working to pass legislation that would provide veterans with PTSD easier access to service dogs. Despite Lyle’s busy schedule collaborating with members of Congress, Kaya’s care is still of utmost importance. In support of Lyle’s efforts to provide veterans with PTSD easier access to service dogs, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is providing Kaya’s care free of cost. Although Kaya has changed Lyle’s life for the better, service dogs are not provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for veterans with PTSD. But, Lyle is hopeful for a change. “The VA does not provide service dogs for veterans to specifically combat symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” Lyle said. “I am trying to change that via H.R. 4764, which is the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act.” 22 •
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Motivated by his own experience with PTSD and the tragic deaths of peers suffering from the condition, Lyle has been pursuing the PAWS Act for over two years. Lyle, like some veterans, did not find relief from traditional treatments, such as medication and counseling sessions. “When I got out of the military I was 22 years old, and I tried to utilize the VA system,” Lyle explained. “I took pills and even went to counseling, but my symptoms seemed to stagnate or get worse. Concurrent with getting out of the military, I had a couple friends commit suicide as a result of post-traumatic stress and I was also experiencing a divorce. I didn’t have the support system of my military family, I didn’t have a job, wasn’t in school, and I felt like I didn’t have a sense of purpose anymore. I was tired of feeling this way, so I took the proactive step of quitting pills and exploring other options.” After bonding with Kaya, the relationship with his service dog positively changed Lyle’s life. “There were days when I just didn’t want to get out of bed,” he said. “When Kaya came into my life, I felt
responsible for her care. The responsibility of taking care of Kaya helped me regain a sense of purpose, which is something pills could not do for me.” In addition, Kaya’s special training—which includes waking Lyle up from nightmares and responding to anxiety attacks, if needed—gave him hope that service dogs could be the solution for veterans who do not respond to traditional treatments for PTSD. But after researching service dogs, Lyle found that the VA does not readily provide them for veterans suffering from PTSD, citing a lack of evidence that service dogs help relieve PTSD symptoms. “The VA claimed there was a lack of empirical evidence to support that dogs specifically trained to combat PTSD symptoms were viable,” Lyle said. “I thought that was a lackluster response, because anybody that has ever owned a dog could tell you that they are therapeutic.” Determined to find relief from his condition, Lyle bought Kaya from a breeder and paid for her training. Kaya’s total cost, including initial shots and training, was roughly $10,000. The expense was paid out-of-pocket by Lyle. “Service dogs are specifically trained to do certain things, such as wake somebody up from a nightmare and assist with anxiety attacks,” Lyle said. “The temperament, the specific training, and the cost to pay the people who train the dog, are all factors to consider when pricing a service dog. The average cost is probably closer to $20,000.” After Kaya was fully trained, she became a part of Lyle’s everyday life. She attends class with Lyle at Texas A&M, visits the grocery store, and loves accompanying Lyle on his trips.
Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (P.A.W.S) ACT Mission Statement: To inform members of Congress, using subject-matter experts and veterans with first-hand experience, of the benefits of service dogs who assist veterans with symptoms of posttraumatic stress; and to influence members of Congress to enact sound policy to expand veteran access to service dogs as medically necessary instruments for rehabilitation through the Veterans’ Affairs Department.
Cole Lyle and Kaya
In fact, an innocent stroll with Kaya in Washington D.C. was the beginning of Lyle’s journey in creating the PAWS Act. “I was in Washington D.C. walking with Kaya when a United States Senator approached me and asked me about her,” he explained. “I started talking about Kaya and told him that the VA doesn’t provide service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. The Senator asked, ‘What do you think we should do about it?’ and I said, ‘You’re the policymaker, you tell me.’” The Senator invited Lyle to his office where they discussed possible solutions to the lack of service dogs available for veterans with PTSD. Although that particular policymaker didn’t initiate legislation, the encounter gave Lyle the idea to lobby Congress and find someone who would. Lyle has been working with Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida to craft the PAWS Act and lobby other members of Congress to support it since May 2015. In March of 2016, the bill was introduced to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the VA Committee. Only time will tell if Lyle’s PAWS Act will become a law. “This is not something that is partisan,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats both understand the need to reduce the number of veteran suicides. We have a lot of support in different areas and in many different demographics and are optimistic about our chances for success.” Kaya has played such a positive and inspirational role in Lyle’s life. Her continuing health is of utmost importance to the CVM for both Kaya and Lyle’s well-being. The CVM looks forward to the success of Lyle and Kaya in their efforts to make the world a better place for veterans with PTSD. Winter 2017 •
H OS P I TA L
by Dr. Megan Palsa
CLEO the Cat is Honored at the CVM
Bonnie and Joe Merritt cutting the ribbon in front of the exam room
CLEO the Cat honorary ceremony at the SAH
The Merrits and Chastity Carrigan 24 •
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When Bonnie and Joe Merritt of Argyle, Texas, adopted a small white kitten, neither of them could have imagined how much the soft ball of fur would impact their lives. The white kitten, named CLEO, would be a family companion for 17 years. Additionally, CLEO would play a part in introducing the Merritts to the Aggie family. As one of three beloved cats owned by the Merritts, CLEO spent much of her day in the family business office. Tragically, CLEO developed cancer on her ears. The family veterinarian in Argyle, Garry O’Neal ’84, DVM ’87, treated CLEO’s cancer. “We had to have CLEO’s ears amputated,” explained Bonnie. “Garry would take her home with him after the operation, and then when we picked her up, Garry would be sitting with CLEO in his lap in the office. We just thought so highly of the Argyle veterinarians and Garry in particular.” In addition to treating CLEO, O’Neal also treated the other family cats. The Aggie family of veterinarians at the Argyle Veterinary Hospital quickly won the Merritts’ hearts. “Our devotion to the Argyle clinic was just immense,” Bonnie said. “They were all Aggies. They all did an unbelievable job for us and for our cats. We just felt like we had to do something. We wanted to do something to give back.” In honor of the excellent care provided to CLEO by Aggie veterinarians, the Merritts established the CLEO “the cat” Merritt scholarship for DVM students and made arrangements in their estate to add to that scholarship after their lifetimes. In addition, the Merritts donated to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) to improve the Small Animal Hospital and were recognized with the CLEO “the cat” Merritt Exam Room. Prior to their donations, the Merritts had no ties to Texas A&M or the CVM. “The number one reason we’re at Texas A&M is because of the Aggie veterinarians and Dr. O’Neal taking such fantastic care of our animals,” Joe said. The memory of CLEO also inspired CLEO’s Polishing Products, a white buffing product sold by the family business, Buff Polish & Grind Industrial Supply Co., Inc. Celebrating their 32nd year of business in 2016, the Merritts have enjoyed the spirit of CLEO in their work since purchasing the patent over 20 years ago. “Every day, there are people promoting our product worldwide,” Joe said. “Every day customers are calling to talk about CLEO. She is with us 24 hours a day. We talk about CLEO as a product, but also as CLEO “the cat.” She’s become very much a part of our existence. Everything we do is related to CLEO, and that’s why we set up the scholarship. We couldn’t see anything better than to put it in CLEO’s name.” The Merritts plan to retire in Aggieland, their new found home, where they can continue to enjoy the memory of their beloved CLEO.
New Small Animal Hospital Reception Area New exam rooms, a waiting lounge, a beautiful new front lobby and an easy to access entrance welcomes clients and their families to our Small Animal Hospital. This recent renovation is part of the many plans we have for creating new state-of-the-art space to serve the needs of all Texans. Plans are also underway for a new Small Animal Hospital. We look forward serving our clients and their families across the State of Texas. Waiting area in the Small Animal Hospital
Small Animal Hospital Reception
Sign at the entrance of the Small Animal Hospital
Small Animal Hospital Entry
Refreshments in the waiting area Winter 2017 â€˘
H OS P I TA L
by Sara Carney, Callie Rainosek, and Dr. Megan Palsa
All Eyes on Ophthalmology For many animals and pet owners, the latest specialty service at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is considered the site for sore eyes. After five years of absence, the Ophthalmology Service has returned to the CVM and has brought along with it Dr. Erin Scott and Dr. Lucien Vallone, both clinical assistant professors in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. The Ophthalmology Service officially began “seeing” patients on January 11, 2016, and is expected to see approximately 1,300 cases in its first year of operation. Scott and Vallone, two New York natives, began working at Texas A&M University in the summer of 2015, extending their best efforts to get the service up and running. Today, they are prepared for anything that walks through the door—from penguins to dogs to horses and cattle. Generally, the Ophthalmology Service works on referrals from primary care veterinarians, but the service is also an important resource to rural communities in the Bryan/ College Station area that may not otherwise have access to an ophthalmologist. “The family veterinarian is a wonderful front line for detecting eye diseases. If they see any abnormalities, then they can send a referral to us,” Scott said. “We are here to chat with clients one on one, educate them about their pet’s eye disease, and develop the type of relationship that I think they appreciate.”
Experts in Eyes of All Types Both Scott and Vallone are diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO), meaning they are the best of the best. Only about 400 veterinarians have completed the additional four or more years of schooling after veterinary school required to specialize in veterinary ophthalmology. This training gives them expertise in a wide range of procedures and the ability to treat an assortment of species, from livestock to pets to wildlife. “We’re trained to know about the differences in many species ranging from fish to non-human primates,” Scott said. “For the most part, the eye works the same in most species and has very similar structures, but there are intricate differences between each species that we need to be aware of.” Notably, the service has recently collaborated with Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, to provide care to penguins with age-related cataracts. “That was a really fun experience set up by our Zoological Medicine Service to respond to a request from Moody Gardens, which is an aquarium and interactive park open to the public. They happened to have about 30 penguins affected by some level of lens disease,” said Vallone. “Moody Gardens is interested in making their animals as comfortable in their environment as possible by getting ophthalmologists to screen them for cataracts and 26 •
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potentially treat them. So far, we’ve successfully treated three penguins with blinding cataracts.”
The Importance of Veterinary Eye Care Unlike most humans, many animals rely on senses other than vision and can adjust well to loss of sight. “Vision, for dogs, is not their most important sense,” Scott said. “Even if they are permanently blind, they still have a wonderful quality of life. We can give their owners different options, and the options that may not be standard for humans can be very good for our patients. We focus on educating owners about how to protect their blind pets from certain dangers.” “We often transition the conversation to comfort rather than vision because most dogs will adapt perfectly even without their vision,” Vallone echoed. “Some owners don’t even know that they have a blind dog because the dog has memorized the layout of the household. When the owners take them to an unfamiliar environment, they may notice that their dog has bumped into a few things.” Although many animals can adjust to vision loss, it is no less important to maintain good eye health. Some eye conditions can cause pain or discomfort and should be treated. “The most common condition would be glaucoma, where there’s a high painful pressure inside the eye that’s damaging the tissues and causing blindness,” Scott said. “If we can’t control the pressures, there are salvage procedures that we can offer that can provide comfort, even if vision cannot be saved.”
Training the Next Generation of Veterinarians In addition to their clinical duties, Scott and Vallone serve as professors and impart their knowledge to veterinary students. Like their colleagues at the CVM, Scott and Vallone use the latest and most effective teaching methods to keep students engaged and help them retain what they learn. “We are currently teaching the third-year veterinary class,” Scott said. “They have a medicine mega-course in which they complete 10 hours of ophthalmology. We’ve completely revamped our lectures with the help of the Center for Educational Technologies, and we use Moodle, an online resource that allows us to ask questions and allows the students to answer on their laptops in the classroom. We can get real-time answers and be able to discuss any gaps in their knowledge. We’ve been getting positive feedback so far regarding our lectures.” Renovations to the CVM’s facilities also pave the way for positive changes in the classroom. “The sky is the limit for how interactive you can make the program,” Vallone said. “The new Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex will be much more accommodating to interactive learning. There, we can break up the classroom structure and create seating arrangements that accommodate smaller groups
versus just a block of a hundred students, which makes it difficult to walk around and answer individual questions.” For some students, the rotation with the Ophthalmology Service inspires them to pursue a specialty. Even if the students don’t specialize in ophthalmology, their training with the Ophthalmology Service allows them to understand what is normal and abnormal and when they should refer a patient to a specialist. “I’ve seen where students come in through a sense of obligation because they feel like it’s a requirement to be able to understand how to do an eye exam, but then they leave with a new found interest for the actual subject,” Vallone said. Similarly, Scott said, “I know the students really felt a need for more in their training in ophthalmology, so it was so easy to get them to come to our rotation, and they’re really eager to learn and really appreciative of everything that we offer. I’ve had just wonderful interactions with the students.”
Vision of the Future Although the service has just opened, Scott and Vallone already have plans to expand, something they’ve been doing since day one. “We had to renovate the space that was definitely not suited to seeing more than one case at a time, and now we’ve converted it to two exam rooms and a small work area so that we can accommodate students and try and expand our case load,” Vallone said. With the addition of a newly renovated small animal hospital, Scott and Vallone foresee their workspace
potentially doubling in size to better accommodate patients and students alike. “We joke that we make use of every single inch of our space,” Scott said. “Certainly, in the future, it will be great to have more space.” The Ophthalmology Service’s plans also include expanding research. “We have a study that will be starting soon,” Scott said. “We’re looking at pain management in dogs that have their eyes removed for ocular disease, and we’ll be collaborating with the Anesthesiology Service for that study. I know Dr. Vallone is working on identifying a new structure in the horse third eyelid that has never been described before. We have many different projects in the mix. Right now they’re all in their infancy, but in the next year or so they’ll really start to take root and build. I would say for the most part our research is clinical, so we are bridging what we do in the clinics to different avenues of research.” Interdepartmental collaboration is also a priority for the Ophthalmology Service. Scott said, “Another collaboration that we have is with the Zoological Medicine Service. It’s interesting—they see so many different exotic species that really haven’t had their eyes described. Particularly, we’ll be looking at quail and studying their ocular parameters.” But what makes the Ophthalmology Service strong is teamwork. Scott and Vallone rely on each other for support and guidance. “It’s great that Texas A&M considered hiring two people at the same time,” Vallone said. “Starting a service that hadn’t been here for five years can be challenging. I wouldn’t have been able to do it alone.”
Dr. Lucien Vallone Veterinary medicine wasn’t the first career choice for Vallone, now a clinical assistant professor with VSCS. Vallone started out as an engineering major at Binghamton University in New York, and he eventually applied to veterinary school and was accepted to Mississippi State University and later completed an internship and residency at Cornell University.
Dr. Erin Scott performing an eye exam.
Dr. Erin Scott Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Erin Scott of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS) found her way to Texas A&M University in 2015 as she pursued a career as an academic. Scott graduated from the veterinary college at the University of Pennsylvania, completed an internship at Louisiana State University and a fellowship and residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Dr. Lucien Vallone examining a patient.
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O U T R E AC H
by Sara Carney
PEER to Peer: Inspiring Children through Veterinary Medicine
Clarissa Root, a third-year veterinary student, at Vet Camp At the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), education goes beyond just teaching students how to be veterinarians. Through the Partnership for Environmental Education and Rural Health (PEER) program, veterinary students, undergraduate biomedical science students, faculty, and staff work together to educate and inspire a love of science in K–12 students. PEER uses demonstrations and lessons from the field of veterinary medicine to introduce children, mainly middle school-aged, to a variety of scientific concepts. “Kids love animals, so we use the information about animals to stimulate their interest. For example, we have a presentation on a physical exam,” said Dr. Larry Johnson, professor at the CVM who runs PEER. “They can learn the vital signs, such as heart rate and respiratory rate, of their favorite animal. You know they’re going to memorize those, and they’re going to discover they’ve got vital signs too.”
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Tori Whitaker, a content specialist with PEER, echoed this and said, “It’s not easy to talk about obesity with middle school students, which is why we try to relate issues such as diabetes and obesity to pets. Our work really fits nicely into the One Health Initiative, the link between human and animal health and the environment, and that’s a lot of fun.” Many of the presentations, videos, and lesson plans are generated by students, veterinarians, faculty, and staff at Texas A&M. “We have brilliant students who want to come up with something to share,” Johnson said. “We try to make the presentations about whatever they like—for example, if they like cows, we try to get them to do a lesson on cows— because the students are more passionate about what they like. Some students have said that they get a chance to refresh their memory about the things they’ve learned and see it in a different context.” In the summer, veterinary students travel to various schools and other sites to present lessons to middle school
children. Not only do the children learn about science, but the veterinary students also learn how to teach and interact with children. “Our veterinary students have a vast scope of knowledge, but not all of them have had the opportunity to be in a classroom or interact with the community in this way, so I may go out with the first couple of students and give them hints and pointers,” Whitaker said. Clarissa Root, a third-year veterinary student involved in PEER said, “I have really enjoyed teaching and getting to help mentor students. When I saw that PEER had opportunities available for veterinary students to do that sort of work, I was excited about it.” In addition to veterinary students, undergraduates throughout Texas A&M work and create learning materials at PEER. Students from a variety of majors each contribute their unique knowledge and perspectives that develop into a wealth of lesson plans and presentations. “The undergraduates work with the middle school students and interact with the other groups that want to be involved in developing presentations,” Johnson said. “Again, we give them an opportunity to do something they enjoy, and they do something that advances our program too.” Each lesson plan is carefully aligned with the state’s educational standards, and the students who develop these
Nikki Lejeune, a fourth-year veterinary student, at Bryan Animal Shelter’s Pawpalooza .
presentations are guided through the PEER program. “Our students develop curriculum for teachers,” Whitaker said. “Teachers can write in to our website and request a lesson on pretty much anything. Then, the students can develop the lesson. I help the students make sure that the lesson they’re creating is applicable to the Texas State standards, the education standards, which are the TEKS, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. We make sure that we don’t give a teacher a lesson that isn’t usable.” Presentations can take a variety of forms, and one example is panel presentations. PEER has hosted a panel of veterinary students who discussed their journey to veterinary school. “The panel went through different personal histories of how they were admitted into veterinary school,” Johnson said. “For example, one veterinary student said that her dog had an infection and the veterinarian was using one antibiotic. The dog wasn’t getting better, and so she read there was another antibiotic that might work in that case. She asked the veterinarian about it, and they started using it and cured the infection. It was then that the student realized that she really enjoyed the problem solving involved in veterinary medicine.” PEER also develops a number of videos available to students, veterinarians, and educators year round. “The nice thing about having videos and a website is that anyone can have access to them throughout the year, even when veterinary students aren’t available to give presentations in person,” Root said. The impact of PEER’s work is mutual between the audience they serve and those who work for PEER. “I love the outreach,” Whitaker said. “I love getting out with the students either in a classroom or at the museums or libraries and just seeing how excited they get about the application of science.” “I definitely enjoy getting to work with the students and seeing them grasp new concepts and have those ‘light bulb’ moments of understanding concepts. I also like seeing them feel empowered to become veterinarians and to hear their questions,” Root said. “It’s always gratifying if I run into one of them again, after our initial contact, and they’re still on the pathway to veterinary school. They might remember a presentation I gave or remember asking me questions. I enjoy making a difference in helping them pursue their dreams.” Looking ahead, PEER is developing a program that partners teachers and scientists and will allow teachers to shadow and train with scientists from the CVM for several weeks. The teachers can then take that knowledge back to their students. “We are going to put in a proposal that pairs scientists and veterinarians with teachers to come up with an experiment that they would use whenever they describe the scientific method to their kids,” Johnson said. PEER is also investigating other cutting-edge learning methods, including flipped classrooms that focus on student-centered learning and making their content accessible on mobile devices. But, no matter where the future takes PEER, the group plans to continue to enrich the lives of students, teachers, and many others. Winter 2017 •
O N E H E A LT H
by Sara Carney
Bench to Shop: Making Discovery a Reality Bench to Shop Trains Next-Generation Professionals
Dr. Simmons (left), Dr. Arenas (center), and Dr. Krecek (right) Scientists use research as a tool for discovery, uncovering solutions to problems both large and small. However, barriers exist between solutions produced through research and the practical applications achieved through commercialization. Though scientists may have the capabilities to produce a preventative, such as a vaccine, they may lack the business knowledge or training to successfully bring it to market. That’s where Texas A&M One Health and the Bench to Shop program step in. Recognizing the need for a bridge between research and commercialization, Bench to Shop lead team members Drs. Angela Arenas, Rosina “Tammi” Krecek, and Heather Simmons designed the Bench to Shop program. This program is funded by the United States Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate. Its purpose is to sensitize graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and early-career faculty to the process of successfully transitioning scientific discoveries to commercialization. The program is specifically geared toward those studying transboundary diseases, which can move across borders, in livestock. Through Bench to Shop, a nine-month training certificate program is being developed, and eight trainees have been selected to participate. A second program was developed for three masters of business administration (MBA) dual-degree students in their final capstone course, who examined the potential customer base and market viability. “This long-needed training fills a gap in current curricula for next-generation scientists,” Arenas said. “This has been made obvious though our expert team, strong collaborations with other institutions, and enthusiasm from nextgeneration scientists as shown in our application numbers.”
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Three professional students—two dual MBA/MD students and one dual MBA/DVM student—were attracted to the Bench to Shop program and formed a team to undertake a 10-week capstone project that also served as part of their MBA curriculum. They presented their findings in May 2016 to faculty in the CVM, Texas A&M Health Science Center, and Texas A&M Mays Business School. In addition to receiving guidance from Arenas, Krecek, and Simmons, the students were also supported by Dr. Janet Marcantonio, executive professor at the Texas A&M Mays Business School. “In their capstone projects, our MBA students learn a tremendous amount from applying their knowledge and skills to real-world business challenges,” Marcantonio said. “The opportunity to contribute to Bench to Shop was a perfect fit for our MD and DVM students, who were able to utilize the business model canvas and fulfill their professional development goals.” The capstone team, made up of DVM student Alycia Crandall and MD students Lillian Niakan and Heather Naumann, focused on brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause spontaneous abortions in livestock, as well as joint and muscle pain and fatigue in humans. The disease is caused by the Brucella bacterium and can be transmitted to humans through unpasteurized milk. Brucella is prevalent in a number of underdeveloped regions of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, India, and the Middle East. The bacterium is not currently a major public health concern in the United States, but there is potential for it to cross borders. If left unmediated, brucellosis poses a potential bioterrorism threat that could become more prevalent with the growing trend of drinking raw milk, since this is one way for the disease to spread to humans. Beyond identifying solutions for mitigating the global threat of brucellosis, the capstone project offered these students an unparalleled learning experience. This hands-on project included face-to-face interviews with internationally experienced researchers and faculty from the University of Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Texas A&M University, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
Finding a Solution Crandall, Naumann, and Niakan conducted market research on how a Brucella vaccine could be produced and commercialized on a global scale, benefitting multiple countries. Innovation and resourcefulness drove the students’ proposal. They emphasized the importance of balancing the health of humans, animals, and the environment, while also considering factors such as economic feasibility and cultural barriers to implementing
The MBA Capstone Team prevention measures. The solutions proposed by the students included four tools: education, containment, identification, and elimination. Selection is vital in effectively managing brucellosis, one, of the most underreported diseases globally. Education is vital in managing brucellosis effectively. Simply communicating to the public how the disease is spread and the importance of preventative measures, such as pasteurization, has the potential to halt infection early on and reduce the need for treatment. Containment was also mentioned as an effective tool in reducing the prevalence of brucellosis. Even if Brucella has infected an animal, containment through vaccination and appropriate food safety practices can slow the spread of brucellosis. The students also suggested identification of brucellosis as a significant factor in prevention and treatment measures. In particular, the students proposed employing a DIVA—or differentiating between infected and vaccinated animals— method. The DIVA method will serve as a diagnostic test and will help veterinarians and producers identify infected animals and develop strategies for prevention and treatment. The final category examined was elimination in conjunction with vaccination and herd management. Vaccinating and eliminating infected animals from the herd would not only prevent infection in other animals, but it would also lessen the chances of contracting brucellosis in humans, particularly those working with livestock. The students outlined the process for vaccine development, including establishing product licenses, approval, and clinical trials. The students recommended developing vaccines for Brucella abortis, which primarily affects cattle, and Brucella melitensis, which primarily affects sheep and goats. The most immediate actions the students identified were to develop a partnership to create the vaccine, increase education efforts that can be easily interpreted across cultures, and establish a standard protocol for preventing and eliminating the disease.
The Future of Bench to Shop For Texas A&M University, Texas A&M One Health Initiative, and the Bench to Shop program, testing the possibilities is only the beginning. “This grant has enabled our team to attract nextgeneration student scientists and involve them in training to consider transboundary diseases which are current societal challenges,” Krecek said. “Bringing these students together in teams with diverse skills and backgrounds has led to their identification of sustainable solutions.” Learn more about the Bench to Shop program at vetmed. tamu.edu/benchtoshop.
Left to right: Alycia Crandall, Lillian Niakan, and Heather Naumann
Crandall is a dual degree DVM/MBA student at the CVM, where she is studying large animal medicine and hopes to become an equine practitioner. She is passionate about sports medicine and rehabilitation, which comes from her long history of training and riding western performance horses and shadowing racetrack veterinarians. “This capstone project gave me the chance to combine my experience in veterinary medicine and the business program as a real-world example of how discoveries in the field get to market on a domestic scale,” Crandall said. “I hope to achieve my personal goal of gathering field data and learning how to divide a diverse customer base into specific segments to figure out which stakeholders are the best to target and would be impacted the most or most interested in a potential product.”
Niakan is an MD/MBA student with a background in corporate finance and accounting. Her passion for medicine stems from her interest in science, interpersonal relationships, teamwork, problem solving, ethics, and art. She hopes her MBA education will enable her to identify problems and find creative and practical solutions to improve patient care. “This project will provide me a great opportunity to tie together elements of medicine and business,” Niakan said. “This opportunity has also allowed me to learn about global health and public health, which has enhanced my learning experience and provided me with deep knowledge as I move forward in my career. The project has enabled me to work on my time-management skills and provided first-hand experience working with a high-stakes client.”
Naumann is an MD/MBA student who plans on pursuing a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation and then eventually transition into hospital administration. As a medical student, she has been involved in research on improving the Lelli test for ACL injuries as well as hip evaluation in ballet dancers. “Having the opportunity to survey the landscape for ways to react to brucellosis allowed me to tie together both my medical and business knowledge,” Naumann said. “The experience also provided a glimpse of what my future endeavors may look like regarding clinical research. I have enhanced my time-management skills and I have learned how to conduct an effective interview.”
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I N T E R N AT I O N A L
by Laura Gerik
A Treasure Trove of Research: The Tambopata Macaw Project
Scarlet macaws use an artificial nest box designed by the research team. Credit: Liz Villanueva Paipay Deep in the Peruvian rainforest, 20 kilometers from the nearest road, stands the headquarters of the Tambopata Macaw Project, a combination ecotourism lodge and scientific research station. Waking up well before sunrise, teams of dedicated parrot researchers make daily trips into the jungle, braving intense humidity, thick forests, and unpredictable rivers to observe macaws in their native habitat. They climb up 150-foot trees; spend hours counting birds at clay licks; and carefully gather, measure, and return chicks to nests—while keeping a close eye on the birds’ movements through the rainforest canopy. These adventures are all in a day’s work at the Tambopata Macaw Project, where an ever-changing crew of scientists, graduate students, foreign volunteers, and Peruvian employees work under the leadership of Dr. Donald Brightsmith, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). Since Brightsmith took over as director in 1999, the group has collected years of data on macaws. “I’ve had researchers recording data every single day since November 2000,” he said. It’s a treasure trove of research that Brightsmith hopes will fill in the knowledge gaps about macaw conservation and ecology.
bachelor’s degree in natural resources at Cornell University, to his master’s degree in wildlife ecology at the University of Arizona, to his doctorate in zoology at Duke University. During these years, Brightsmith’s passion for birds focused on a growing interest in parrots. A trip to Costa Rica in graduate school sparked his fascination with tropical birds, and his first wife introduced him “to the world of crazy parrot owners,” he said. But Brightsmith credits a single book—Beissinger and Snyder’s New World Parrots in Crisis (1992)—for opening his eyes to the plight of tropical parrots. “It pointed out that we don’t know much about parrots in the wild,” he said. “They’re having serious problems. They’re highly valuable both as a tourism resource and a captive resource. Yet, especially in the early ’90s, we knew almost nothing about where parrots breed, what they eat, or what habitats they use in the wild. It was an incredible disconnect.” Around the time he was finishing up his doctoral research in zoology at Duke, Brightsmith was introduced to the Tambopata Macaw Project. Established in 1989, the project had briefly earned international recognition for its work on parrot clay licks and macaw nesting, but since the early 1990s had been languishing. Brightsmith said he saw a golden opportunity to revitalize the project and “make a difference by looking at this group of birds that are hard to work with.” In 1998, he flew to Peru and met with the project leaders. “I convinced them that if they gave me a small amount of money, I wouldn’t be a full-time employee, but I would start to run this research as a scientific endeavor again,” Brightsmith said. His pitch was successful, and the Tambopata Macaw Project was reborn under his enthusiastic leadership.
From Long Island to the Amazon Brightsmith grew up on Long Island, New York, just outside New York City. Despite his urban roots, he has been a lifelong naturalist and bird watcher, “much to the joy of my classmates, who would pick on me for it all the way through graduate school,” he observed humorously. That early love of birds propelled him through academia, from his 32 •
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The Brightsmith family (Gaby, Mandy Lu, and Don) celebrate Christmas 2014 at Tambopata. Credit: Tambopata Macaw Project
A marriage of ecotourism and research The project began in 1989 when Peruvian researchers and entrepreneurs, Eduardo Nycander and Kurt Holle, founded both Rainforest Expeditions, a for-profit ecotourism company, and the Tambopata Macaw Project. From the beginning, Rainforest Expeditions owned and operated the remote lodge that served as both a research base and a tourist destination. “From the beginning, it was always a mixture of tourism and research,” Brightsmith explained. “They wanted the two to feed off of each other.” So far, the venture has been uniquely successful and financially sustainable. Rainforest Expeditions provides lodging, food, and utilities, charging the macaw researchers a reduced fee. Foreign volunteers pay higher daily fees, and the difference goes toward paying wages and lodging for Peruvian workers. In exchange, every group of tourists at the ecolodge receives a scientific presentation from the researchers about current research and threats to macaws. The marriage of ecotourism and conservation research is not only a boost to the Peruvian economy, but also one of the main reasons the Tambopata Macaw Project has been able to carry on so successfully for decades. Brightsmith estimated that Rainforest Expeditions provides over $30,000 in project funding every year. “It’s not a completely sustainable system right now, but all it requires is a few thousand dollars of extra financing, which is much cheaper than a full research lab,” Brightsmith said. “This is one of the reasons why the project is still going after 20 years.”
The Schubot connection Of course, the data they collect still requires a laboratory and experts to analyze it. That’s where Texas A&M’s Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center comes into play. Brightsmith was recruited to Texas A&M by Schubot Center Director and Distinguished Professor Dr. Ian Tizard in 2005. After some initial research collaborations with Brightsmith, Tizard visited the Tambopata Center and offered Brightsmith a job as a lecturer at the CVM. For Brightsmith, the Schubot Center was an irresistible draw, and the relationship has paid off. “The Schubot Center provides the platform for my work,” he said. “Over the years, they have provided financial assistance and a community of scholars. Because the center exists and it’s endowed, it will always attract a group of people interested in bird research, even those who don’t know that they’re interested in bird research.” Brightsmith credits Tizard with making the Schubot Center a vibrant hub for avian research, always bringing new scientists from different disciplines into the fold. “If he needs a microbiologist, he finds a microbiologist who knows what a bird is,” Brightsmith said. “Right now we’re working with a geneticist who works on conifer trees, but all of these people are now working on bird-related issues because the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center exists. I am within that milieu, and it provides a community of people interested in exotic bird issues.”
A scarlet macaw is weighed in February 2016. Credit: Liz Villanueva Paipay
Current research Groundbreaking studies about macaws using clay licks to gather essential minerals put Tambopata on the map in the 1990s, and that research continues today. Brightsmith’s team has also published papers explaining their success using artificial nest boxes to increase breeding success. However, over time, the Tambopata project’s main focuses have shifted to new questions. Right now, Brightsmith’s main interest is the macaws’ movements and how they change in relation to seasonal events. Researchers use lightweight collars to track the movements of individual birds. Brightsmith said he is concerned about the macaws’ most recent breeding season, which was off to a late and slow start. He speculates that the El Niño weather patterns and the resulting low food supply might have something to do with it. To sort out the irregularities and what they might mean for the future of the species, he hopes to compare data from the past several years. “At this point, we’ll be able to reflect back and see what happens when you have this odd change in plant resources and how that impacts [macaw movements and breeding],” explained Brightsmith. “Understanding what happens in an El Niño year may give us a better view into the future of what happens as larger-scale climate change alters the plants and their fruiting and flowering.” Similarly, a shift in movement from one clay lick to another has piqued Brightsmith’s curiosity about the future. “We don’t understand how climate change and clay lick use are rippling through the environment and changing things. We need to look more carefully at these climaterelated issues—the annual variations and how they correlate with the environment—which will give us a better ability to predict global change ideas.” Winter 2017 •
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Dr. Sharman Hoppes: Avian Veterinarian in the Jungle Since teaming up with Brightsmith in 2008, Sharman Hoppes, DVM, ABVP, and clinical associate professor at the CVM, has been flying south for the winter, straight to the Tambopata Macaw Project. For two to three weeks, Hoppes trades in her exotic animal clinical duties at the Small Animal Hospital for a small, rustic Amazonian research facility with minimal electricity and no air conditioning. There, she runs the veterinary side of the operation, training students and making sure everybody’s projects stay on track. Hoppes’ main concern is animal welfare. Working with wild birds unused to human handling adds a layer of complexity to her research. “I’m always very aware that we don’t
Dr. Sharman and her husband, Dr. Bruce Nixon
want to over-stress a bird that we are handling, making it weak or tired and making it a greater risk from predators,” she explained. Most of the work they do is with the chicks, taking them out of the nest for measurements and sampling. Hoppes states that “they become more used to the handling over time, but even with the chicks, you have to be prepared and monitor how long you have them out.” When they are trapping adult birds, Hoppes trains her team to work with assembly-line efficiency. Her goal is to minimize contact with the birds, aiming for 10–11 minutes from capture to release. Her team practices their roles in advance using bundled-up towels. “The most important thing is that we’re really prepared and make sure that we have everything within hand’s reach, everything ready to go,” Hoppes said. “Everybody knows their part, and we all know that when we get to this time period, even if we’re not done, we let the bird go.” Veterinary work in a hot, humid jungle can be challenging, but this self-professed “city girl” revels in it. “This project changed my life,” she said. “I love it there!” 34 •
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Gaby Vigo Trauco shows daughter Mandy Lu how to handle a macaw chick. Credit: Liz Villanueva Paipay Brightsmith’s wife, Gabriela Vigo Trauco, Peruvian ecologist, Tambopata project coordinator, and current Ph.D. student in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M, is “studying scarlet macaw breeding systems using a combination of ecology, animal behavior, and genetic analysis.” The Tambopata location is perfect for her research because that species is not yet endangered in the Peruvian Amazon. “There we can study things that you cannot study in areas in which the species is endangered,” Vigo Trauco explained. “So, that’s the way I want to lead my research.” CVM students are also using Tambopata as a site for fieldwork and graduate research. Every year, Brightsmith and Dr. Sharman Hoppes, clinical associate professor at the CVM, take two to four veterinary students on a study abroad experience at the station. Students from around Texas A&M’s campus spend time in Tambopata as both volunteers and doctoral researchers.
Hope for the future These days, Brightsmith and Vigo Trauco make it to Tambopata only twice a year. It’s not as much as they’d like, but their life in College Station keeps them busy. Brightsmith is a full-time assistant professor and admits that he spends most of his time behind a computer, analyzing and writing up data collected from years of research. “Right now, if you told me I could never take another data point on a macaw, I probably could finish out my career publishing on the amount of information we have,” he joked. “We’re currently publishing some of the important relationships between breeding and clay lick use and food and movement. It’s building a jigsaw puzzle where the first thing you have to do is build each piece. We’re building the pieces and fitting them together as we go.”
Vigo Trauco is immersed in reviewing video data from macaw nests. “We have collected over 30,000 hours of video in the past six years,” she said. Additionally, she is restarting her genetic research; a 10-year ban on exporting genetic materials out of Peru was lifted this year, allowing her to move forward with her projects. Most of all, the couple is devoted to raising their daughter, four-year-old Amanda Lucille, or “Mandy Lu.” For the Brightsmith family, the Tambopata Macaw Project is now a family affair. Brightsmith and Vigo Trauco met on the project, and now they bring their daughter to share in their love of the rainforest and its vibrant inhabitants. Mandy Lu—“our little rainforest monster,” as Brightsmith affectionately calls her—seems to share her parents’ enthusiasm for the Amazon. “Maybe it’s because we like it, and she sees that we’re super happy in the rainforest,” Vigo Trauco speculated. “Maybe she is connecting happiness with being in the jungle.” Either way, sharing her beloved rainforest with Mandy Lu has shifted Vigo Trauco’s long-term goals for the Tambopata Macaw Project. She envisions the Tambopata project as an opportunity to get Peruvian students interested and involved in conserving their country’s unique natural resources. “I think it would be nice to involve young people—young adults, in high school or their first years of college—and try to put that seed in their brains that conservation can actually help and actually can happen and be fun,” she said. Brightsmith is also enthusiastic about the opportunities to teach conservation values to people in Peru and around the world. “We’ve had thousands of tourists who have gone through our talks and seen the site and the birds and really gotten a feel for what the real rainforest is like,” he said. He’s also seen changes in local attitudes. “The project has played into this shift in mindset,” he explained. “While some locals use the money they make from ecotourism to buy bigger chainsaws, there is the development of a mindset that has led this community to be much more deliberate in their planning as to how they’re going to use their natural resources.” Both Brightsmith and Vigo Trauco look to the younger generation of Peruvians and conservationists— hopefully some from the CVM—to build a brighter future for macaws and the rainforest.
If you want to visit the site as a tourist or guest, check out Rainforest Expeditions at www.perunature.com. Winter 2017 •
as told to Michelle Yeoman
In their own words: DVM Students
Alec Wynne ‘19 I’m a second-year veterinary student from Fort Pierce, a town in south Florida. My family grows citrus and raises cattle, so I grew up working summers with our full-time cattle crew. As a food animal practitioner, I hope to be able to work with producers to optimize the beef industry in our area. Since there are only a limited number of veterinarians who come from a strong beef cattle production background, I hope to be able to provide a very pragmatic and perhaps unique insight into food animal medicine. When most people think of Florida, they think of tourism, the state’s largest industry. However, the second largest industry is agriculture, with citrus and cattle being two of the largest contributors. Florida raises about one million head of beef cattle, concentrated in a geographically small area. Originally, this area was mostly swampland with standing water. In the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built drainage systems and ditches to drain the land and make it more productive for agriculture and livable for people. Now, if you go to the area of Florida where I’m from, you’ll see oak hammocks, a local term for groupings of oak and palm trees. You’ll see some open places, but you’ll also see cabbage palms, piney woods, scrubland, and remnants of swampland. It’s a challenging environment to raise cattle, but we also have several advantages. The nearly 365-day growing season and plentiful rainfall give us an advantage 36 •
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in growing grass. As the old timers say, “we’re not cattle raisers—we’re grass farmers.” I’m particularly passionate about efficient, sustainable animal agriculture. Right now we have about seven billion people in the world. By 2050, we’ll have 9–10 billion people, which is a 30 percent increase. As more countries become increasingly affluent, they desire more animal protein in their diets, such as meat, milk, and eggs. We don’t have unused resources, like large tracts of land available, so we have to learn to use what we have more efficiently. That is the role I want to play within veterinary medicine: I want to make production systems more efficient. My goal after earning my DVM is to help manage our family ranch while also practicing veterinary medicine. As a single producer, you can only affect your own cattle; you don’t have much influence to go help the rancher down the road do things better. As a veterinarian, you have the opportunity to help producers in the area with herd health and management aspects, which are crucial to efficiency. But, I haven’t focused only on cattle while in veterinary school. The longer I’ve been in veterinary school, the more I’ve become open to the idea of mixed animal practice. The subject matter we are being taught is very broad, which has piqued my interest in various areas. I still want to focus on cattle and food animal medicine, but I think it’d be cool to be able to treat whatever animal comes to me. If someone brings a dog to the door, or a cat or a pig or a horse, I’d like to be able to say, “I can fix that. I’ll figure it out.”
“I hope to be able to provide a very pragmatic and perhaps unique insight to food animal medicine.” -Alec Wynne ’19
“I’ve also enjoyed being part of the close-knit community here in the veterinary school.” -Jessica Czerny ’17
Jessica Czerny ’17 I have a unique background for a veterinarian—I’m actually a licensed optometrist. Some people are surprised that I’m an optometrist pursuing a DVM, but this combination makes sense for me. I hope to combine my passions for optometry and veterinary science in a way that complements both human and animal medicine. My mother is a veterinarian, so I’ve always loved science and veterinary medicine. But, I wanted to make sure that veterinary medicine was right for me before committing to this field. I shadowed different healthcare professionals while in high school and college, including dentists, veterinarians, and optometrists. I fell in love with optometry and decided to pursue that first. I still practice optometry; many of my optometry patients schedule their appointments so I can see them when I return home on breaks. My husband is also an optometrist, and we have two practices back home in South Dakota. I’m also licensed to practice in Texas, so I occasionally see patients here in College Station. After practicing optometry for three years, I decided to gain a well-rounded education by earning a DVM. I applied and was accepted to several veterinary schools. I feel that my experiences here at Texas A&M University have prepared me well to bridge the gap between human and animal health.
For example, next year I’ll extern in veterinary ophthalmology and be involved with research at several different facilities both at Texas A&M and out of state. There’s a lot of innovation and research in human medicine that’s not necessarily translated into veterinary medicine, and vice versa. I think there’s so much to learn from both sides, and I look forward to using my unique perspectives to combine both professions. I’ve also enjoyed being part of the close-knit community here in the veterinary school. I’ve been able to work closely with students and faculty to maximize our learning environment. I was also the student class representative for the Veterinary Business Management Association for three years, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my real-world business experiences from owning my own practice. In the future, I may have three practices: two in optometry and one in general veterinary medicine. My long-term goals are to practice veterinary medicine incorporating ophthalmology into my practice and see human optometry patients one day each week. I also hope to conduct translational research in targeted, nutrition-focused therapy. There is so much evidence-based research showing the benefits of nutrition for human eye health, and I’d love to investigate these benefits for animals. I hope to develop a product or treatment protocol that reaches more than just the patients and clients in my practice, something that is also implemented elsewhere, whether in human medicine, veterinary medicine, or both. I almost didn’t come to Texas A&M because it’s so far from home, but I’m so glad I came here. Everyone has been so helpful and willing to work with me to achieve my unique goals. The affordable, in-state tuition brought me here initially, but I chose this school for its close-knit community. You’re not just a number here; everyone gets to know you. Winter 2017 •
Spotlight Trevor Tenney ‘16
I come from a family of five boys, and all of us at one point have worked in my father’s veterinary clinic. It was a rite of passage, but I was the only one who turned it into a career. The human-animal bond is especially important to me, so I’m especially interested in service animals, such as military working dogs, which have a special role in helping people. Initially, though, I wanted to help people, not animals. I went on a two-year mission trip to South Africa, Lesotho, and Botswana while in college. I engaged in service projects like distributing wheelchairs, preparing schoolyards, and helping people with their gardens. This was a unique experience because we didn’t have much supervision. I didn’t see my family for the entire two years, so I really had to mature and learn self-reliance. Through this experience, I gained a greater sense of service to other people. I was also able to reflect on my experiences working at my father’s veterinary clinic. I realized that veterinarians play a huge role in helping people as well as animals. This desire to help both animals and people ultimately drove me to attend veterinary school. I’ve had some unique and wonderful experiences here at Texas A&M University. For example, I worked with Dr. Sarah Hamer on research focused on One Health. I traveled around Texas to test shelter dogs for Trypanosoma cruzi, the agent of Chagas disease. Knowing the prevalence of Chagas disease in those dogs gives us an idea of the public health risk assessment. Our results were published in the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases
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“This desire to help both animals and people ultimately drove me to attend veterinary school.”
-Trevor Tenney ’16 journal. Being able to see the project from start to finish, resulting in publication in a major journal, was a great experience. For the first time, I could see how rewarding conducting research could be. I plan to continue conducting research through the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. In my first year of veterinary school, I applied and was awarded the Health Professions Scholarship Program through the Army. This scholarship comes with a four-year contractual obligation to serve with the Army after I graduate. During veterinary school I’ve been able to work with Army veterinarians in Hawaii and San Antonio, Texas. There are lots of opportunities to conduct research in the Army, especially in infectious diseases that are potential bioterrorism hazards. The Army has many veterinarians who conduct research on vaccine and research development, food defense, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. For example, some Army veterinarians responded to the recent Ebola outbreaks. I’ll also have the opportunity to work with military working dogs. In the past, Army veterinarians mainly took care of cavalry horses. After World War I, horses were no longer utilized in the same way. Then military working dogs became utilized more in World War II, so the veterinary corps transitioned to working with those dogs. Since World War II, military working dogs have been used in every major U.S. military conflict. They play a huge role in explosive detection, in patrol, and in other various roles. I’m excited to be able to work with the dogs that serve such an awesome purpose to protect our warfighters abroad. After training, I can be sent anywhere stateside or overseas. The Army is the only branch that has a Veterinary Corps, so I could be stationed at a Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps base. Wherever there’s a military working dog, there’s an Army veterinarian caring for it. When I was in high school I used to joke with my mom that I would join the army. My grandfather served in WWII, and I’ve always liked the idea of joining the military and serving my country. The more I researched the Army Veterinary Corps, the more I realized it aligned with my professional goals and allows me to serve my country—I have the opportunity to travel while serving in a unique capacity.
Ashley Heard-Garir ’16 I was born in Lubbock, Texas, but have lived all over the United States: Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Hawaii, to name a few places. I’ve also had wideranging jobs: algebra teacher, lab coordinator, shark tagger, scientific diver, fish counter, and environmental researcher. Throughout my many experiences, I’ve always been drawn to science and the ocean. When I went to Sea World with my family as a child, my older sister was too afraid to sit on Shamu—but I begged for the opportunity. Instead of carrying around a doll, I carried around a rubber snake. My favorite television channel was National Geographic. It was no surprise when I majored in marine science while earning my bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawaii. During summers, I conducted research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I loved this experience and intended to pursue a doctoral degree, but was unable to obtain funding for my proposed Ph.D. projects. Instead, I continued to conduct marine research part-time while also working at Kamehameha High School as a lab coordinator and teacher. This unique system of schools is mandated exclusively for native Hawaiian students. After a few years teaching and conducting part-time research, I realized that I longed to focus on veterinary science. I need to be involved in a variety of activities to feel fulfilled: education, conservation, and clinical research. My
family and I decided to move to the United States mainland so that I could pursue a veterinary degree. We moved to Dallas, Texas, to be nearer to my parents, who were a great help when my daughter was born a few months later. This was a very hectic time for me. Because my bachelor’s degree is in marine science, I needed a few course prerequisites before applying to veterinary schools. I took classes at a nearby university and gained handson experience by working as a technician at a veterinary hospital. Initially, I was hired to work in the kennel because I didn’t have clinical experience—my background centered on exotic husbandry and marine science. Fortunately, I was able to learn quickly and within one month was assisting with surgeries. While taking classes and working at the clinic, I also worked as a tutor to support my family. I applied to Texas A&M University because I knew the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) has a rigorous research program with opportunities for exotic education and training. I chose the alternative tracking option, which allowed me to focus on my specific interests and goals in exotic medicine. Tracking in exotic medicine, rather than large or small animal medicine, can be difficult. Students may miss out on hands-on experiences if they don’t plan ahead and actively seek opportunities. Through forethought and hard work, however, the alternative track has been very successful for me. My first step was some self-reflection: What am I weak in? What do I wish to get better in? I externed at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to learn aquatic medicine, but I also gained experience in amphibians and reptiles. I then externed at the Miami Seaquarium for experience with manatees and sea turtles. To learn more about avian medicine, I externed at the only exotic animal clinic in Louisiana. I also gained experience with exotic small mammals like ferrets—the types of pets that veterinarians see in a clinic. The last piece of the puzzle was the Houston Zoo, where I’ve gained experience with big cats and exotic hoofstock. I’ve also enjoyed the extracurricular opportunities here at the CVM. I’ve been actively involved in exotic animal education through the Zoo Club. In addition to being a board member, I have served as president, and I’m proud of the legacy we’ll be leaving. We’ve reinvigorated aquatic education and created a guidebook for future Zoo Club leaders so that there’s now better continuity within the club. I also co-chaired the zoo room at Open House, where we showcased Texas A&M’s exotic medicine curriculum. After graduation, I’ll work at a small exotic animal practice in Carrollton, Texas. Clinicians in this practice push boundaries to improve the quality of veterinary medicine, and they’re excited to have me expand their exotic practice. It’s also a unique opportunity because they are adding a sea turtle sanctuary. What I love about exotic animal medicine is that every case is new and interesting. You have to think outside the box, and you don’t have a framework to work from. The work is always fun and challenging. You’ll never learn everything, and you learn something new every day. Winter 2017 •
Spotlight Lori Coleman ’16
I was born and raised in Jasper, Texas—a small, rural town about 2.5 hours east of College Station. This was a great town to grow up in with lots of woods and a large lake. My family had a bit of land with some cows, and I raised pigs for 4-H. It was the kind of place where if you’re involved in one thing, you’re involved in everything, so I was very busy in high school. My father is a veterinarian, so I’ve always been interested in veterinary medicine. Before committing to veterinary school, I had to decide if I truly desired a career in veterinary medicine, or if it was just something I’d always been around. After earning my bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences at Texas A&M University, I decided to try a different career as an educator. I’ve always enjoyed teaching. In school, I used to get in trouble for talking because I would try to help the other kids. I decided to earn a master’s degree in education, and then I taught high school chemistry for four years. Then, I had to decide whether to give up the career I had and go back to school, or stay where I was. My husband and I talked about it, and I decided to go back to school. We also wanted to start a family and decided that it’d be easier to have a child while in school, rather than while starting a career. At first, the idea of being pregnant while attending veterinary school was very scary. Because we’re only allowed about two weeks of absences before redoing the entire year, I was worried that something might happen to delay my education. However, it turned out to be much easier than I expected. Everyone at the veterinary school, including the Dean, my professors, and my classmates, were very supportive. My husband was also extremely supportive and was able to take leave from work after our daughter, Emma, was born. I was able to return to school pretty quickly.
“I think my experience and education as a teacher will really help me in my veterinary practice.” -Lori Coleman ’16
• Winter 2017
Lori Coleman I think my experience and education as a teacher will really help me in my veterinary practice. Veterinarians need to educate their clients so that they can care for their animals. Many people use the Internet as their source of knowledge, or they don’t have any knowledge of how to care for their animals. They just know that they love their dog or cat, and think that they’re doing their best. The majority of a veterinarian’s job is educating clients on what’s best for their beloved animals. The most important thing is to encourage clients to ask questions. It’s easier for veterinarians to get the client to adopt the proposed treatment if they talk plainly. Sometimes veterinarians leave school and are used to talking only to other doctors. But veterinarians have to learn how to translate their subject knowledge to a lay audience. After graduation, I will join my father’s mixed animal practice in Jasper. The practice is about 85 percent small animal, with the rest consisting of mostly horses and cattle. I thought about pursuing a doctoral degree and working in academic veterinary medicine. However, now that we have Emma, we decided to choose the family lifestyle versus the career-oriented lifestyle. Of course, there are downsides to working in a small, rural practice. The nearest emergency facility is an hour away, so I’ll either need to handle the emergency myself, or prepare the animal for a long transport. Another downside is that you’ll be out at the grocery store, and you’ll get stopped for an impromptu consult with a “Hey doc, my dog did this.” Despite these downsides, I’m looking forward to practicing in a small town and being near family.
by Callie Rainosek
Graduate Student & Postdoctoral Research: Highlights from the Symposium
BIMS Ph.D. student, Diarra Williams (right) presenting to Dr. Weston Porter. The 2016 Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Research Symposium at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), which was held Jan. 27 and 28, 2016, featured more than 80 platform and poster presentations—a record number of participants. A banquet and awards dinner at Pebble Creek Country Club honored participants and recognized the top poster and platform presentations.
Amanda Blake Amanda Blake, a graduate student researcher mentored by Dr. Jan Suchodolski, tied for second place for her poster presentation that examined exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) in dogs. Her research project included measuring lactate and lactic acid–producing bacteria in the feces of dogs with EPI to better understand canine intestinal dysbiosis, a microbial imbalance inside a dog’s intestine. EPI develops when the pancreas fails to produce enough digestive enzymes. A lack of these enzymes can affect a dog’s gastrointestinal system and can cause weight loss and chronic diarrhea. Blake hopes her research can lead to new future therapeutic treatment options for dogs with EPI. “It took a lot of hard work; long hours working in the lab; and a little blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish the goals
of this project,” she said. “My mentor, Dr. Suchodolski, was a huge source of encouragement throughout the process, and I plan to continue this research with him in the gastrointestinal lab.”
Megha Bijalwan Graduate Student Megha Bijalwan tied for second place with her poster presentation, which focused on epilepsy, a common neurological disorder. The cause of epilepsy is often unknown, but brain injuries or infections in the central nervous system can contribute to formation of the disease. “There is currently only symptomatic treatment available for epilepsy, but these treatments may have several neurological side effects or may not be effective in some patients. Thus, there is a strong case for developing improved therapeutic agents, and understanding the disease is of utmost importance,” Bijalwan explained. Bijalwan studied clinical symptoms of epilepsy in experimental models and identified the role of a specific immune gene involved in virus-induced epilepsy. “Suppression of this gene reduces central nervous system inflammation and significantly decreases frequency and severity of seizures in our experimental model,” she said. Winter 2017 •
“Selectively targeting the detrimental action of this gene may help in reducing seizure occurrences and protecting the nervous system.” Mentored by Dr. Jane Welsh, Bijalwan was able to successfully meet the goals of her project. “Dr. Welsh gave me freedom to incorporate my own ideas in my project, which has helped me to grow as a researcher,” Bijalwan said. Bijalwan plans to continue her research and learn more about epilepsy. “Only extensive research can help fill in all the unknown information in this field,” she said. “After finishing my Ph.D., I plan to teach neuro-immunology and contribute to epilepsy awareness and health care.”
Sabrina Clark Sabrina Clark, a graduate student, won first place with her poster presentation that focused on chronic kidney disease in dogs. She studied a group of dogs with a disease known as X-linked hereditary nephropathy (XLHN), which is similar to Alport Syndrome (AS) in humans, and is characterized by kidney disease. The goal was to demonstrate the similarities between AS and XLHN and show that the dog is a suitable animal model for evaluating and treating AS. Clark’s primary mentor was Dr. Dominic Cosgrove, the Director of Basic Research at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. Clark also looked to Dr. Mary Nabity for direction in pursuing her Ph.D. “Dr. Cosgrove graciously allowed me to visit his lab for three weeks to perform much of the work for this project,” Clark said. “Mary Nabity is my primary mentor for my Ph.D. She has been instrumental in guiding me toward earning my Ph.D., and I am appreciative of all her support.” Clark is passionate about treating kidney disease in dogs and plans on continuing her research in chronic kidney disease (CKD). “My research will continue in canine CKD,” Clark said. “My primary interest is exploring the pathogenesis of CKD in dogs, which will ultimately guide us in the development of minimally invasive diagnostic tools that can be used for earlier detection and better monitoring of progression of kidney disease. I also plan to explore potential therapeutic targets with the hope of improving the overall quality of life in dogs with CKD.”
BIMS Ph.D. student, Alyssa Meyers, presenting her research. 42 •
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Blake Guard Blake Guard, a graduate student mentored by Dr. Jan Suchodolski, won second place with his platform presentation that focused on bile acids, which facilitate digestion, in dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Guard hypothesized that amount and types of bile acids in the feces of dogs with IBD were different than those without IBD and that dogs with IBD could benefit from therapeutic intervention. The goal of the project was to design a biochemical analysis for an accurate measurement of bile acids in the feces of dogs with IBD. “We successfully developed an assay to measure and identify bile acids in the feces of dogs with IBD,” Guard explained. “The assay was tested for reproducibility, and we were able to measure a new group of dogs with IBD to confirm our results.” Guard was guided through his project by Suchodolski, who was a valuable resource in Guard’s assay development and helped Guard stay focused and motivated. “Dr. Suchodolski helped to create a positive research environment, where we were able to discuss the clinical utility of assays and how they can best be implemented in the veterinary field,” Guard said. Guard plans to continue his research investigating the role of bile acids in dogs with IBD. “We are actively recruiting more dogs with IBD to measure fecal bile acids,” Guard explained. “We hope that our research will aid in the management of IBD in dogs.”
Dr. Sunja Kim Dr. Sunja Kim won first place for her postdoctoral poster presentation about the role of caspase-8, an enzyme, in inflammation. Specifically, she demonstrated how caspase-8 affects immunity in macrophages and resulted in exaggerated central nervous system damage in mice with multiple sclerosis like symptoms. “By using conditionally deleted transgenic mice, we could delineate the contribution of microglia vs macrophage and successfully conclude that the caspase-8 in macrophage serve as a checkpoint during the development of a disease,” she said. Kim concluded that caspase-8 negatively regulates inflammation in the central nervous system, therefore peripheral myeloid cell specific caspase-8 deletion exaggerates inflammation in mice with multiple sclerosislike symptoms. “In this poster, I presented the role of caspase-8 as an anti-inflammatory regulator that counteracts a protein called receptor interacting protein 3 (RIP3),” Kim said. “My ultimate goal in this study is to demonstrate the role of caspase-8 as an immune regulator during multiple sclerosis like pathological conditions.” Dr. Jianrong Li served as Kim’s mentor. “She was always excited for me; she brought new ideas and concepts to the table for this caspase-8 project,” Kim said. “She led me to pursue more exciting findings.” In continuing her research on caspase-8, Kim will focus more on the function of cells in the central nervous system during neurological diseases and conditions as well as normal brain development.
Ph.D. student, Dr. Elena Gart, presenting her research.
described in the current classification of liposarcomas in animals. These tumors, however, have been described in humans, and that prompted our diagnosis.” In addition to presenting her research at the CVM’s research symposium, Plumlee was given the opportunity to exhibit her project at the American College of Veterinary Pathologists annual meeting. “Dr. Joanne Mansell was my mentor on the project,” she said. “She guided me in diagnostic techniques and aided in editing my poster.” Plumlee plans to continue her research and is currently working on a manuscript for publication.
Other Winners Shehnaz Lokhandwala Graduate student Shehnaz Lokhandwala won third place with her platform presentation that focused on developing a vaccine for the African swine fever virus (ASFV). Her motivation to pursue a vaccine for the virus stems from the devastation the pathogen is capable of causing in countries where it is prevalent. “The African swine fever virus causes a devastating fatal hemorrhagic disease in domestic swine, which can result in huge economic losses in countries where it is endemic,” Lokhandwala explained. “There is currently no treatment or vaccine available for this disease and control strategies mainly involve strict biosecurity measures and slaughter of infected and in-contact animals.” Mentored by Dr. Waithaka Mwangi, Lokhandwala helped generate a unique multi ASFV antigen vaccine formula and conducted immunogenicity and safety studies in swine. Positive results from her preliminary studies encourage her to pursue vaccine efficacy studies which will involve challenging the animals with live ASFV to validate protection. “The data from our studies in swine looked promising,” she said. “We were able to induce strong antibody and cellular responses against each antigen present in our multi-antigen vaccine formulation. However, we need to conduct more studies to validate whether these responses are capable of protecting the animal.” Mwangi guided Lokhandwala through this research project and encouraged her to pursue the study. “Dr. Mwangi is an excellent mentor and has guided me patiently through each step of my research,” she said. “We have plans to conduct more studies with our prototype vaccine formulation later this year. Future efforts will depend on the outcome of these studies.”
Joana Rocha, mentored by Dr. Noah Cohen, won first place with her graduate student platform presentation. Xi Li, mentored by Dr. Stephen Safe, won second place with his postdoctoral presentation.
High Impact Achievement Awards The High Impact Achievement Awards were also presented to graduate students and postdocs whose achievements are above and beyond general expectations. The awards were given in three categories: large grant recipient (grant exceeds $50,000), small grant recipient (grant is less than $50,000), and high impact first author publication. The winners in the large grant recipient category were Dr. Joseph Cichocki (mentor: Dr. Ivan Rusyn) in recognition of his receipt of a NIH-NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellowship and Alyssa Meyers (mentor: Dr. Sarah Hamer) in recognition of her receipt of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The winners in the small grant recipient category were Dr. Fabian Grimm (mentor: Dr. Ivan Rusyn) in recognition of his receipt of a Society of Toxicology Colgate-Palmolive Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in In Vitro Toxicology and Dr. Jessica Rodriguez (mentor: Dr. Karen Snowden) in recognition of her receipt of a National Center for Veterinary Parasitology Advanced Study/Residency Fellowship. The winners in the high impact first author publication were Yating Cheng (mentor: Dr. Stephen Safe), Junfeng Chen (mentor: Dr. Jim Womack), and Fengguang Guo (mentor: Dr. Guan Zhu).
Quinci Plumlee Graduate student, Quinci Plumlee, tied for second place in the graduate student poster presentations based on her case study of a tumor in the abdomen of a basset hound. The goal of her 15-month study was to investigate the diagnosis of the tumor, which displayed features not previously described in the veterinary literature. “The final diagnosis in this case was a high-grade myxoid liposarcoma,” Plumlee said. “This malignant tumor originated in the adipocytes, or fat cells, and had a significant round cell population, which has not yet been
Toxicology Ph.D. student, Cody Maki, presenting to Dr. Sankar Chaki Winter 2017 •
by Laura Gerik
CVM to host the 2017 Student American Veterinary Medical Association Symposium
SAVMA Officers For four days in March 2017, while the rest of campus is on spring break, over 1,000 veterinary students from all over the United States and abroad will flock to College Station for the 2017 Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) Symposium. The event promises to be a landmark moment for the CVM, and a chance to show the world what Texas A&M’s veterinary community is all about. The symposium will be packed with opportunities for hands-on learning and networking, with events ranging from lectures and wet labs, to zoo and aquarium day trips, to research presentations and competitions. The symposium will culminate in a lavish closing gala in Kyle Field’s Hall of Champions. The SAVMA Symposium will be one of the highlights of the 2016–2017 school year, and none of it would be possible without the hard work of several dedicated CVM students: Chris Dolan ’17, Bethany Wienheimer ’18, Austin Hardegree ’18, Nicole Fierce ’18, Michael McEntire ’17, Caitlin Conner ’18, Garrett Crooks ’19, Justin Casares ’18, Nicole Bertolini ’18, Nicole Fierce ’18, and Lauren Thompson ’18. These dedicated Aggies compose the 44 •
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SAVMA Symposium Planning Committee, and they’ve spent over a year meticulously planning and organizing the event.
SAVMA Delegates: Michael McEntire, Caitlin Conner, and Garrett Crooks The road to the 2017 symposium began in early 2014. Michael McEntire was a SAVMA junior delegate—one of two students who represent Texas A&M’s Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA) to the national organization—when he was approached by Dr. Eleanor Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine, and Dr. Kenita Rogers, former associate dean for professional programs, with the idea that Texas A&M should place a bid to host the symposium. The answer was a resounding yes. “My senior delegate, Stephen Marsh ’16, was just finishing up his term representing Texas A&M, so it would be up to me and my future junior delegate to place the bid,” McEntire explained. McEntire, an aspiring zoo or aquarium veterinarian from Sandy, Utah, got to work immediately, hosting brainstorming meetings with students and faculty.
Caitlin Conner of Forney, Texas, was elected SAVMA junior delegate in November 2014, making McEntire the new senior delegate. The pair immediately leapt into action. They had until spring break to prepare their bid, which they would present at the 2015 SAVMA Symposium at the University of Minnesota. “We worked all over Christmas break on the bid, then rehearsed weekly to bi-weekly leading up to spring break,” Conner said. Together, they came up with unique wet lab and day trip ideas and drafted a proposal to make Texas A&M stand out from the crowd. McEntire created a PowerPoint presentation and video, and Conner made a promotional booklet detailing Texas A&M’s plans. After months of planning and practice, the big day arrived. McEntire and Conner arrived at the University of Minnesota’s symposium ready to make their case for Texas A&M in front of the SAVMA House of Delegates. “I was nervous,” Conner recalled. “It was the first time I had really met most of these people, and I was standing up in front of everybody in a suit and talking about how much I loved my school.” “Some of our selling points were the completion of the new veterinary education complex, the beautiful spring Texas weather, and the fun day trips we’re offering around the state,” McEntire said. Indeed, the new facilities—which opened in August 2016—were one of the things that made Texas A&M stand out. Until now, no SAVMA symposium has been held entirely on a school’s campus. “Symposia are almost always at convention centers,” Conner explained. “Most schools just aren’t built for that many students at one time. Our huge selling point was, ‘Come to Texas A&M. We’re going to have this brand new building—this brand new complex where we will hold the symposium in its entirety.’” All the labs, lectures, exhibit halls, and House of Delegates meetings will utilize the expanded CVM. McEntire and Conner’s hard work paid off—Texas A&M won the bid. When the pair returned to College Station, planning kicked into high gear. McEntire, Conner, and SCAVMA President Chris Dolan ’17 assembled the SAVMA Planning Committee by hiring two general managers, a treasurer, and a fundraising chair. They also took charge of new planning subcommittees. McEntire chairs the marketing and technology committee, Conner chairs evening events, and Dolan is in charge of lecture and speaker planning. Newest to the team is Garrett Crooks, a Buda, Texas, native and Texas A&M graduate interested in zoological medicine. Crooks was elected junior SAVMA delegate last fall. In the fall semester — when the fourth-year students phase out of the planning committee, Conner will take on McEntire’s senior delegate role, and Crooks will replace Dolan as chair of the lecture and speaker planning committee, and SCAVMA President-Elect Bethany Weinheimer ’18 will lead marketing and technology. “Being a SAVMA delegate is a dual role,” Conner said. “We’re liaisons between the national SAVMA and the planning committee here. We also serve on the symposium committee within SAVMA, which is full of delegates from
2017 SAVMA Symposium Schedule Thursday, March 16, 2017: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. : Diversity and wellness activities, lectures, and wetlabs held at VBEC 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. : Opening Ceremony at the MSC in the Bethancourt Ballroom 8:30 p.m. – 1 a.m. : Pubcrawl on Northgate (social event) Friday, March 17, 2017: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. : Lectures, wetlabs, and academic and research competitions held at VBEC 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. : Athletic competitions hosted at TAMU Rec Center 7 p.m. – 11 p.m. : Experience Texas (social event) at the Hildebrand Equine Complex Saturday, March 18, 2017: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. : Lectures, wetlabs, and academic competitions held at VBEC 7 p.m. – 11 p.m. : Closing Gala (social event) at the Hall of Champions in Kyle Field Exhibit Hall hours: Thursday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday: 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Iowa State University, who hosted the 2016 symposium, and now the University of Pennsylvania, who won the bid to host the 2018 symposium. We talk about symposium committee things and get feedback from each other.” At the 2016 Iowa State Convention, the SAVMA delegates spent most of their time in SAVMA delegate meetings. “It gave us the opportunity to come together with delegates from all the other schools and learn from each other,” Crooks said. “Seeing how the symposium there functioned and talking to others that attended will allow us to continue building on the foundations that have been laid by all the other host schools before us.” As McEntire, Conner, and Crooks gear up for the 2017 symposium, each has their own favorite experience to look forward to. McEntire, who has served on the executive board for the national SAVMA delegation, is thrilled to be hosting the event in his final year at the CVM. “I can’t wait to welcome all my delegate friends to Aggieland,” he said. Conner has been focusing her efforts on planning an “Experience Texas Night” at the new Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ’56 Equine Complex. “The plan is to get some Texas favorites on the menu, such as barbecue, mini chicken fried steaks, and jalapeno poppers. We’ll have a mechanical bull, roping lessons, and a live band,” Conner explained. “It’s so people from all over the country, and the world, can get a taste of Texas.” For Crooks, hosting the symposium is all about showing attendees the best time possible. “I’m excited about providing the highest quality experience for everyone that Winter 2017 •
we can, in addition to showing everyone how great things are in Texas,” he said.
General Managers: Nicole Bertolini and Justin Casares Nicole Bertolini and Justin Casares are the general managers, working as a team to coordinate the committee’s biweekly meetings, troubleshoot problems, and make sure everybody stays on the same page. “Whenever there’s issues within committees on how to handle something, we try to help out with that,” Casares said. “Whenever someone has a general question, we’re typically the ones that people go to try to figure it out. If we don’t know the answer, we go find it.” “We have our hands in everything,” Bertolini added. “So, we still try to make sure that we know what’s going on in every committee or stay up to date so that our two minds are on the same page. We work 100 percent as a team.” In addition to their general manager duties, each is in charge of sub-committees. Bertolini leads the competitions and hospitality committees. She’s excited about the opportunity to inject fun into the symposium with both academic and athletic competitions. Attendees will have the opportunity to compete in anatomy and bovine palpitation contests. Bertolini is also planning a quiz bowl using Zuku, a review to help prepare students for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. She hopes to host the bowl on Northgate to make the event both useful and fun. When attendees want to blow off some steam and have fun with new people, they can participate in dodgeball
and volleyball tournaments. For Bertolini, the SAVMA symposium isn’t just about veterinary medicine; it’s also a key opportunity to have fun networking with future veterinarians from around the world. Casares’ committees handle host events—the opening ceremony and closing gala—and day trips. The closing gala is one event that the committee members are universally excited about. “It’s going to be a huge event. We’re using the new Hall of Champions at Kyle Field,” Casares said. His committee is planning a fancy dinner followed by live music and a chance for everyone to mix and mingle with their new friends. Beyond the on-campus events, Casares’ committee is planning day trips to see veterinarians in action around Texas. “We’re organizing trips to the Houston Zoo, to the rodeo, and to Sea World San Antonio,” Casares said. These behind-the-scenes glimpses at veterinary specialties will be symposium highlights for many students. For out-oftowners who want to experience some local flavor, Casares is organizing trips to Messina Hof Winery and downtown Bryan. Although they come from different backgrounds, Bertolini and Casares are dedicated Aggies who are excited to represent their school on an international scale. Bertolini hails from southeast Houston and earned her undergraduate degree in zoology at Texas A&M. She’s tentatively planning to go into a mixed animal practice, possibly specializing in zoo animal medicine later on. “When Caitlin and Mike won the bid to host SAVMA at the CVM, I knew it would be a huge deal and a great opportunity to work with all kinds of people,” Bertolini said.
Justin Casares, Dr. Anna Reddish, Caitlin Conner and Mike McEntire. 46 •
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“The last time we had the symposium here was 11 years ago. To have it while I’m here at school is very exciting.” Casares grew up on a ranch in Mission, Texas, spending his youth working with horses, cattle, and hogs. Like Bertolini, he plans to pursue mixed animal medicine, but specialize in large animals. “I come from a huge Aggie family, so we’re very passionate about this school,” Casares said. “I wanted to get involved to be able to represent Texas A&M on a national stage.”
Treasurer: Nicole Fierce Nicole Fierce took an unusual route to the CVM. Originally from Beaumont, Texas, she earned a degree in marketing from the University of Texas. As much as she enjoyed her business classes, she realized early on that she wasn’t destined for life in a cubicle and began snatching up science electives to prepare for veterinary school. These days, her business background makes her a unique asset to the Planning Committee and well-suited to her role as treasurer. “I’m also the class treasurer for the class of 2018,” she explained. “Knowing how difficult it is to take care of money and [given] my background in business and finance and accounting, I wanted to be involved [with the planning committee] and figured that being treasurer fit my skill set.” As treasurer, Fierce is responsible for managing a $400,000 budget. She has the final say on how much money goes to each program. “I set the budget and write the checks and make sure we don’t spend money that we don’t have,” she said. It’s a big job, and Fierce is grateful to have a lot of support. She works closely with Fundraising Chair, Lauren Thompson, “to make sure we have enough money coming in from large companies across the state and nation so that we can fund our symposium to make it the best one yet.” She also gets tips from outside the CVM, including guidance from contacts at the AVMA and the copies of budgets from previous SAVMA symposia. Fierce enjoys her job, which has made her realize just how much she enjoys working with people. The experience has even shaped her thoughts about the future. “I think I’m probably going to do general practice for a bit, but after that, who knows? I’ve been recently thinking about getting to work with students because I’ve enjoyed being in this sort of role,” she mused. But for now, she’s thrilled to be a part of planning the symposium and looks forward to introducing the CVM to the world. “I’ve fallen in love with Texas A&M, and I want other people to fall in love with it too,” she said.
“I love this university. I love what it stands for, the traditions and such. Having the opportunity to have other veterinary students come down and see all that made me want to be a part of symposium planning,” Thompson said. “When I was looking at different positions, I was intrigued by fundraising chair. I thought, ‘You know, that also gives me an opportunity to network with companies and veterinarians and just talk to people, which I enjoy doing.’ I decided to go ahead and apply, and here I am!” As fundraising chair, Thompson is responsible for raising the $400,000 necessary to host the symposium. It’s no small task, but Thompson is enthusiastic and well-organized. She and her 12-member fundraising committee plan to seek donations from companies both big and small, as well as national and local. “I formulated a sponsorship letter and then different packages,” she explained. “We sent those, so the companies could see at which level they would like to donate. At different sponsorship levels, the companies get different booth spaces or advertisements.” In the year leading up to the convention, Thompson and her team of volunteers took advantage of every opportunity to find sponsors. In March, she and the planning committee attended the Texas Veterinary Medical Association meeting and the SAVMA symposium in Ames, Iowa, to introduce herself and Texas A&M to potential sponsors. She followed up at the AVMA convention in August and the Southwestern Veterinary Symposium in September. As the symposium gets closer, she planned to branch out and send volunteers doorto-door to local companies and veterinary practices to get the Bryan/College Station community involved. Fundraising is a big job, but for Thompson, it’s a key part of making this the biggest and best SAVMA symposium yet. “Everything really is bigger in Texas,” she said. “I know that’s so cliché, but I really think that’s something we can work on. We’re hoping that it is going to be one of the bigger symposia. And since it’s actually going to be at our school— which is completely different from symposia in the past that are normally held at convention centers—people will actually get to experience what it’s like to be a student here.”
Looking forward Thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of this team of Aggie veterinary students, the CVM is set to host what the committee hopes is the biggest and best symposium yet. For the CVM family, it’s a once-in-a-generation chance to showcase the school on a national stage.
Fundraising Chair: Lauren Thompson The other half of the monetary team is Lauren Thompson, fundraising chair. Originally from Grandview, Texas, Lauren’s love of horses and, later, cattle, propelled her to veterinary school. But it was her love of people and networking that compelled her to apply for the fundraising position.
For more information, check out www.savmasymposium2017.com
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by Callie Rainosek
Jessica Israel: A Pioneer in Veterinary Medicine and the Deaf Community Jessica Israel, a graduate student pursuing a non-thesis master’s in biomedical sciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), is trekking her own path to a veterinary medicine degree by first immersing herself in research, an unconventional path for most non-thesis graduate students. Through her research experience, she hopes to contribute a different perspective to veterinary medicine. As a member of the deaf community, she will add to the diversity of the veterinary community. Although some may consider her deafness a challenge, Israel has not let it get in the way of her research. In April 2016, Israel was selected to present her research at the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego—a conference that presents novel research discoveries in the fields of anatomy, biochemistry and molecular biology, investigative pathology, nutrition, pharmacology, and physiology. Israel’s selection to present at the conference was in recognition for her research and her position as a nonthesis major involved in research. At the conference, Israel worked alongside interpreters to present her work to fellow scientists. “I had the chance to
present my poster to scientists, who listened with interest and wanted to compare and discuss data from their research,” she said. “Scientists with years of experience in their field gave me feedback on how I could improve my experiments. I found this experience stimulating, and it boosted my confidence. The chance to interact with others, network, and listen to what others had to say was an amazing experience.” There was much preparation for the poster presentation, Israel explained, “the conference provided me with two interpreters who would act as my voice during the duration of the presentation, and I was hesitant to put my trust in those interpreters because I didn’t know if they had a scientific background until I met them. So, I prepared a script with exact wording I would say during the presentation and tried to help them understand what the research project was about prior to giving the presentation. In the morning, I spent four hours practicing my presentation with them, and it took a while for them to learn. In the end, the presentation turned out great.” The conference also introduced Israel to several scientists who were interested in collaborating with her. This was
Wendy McNair (interpreter), Jessica Israel, Dr. Cristine Heaps, Amanda Rose (interpreter). 48 •
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an opportunity Israel was grateful for. “I would encourage everyone to have a similar experience because it helps develop better interpersonal skills and increase networking,” she said. “I met several people who I would like to stay in touch with and could help me grow professionally.” Israel’s interests in biomedical sciences and veterinary medicine include small animal surgery and research that could help build an even stronger bridge between human and animal health. Under the direction of Dr. Cristine L. Heaps, an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology at the CVM, Israel conducts research on the circulatory system, something she may continue to focus on after acquiring her master’s degree. “I haven’t decided specifically which area of focus I want to study in veterinary school, but knowledge of the circulatory system would be beneficial,” Israel said. “I do know I want to focus on the surgical aspect of veterinary medicine and do more extensive surgery.” Using pigs as models, Israel’s research focuses on endothelial nitric oxide synthase—or eNOS—distribution along the blood vessels that supply the heart and how this can affect blood pressure regulation. These eNOS receptors—which are released by the heart in reaction to stress—aid in the dilation of blood vessels and help regulate blood pressure. The potential to help better understand the role of blood pressure regulation in heart disease attracted Israel to study the cardiovascular system. “I used to work in a different lab last year under Dr. Thomas Ficht, whose research focus is on brucellosis— an infection spread from animals to people through unpasteurized dairy products,” Israel said. “After working for him for a year, my interest of working in a different lab was piqued by my advisor, Dr. Heaps, who enthusiastically discussed her lab with me. I became curious and thought working in her lab would be fun, especially after being asked the question, ‘Have you ever seen a pig run on a treadmill?’ It was something I have never envisioned, and I was hooked. I asked her if I could work in her lab this year, and she agreed. I managed to see several pigs running on a treadmill; it was a funny and awesome sight.” Before Israel was inspired to pursue her education at the CVM, she earned her undergraduate degree in biology and a minor in chemistry at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., a university for the deaf. Growing up in a deaf community, she attended a deaf school from elementary through high school. The shift to a university full of hearing people for her master’s degree was a challenge. However, Israel quickly adapted to the change. “It was a huge change for me, using interpreters and other modes of communication besides sign language,” Israel said. “In itself, it was and still is a challenge and great experience.” Her transition from being immersed within a deaf community to attending Texas A&M University helped prepare Israel for the beginning of her journey toward applying for veterinary school at Texas A&M. Since then, Israel has made Texas A&M her home and is not afraid to push past her obstacles. Her mentors have helped Israel
Jessica Israel at the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego. explore her interests and fulfill her goals as a future veterinary student. Israel said she feels the opportunities at Texas A&M are limitless. “Texas A&M has accommodated my needs and the professors here do a lot to give me the best access to information,” she said. “Several professors were willing to learn sign language in order to communicate with me better. They went beyond my expectations and I am grateful for this.” Israel’s independent and confident attitude has helped her succeed at the CVM. Her devotion to her research has opened many doors to future collaborations with other scientists, as well as future opportunities to strengthen the connection between human and animal health. Israel is admired by other students and CVM staff and faculty alike. “I am thoroughly impressed with Jessica’s tenacity as she navigates her way through the curriculum for the nonthesis master’s degree,” Heaps said. “She has performed superbly despite the obstacles to learning that she has had to overcome. In addition to her persistence in the classroom, Jessica has gone beyond that required in the non-thesis master’s program and has spent considerable time in the laboratory and preparing her scientific poster for presentation in San Diego. Jess maintains an incredibly positive attitude while negotiating every hurdle. She is a role model for all students, regardless of whether they are members of the deaf or hearing communities.” “I am here to educate about deaf culture and show that anyone can do anything,” Israel said. “Members of the deaf community can do as much as anyone else, and I am an example of that.” Winter 2017 •
by Sara Carney
Broad Spectrum: Celebrating Diversity in Veterinary Medicine
Broad Spectrum What started off as a plain t-shirt with a simple logo on the front and the words “stand up for diversity” on the back soon became a work of art. Students at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) gathered at the annual “Show Your Colors” event to tie-dye shirts. But, the exercise was more than a social event. Instead, it highlighted how different people—and their colors—can come together and create something greater. “The various colors come together and make something beautiful. Even though we’re all unique, we share many similarities,” said Angela Harrington, a fourth-year veterinary student. The Show Your Colors event is hosted by Broad Spectrum and reflects the mission of the student-led organization. The aptly named student group has positioned itself as an umbrella organization, open to those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including allies who may not consider themselves members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) community. In addition to celebrating diversity, the group raises awareness about GLBT issues in the veterinary community. It not only provides a safe space, but also educates others about the important role of the GLBT community in veterinary medicine. “We are here for everyone who has been different or has been bullied, or doesn’t feel like they fit in,” said Harrington, who is also the former president and 4vm representative of Broad Spectrum. “If you just want to come support and be our friend, that’s what we’re here for too.”
New Name, New Focus Formerly the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association or GLBT Vets, Broad Spectrum rebranded themselves in 2015 to better reflect their mission of 50 •
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inclusiveness and diversity. The group was particularly interested in expanding their reach to the ally population. “Most of our membership is from allies, so we do really count on that support,” said Harrington. “We also wanted to include faculty that wanted to be supportive of Broad Spectrum.” As hoped, this rebranding attracted a number of new members. “We’ve always had difficulty getting people involved, especially from the ally population, but we were very encouraged by the result of the Show Your Colors event,” said Broad Spectrum President Austin Hardegree. Harrington, who has been involved in the group since her first year of veterinary school, has seen this transformation first hand. “In my first year, there wasn’t a lot of involvement,” she said. “There has been more interest over the past two years. We have a lot of people saying ‘Hey, I want to get involved. How do I do this?’” That supportive spirit is what has motivated many of the group’s members to become involved. Harrington initially joined the group in the hopes of finding friendship, and then became a representative of the group as a first year veterinary student. Similarly, former treasurer Sarah White joined the group to show her support. “I really joined the group to find solidarity,” she said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people that say, ‘Oh, that’s just for gay people.’ Well no, it’s not just for gay people. It’s for anybody that wants to take a stand and show solidarity with a minority on this campus.” In many ways, Broad Spectrum is like other student groups. Its members attend field trips, socials, and educational events. In particular, the group is actively involved with Chimp Haven, the national chimpanzee sanctuary. They take field trips to Chimp Haven and support regular donation drives.
Being More Inclusive One goal at the forefront of Broad Spectrum is to raise awareness about the importance of GLBT issues in veterinary medicine. Although these subjects seem unrelated, Hardegree points out that 78.5 percent of members of the GLBT community are pet owners. Additionally, they are likely to spend more money on their pets than their straight counterparts—as much as $300 to $432 on pet products per year. Hardegree, who is also the president of the national Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association Board, has been actively involved in getting this message out. In 2015, he began working to refocus the mission of Broad Spectrum on raising awareness within the veterinary community at that year’s Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges conference. Broad Spectrum’s other officers agree that there are certainly financial reasons for being more inclusive. “I can’t imagine that any person would make a decision to exclude gay, bi, or lesbian people from their practice, because it’s a poor financial decision, as well as not a very kind decision either,” White said. Members of Broad Spectrum suggest that small gestures go far when it comes to making a veterinary practice GLBT friendly. White said, “Just doing small things, like putting a small rainbow flag in your doorway, help. Most people won’t realize that it’s even there, and the people who it does matter to will notice.” There are numbers of other ways that veterinarians can be more inclusive. Harrington noted the importance of diverse veterinary staff. “Diversity is beyond just clients and veterinarians; diversity includes technicians, receptionists, and others. I think that’s an area that we all need to focus on.” Additionally, Harrington suggested diversifying whom veterinarians mentor. “If veterinarians have opportunities to mentor people who are minorities or part of the LGBT community, it would be great to reach out to those students because it can be difficult to be that student.”
Broad Spectrum officers after Show Your Colors event.
Students tie-dying shirts at the Show Your Colors event.
The Future of Diversity Students, faculty, and staff can take the lessons learned from Broad Spectrum beyond the CVM. Diversity can be implemented everywhere. In particular, Broad Spectrum stresses the importance of emphasizing diversity at all levels of the veterinary practice—something students can take with them after graduation. “For veterinarians who plan on going into private practice, I think these things we learn about diversity are important because the more experiences you have with different people, the more you learn about the world, and to me that is the most important thing,” Hardegree said. Putting diversity into practice after veterinary school is not just something the officers in Broad Spectrum say, it’s something they plan to do. Many of the members of Broad Spectrum plan on continuing their work on GLBT issues in veterinary medicine after they graduate. White imagined how she will implement diversity in her future career. “Maybe I can make the staff that are already there aware of how important it is, and provide a safe place because the GLBT employee population is so important to foster,” she said. “The last thing I want is to have someone who wants to go to veterinary school be turned away because they don’t fit in, or discourage themselves from pursuing veterinary medicine because they think that the field is too closed minded.” Hardegree said he hopes for a career in veterinary education and sees himself being involved in organizations similar to Broad Spectrum in the future. Likewise, Harrington also said she plans on continuing her work in GLBT issues and diversity. In reflecting on how far the field has come, Harrington looks to the future with hope. “Diversity is not something that people were talking about 20 or 30 years ago,” she said. “When my mother went to veterinary school, it was predominately male. There’s been a huge shift.” By working toward increased inclusiveness, members of Broad Spectrum hope to continue the shift toward a more diverse community at the CVM and beyond. Winter 2017 •
Story Courtesy of West Texas A&M University Communications
Undergraduate Research Earns BRIDGE Internship for WTAMU Student
Laura Schulze She’s overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity of so many at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU), but Laura Schulze definitely deserves some credit. She recently landed an internship with the Biomedical Research Immersion and Diversity for Graduate Education (BRIDGE) program at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Schulze, a junior biology and pre-medicine major from Hereford, Texas, is the BRIDGE program’s first intern. She’s also an undergraduate selected to participate in a program designed for graduate students. And it’s no wonder that Texas A&M faculty members interviewing her for the internship were impressed with the premise of her research. Her focus during the two-month summer internship will be her own research project: Genomic Effects of Bovine Respiratory Diseases on Cattle Myocardium. “I’m just an undergraduate, so for them to take my research into their lab is so remarkable, exciting, and scary at the same time,” Schulze said. “I feel very blessed to get to do this.” It’s a pretty hefty topic for an undergraduate, but the idea for her research began two years ago while working as a 52 •
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medical intern at the Amarillo Heart Group. Heart surgery, heart catheters, and electrophysiology studies kindled her interest, and a genetics course and molecular cytogenetic class at WTAMU later confirmed her idea for research on myocardium, the muscular substance of the heart. Schulze contacted WTAMU’s Department of Agriculture to see if she could start dissecting cattle hearts left over from harvests, and that’s when her research began in earnest. “There is not a corner of this university that hasn’t stepped up to help me,” Schulze said. “I found my village again—right here at WTAMU.” When Schulze shared her idea for the research with Dr. Dean Hawkins, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, he encouraged her to apply for the BRIDGE internship. She then began working with eight WTAMU professors on the project to analyze the interatrial septum and the lung tissues to find the correlation and/or cause of bovine respiratory diseases in relation to bovine sudden cardiac death. “Laura is a force of nature,” said Dr. Rocky Ward, associate professor of biology and co-chair of Schulze’s research project. “Once she decided on a line of research, she has followed every lead and hunted down every possible resource. She will succeed—watch out world.” Schulze is currently immersed in an eight-week researchintensive program in a state-of-the-art lab in College Station, Texas. The opportunity is allowing her to expand her research on the myocardial samples to look at the genetic impact of infection rates related to bovine sudden cardiac death. She hopes her research will one day benefit human lives as well. Even though research is a major focus at WTAMU for Schulze, she still finds time to be a big part of her university ‘village.’ She volunteers at many campus events and is active in the University’s Veterans Network, serving a one-year term as president of the organization. She also has served as a teaching assistant in the A&P labs—all while raising three children with her Navy-enlisted husband. After earning a bachelor’s degree at WTAMU in May 2017, Schulze plans to earn a master’s in genomic studies while becoming an officer in the United States Navy. Medical school is next on her agenda for a Ph.D. in genetics and a medical degree with a specialization in electrophysiology. She hopes to eventually serve in the U.S. Navy on the USNS Comfort, the largest floating medical hospital. Those are some big plans for this junior biology and pre-medicine major. But for an undergraduate who landed a graduate-level research internship, there’s no doubt that Schulze’s determination will take her wherever she wants to go. And she can count on her WTAMU ‘village’ to be there, backing her all the way.
FAC U LT Y/S TA FF
by Dr. Megan Palsa
Distinguished Professor Blazes Trail in Genetics Research : A Man with A Plan
Dr. James Womack It was a dare from a professor that propelled Dr. James Womack into the field of genetics research, a field of study in which he excelled beyond what he ever imagined. This distinguished professor and winner of the prestigious Wolf Prize in Agriculture in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM)—often considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize—started out as a basketball player. His dad was the basketball coach at Hawley High School, just north of Abilene. There, Womack, who was the family’s oldest son, played and became a basketball star. After his high school graduation in 1959, Womack went to Abilene Christian College (ACC), now a university (ACU), on a basketball scholarship. While there, he was the team captain for two years and has since earned a place in the ACU Sports Hall of Fame. Knowing that the NBA was out of reach, Womack studied math education and planned to follow in his father’s footsteps to teach math and coach basketball. However, his plans would change. “Somehow, I decided instead of math I wanted to go to dental school,” he said. “I checked dental school
requirements, and I needed a couple of biology courses.” Since basketball practice took up his afternoons, he searched for a biology course that didn’t have a lab component—the course that fit into his schedule was a course in genetics. Noting that ACC was a small school where “everybody knew everybody,” he approached the genetics professor, asking him whether he could take his course without any prerequisites. The professor said, “You’re an athlete, aren’t you?” When Womack responded with a yes, the professor replied, “An athlete couldn’t pass my course even if they had the prerequisites. I think it would be foolish for you to take it.” Womack asked him if he would let him try, and the response was, “Yeah, you can try—it’s your grade young man.” Womack immediately ran to the bookstore, where he purchased the course’s textbook, “Genetics” by Ira Herskowitz—for a mere $8—something he still jokes with his students about. “Before my first genetics class, I read the entire book, all 466 pages. The supplement following the text is what excited me,” said Womack. “It was a compilation Winter 2017 •
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of papers beginning with a letter by Mendel, followed by six Nobel Prize winner’s lectures, whose work brought genetics to the forefront of science.” All of this occurred around 10 years after Watson and Crick’s discovery of the DNA double helix, something Womack found exciting. “I decided, man, I don’t want to go to dental school. I want to study genetics,” said Womack. And, this was the beginning of his illustrious career.
Life in Academia Begins Of course, Womack passed that genetics course at Abilene Christian. In fact, he became friends with the professor who had unknowingly inspired his career path. What everyone soon learned about James Womack was that if you challenge him at just about anything, you can be sure he will overcome all obstacles to come out on top. In 1963, Womack married Raby Beakley, who was teaching elementary school in Abilene, Texas. Raby was a superstar in her own right, and the community and students did not want to let her go. But, Womack was offered an opportunity he couldn’t turn down, so they moved to Oregon, where he attended Oregon State University on a full scholarship and earned a Ph.D. in genetics in 1968. A few years after graduating from Oregon State, Womack returned to ACU and taught in the biology department for five years before deciding he wanted to do more research than he was able to do in Abilene. He was offered a position at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he once again excelled at his work. Although he enjoyed his work in Maine, the position did not involve teaching students, something Womack missed. After a few years, he began to look for something new. In 1977, an associate professor position opened at Texas A&M University, and Womack jumped at the opportunity. The position was part of a comparative medicine program between the CVM and Baylor College of Medicine. After applying for the position, Womack was interviewed by Dr. Charles Bridges, head of the Department of Veterinary Pathology, who recently passed away. “They didn’t hire many non-veterinarians in the veterinary college then,” Womack remembered. “There are a lot of us now, but especially in pathology, it was pretty unusual to have a non-DVM in the position. But, they hired me, and I loved it. Working here has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.” Womack has been part of the Texas A&M family for 39 years. The distinguished professor, a designation he has held since 2001, has a joint appointment in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine at Texas A&M’s College of Medicine and the CVM’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. He was promoted to professor in 1983, and two years later received the W.P. Luse Endowed Professorship. From 1989 to 1996, he was director of the Center for Animal Genetics at the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, and he was named interim associate department head for the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology from 1990 to 1993.
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Womack’s Research Dr. James Womack, distinguished professor at the CVM researches inherited resistance to disease in certain animals—both individual animals and breeds. For example, certain cattle have evolved a stronger defense against bacterial and viral pathogens. Womack wants to understand the genetics behind this because it could allow breeders to develop a healthier herd. This is the topic of his most recent USDA-funded research project. Bovine respiratory disease is the most common and costly disease affecting the North American cattle industry. “Not all cattle respond to bovine respiratory pathogens the same, and we’re trying to develop a DNA chip where a little bit of DNA can determine the relative susceptibility or resistance of a particular animal to respiratory disease,” Womack said. Womack and his team of researchers have identified some genes and clusters of genes that convey resistance, and although they are still being validated with additional studies, they have begun to publish the data. Their goal is to give dairy and beef cattle breeders a tool, the DNA chip, to help determine if an animal is resistant to bovine respiratory pathogens. “We want to be able to look at the DNA chip and say we want to breed this individual, and this one will have offspring that are more resistant,” he said. Womack’s research isn’t restricted to cattle; he has worked extensively with mice as well as chickens. He has spent time in Korea studying chickens with the same goal—finding genes that confer disease resistance. Recently, he studied a gene in rats that allows the rats to be resistant to Rift Valley fever, a disease that has taken a toll in Africa and affects cattle, sheep, and goats. “We found a rat model for it and identified that gene,” Womack said. “We occasionally work with dogs, cats, pigs, and horses, too.” Most of Womack’s research has taken place right here in College Station. He said he “got a good start” in research at the Jackson Laboratory, but he was able to continue his work in his current position. “I was very interested in the evolution of animal genomes, how the mouse genome compared to the human genome, and what the differences are between them. When I got here, I expanded my research into the cattle genome. My work is kind of comparative genomics, I guess, and how these little subtle differences seemed to make a difference and why cattle have more genes related to immune function than other mammals,” he said.
Impacting Students Womack noted that his students have been a large part of the success he’s enjoyed in research. His 50th doctoral student recently defended her dissertation, and he has had a myriad of master’s students as well. “We have a genetics graduate program here, and we have 10 or 12 students every year admitted to that program,” he said. “They apply from all over the country. We also have international students here who know about our program, maybe from professors in China or Korea, who also contact us.” In fact, it was one of his former students, now a professor at Washington State University, who contacted him
“They didn’t hire many nonveterinarians in the veterinary college then...But they hired me, and I loved it. Working here has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.” -Dr. James Womack regarding the USDA Bovine Respiratory program. “Then, another fellow, whom I had worked with before at the University of Missouri, and a group at the University of California, Davis—we all just got together and said, ‘Let’s put one of these big grants together.’” They nominated Womack as their project leader. Womack continues to love and be inspired by teaching undergraduate students. “These are juniors and seniors, and they’re usually applying to medical schools, veterinary colleges, and graduate schools. I write a lot of letters, and then they stay in touch with me. I enjoy that. My students kind of become like my children.”
Honored by His Peers Although his list of honors is lengthy, there is one award of which Womack is most proud. It’s the Wolf Prize in Agriculture, which he received in 2001 for his “use of recombinant DNA technology to revolutionize plant and animal sciences, paving the way for applications to neighboring fields,” according to the Wolf Foundation, which awards the prize. The Wolf Prize in Agriculture is awarded annually in Israel. One of six such prizes established by the Wolf Foundation, the Wolf Prize in Agriculture is considered by many to be the Nobel Prize within the field of agriculture. Prior to that honor, in 1999, he was named to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). This organization recognizes and promotes outstanding science through election to its membership, publication in its prestigious journal, and its awards, programs, and activities. Election to the NAS is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. Today, there are approximately 2,250 members and nearly 440 foreign associates, of whom approximately 200 have received Nobel prizes. Womack’s other honors include the Bush Excellence Award for Faculty in International Research, Texas A&M University, 2008; Dean’s Impact Award, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science, Texas A&M, 2007; Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, Abilene Christian
University, 2006; Distinguished Service Award, Texas Genetics Society, 2006; Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1999; Outstanding Texas Geneticist, Texas Genetics Society, 1996; CIBA Prize for Research in Animal Health, 1993; McMaster Fellow, CSIRO, Australia, 1990; Carrington Award for Research in Cell Biology, 1990; Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award for Research, Texas A&M University, 1987; and the Alumni Citation Award, Abilene Christian University, 1983. He serves or has served on editorial boards for these publications: Genomics, Journal of Heredity, Biochemical Genetics, Animal Genetics, Mammalian Genome, Genome Research, and Animal Biotechnology.
Collaboration Womack said many “coffee pot discussions” take place outside his office. “I usually leave my door open, and the coffee pot’s right out there. I have a lot of people coming by.” A lot of those people coming by are fellow researchers. He said it’s valuable and interesting to learn about the research of others, and that some things that would seem to be unrelated actually can shed light on other topics. Spending time with other faculty members and researchers is important to Womack. He often sits down to learn from and brainstorm with Drs. James Derr, Scott Dindot, Loren Skow, Terje Raudsepp, Chris Seabury, Mike Criscitiello, and others. “We’ve come to realize that this fast-paced world requires strong partnerships to leverage creativity, experience, and resources. With unique thinkers, we can help one another generate ideas—and possibly arrive at viable solutions in less time,” said Womack.
All in the Family Womack’s wife, Raby, has been a shining light in his life for many years, setting aside her own career at times to move and provide tranquility to a busy family. Tragically, the Womacks’ son, James Michael Womack, was killed in a car accident in 2013. Their daughter, Wendy Hill, is a nurse who lives in Austin and has two children. One grandson, Quaid Faltys, is following in his grandfather’s “almost” footsteps, as he just graduated from dental school. The other, his daughter’s youngest son, a third-grader, shares a love of hunting and fishing with his grandfather. “We have a lot of fun together,” Womack said. “We have a little ranch out near Wheelock. He’s my big farm hand, and hunting and fishing partner. My son and I did a lot of outdoor stuff together. My nine-year-old grandson has decided he’s going to replace my son as my buddy.” His thoughtful young grandson is named James Hamlin Hill, after his two grandfathers: James Womack and Hamlin Hill, a Mark Twain scholar who led the English Department at Texas A&M prior to his death in 2002. By his side through this journey has been Womack’s wife, whom he calls “a great teacher” and who, now retired, had a 30-year teaching career, right here in College Station. “She has second-graders who are now 50 or 60 years old who still contact her for friendly chats or to ask her advice. She’s a whole lot smarter than me,” he said. “I have been blessed.” Winter 2017 •
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A Cowboy and a Researcher:
by Sara Carney
The Adventures of Dr. Dickson Varner a serious researcher and a bit of a daredevil, but Varner’s wild streak is no surprise when you hear about his roots.
Born to be a Cowboy
A young Dickson Varner and his family. It’s not immediately apparent from his calm demeanor, but Dr. Dickson Varner is fearless. Not only is he is an avid horseman, but he regularly participates in mountain man challenges. As a certified American Mountain Man, Varner heads to the Rocky Mountains each year to live in remote areas for about a month, outfitted in buckskins and moccasins, with only the resources available to the mountain men of the early 1800s. Varner rides horseback with a couple of friends, covering several hundred miles across the wild Rocky Mountains with a pack mule, compass, knife, tomahawk, and flintlock firearms. When not conquering rugged terrain and embracing the outdoors, Varner serves as professor and Pin Oak Stud Chair of Stallion Reproductive Studies in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. He is largely responsible for shaping the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science (CVM) equine theriogenology, or reproduction, program and developing its reputation as an international leader in stallion fertility research and patient care. “I wonder nearly every day how I reached this lot in life—that of an academic theriogenologist,” Varner said. “Certainly the path to my current position was unpredicted by me and nothing short of incomprehensible to the loved ones that offered guidance during my formative years.” It may seem somewhat unexpected that someone can be both
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“Born the son of a bona fide cowboy and cowgirl,” Varner was destined for the life of the Wild West. His parents, Victor “Tex” and Hope Carol Varner, were rodeo producers in the Ozarks of Missouri. There, they started a Wild West show named the Ozark Stampede, filled with a multitude of trick acts, musical entertainment, and animal acts involving such animals as horses, ostriches, llamas, buffalo, and even high-diving mules. The facility also offered trail rides daily, with up to 30 horses per ride, and hay rides with an eighthorse hitch. Varner described the show as “a sight to behold.” It included typical rodeo events—bareback broncs, and bull riding. But, there were more unusual events as well, including jumping horses, mules, trick horses, trick dogs, and chariot races. His parents even produced some of the first all-girl rodeos in the mid 1950s. “I reckon it was this very upbringing that inspired my fascination for animals. I was exposed on a daily basis to an assortment of animals that most youth could only read about in books or visit at the zoo,” Varner said. Before Varner even said his first words or took his first steps, he spent time with animals, particularly horses. “From the time I was an infant, my parents immersed me and my two sisters in animal-related activities,” he recalled. “As an infant, I spent much time in an Indian cradle board that was hung in a tree over the watering tank where the horses would water off after the trail rides.” Harry the Educated Mule—named after Harry S. Truman, who was the president at the time—was the first in a long line of equine pals for Varner. “When I became old enough to ride on my own, I was mounted on Harry
Jumping stock rehearsing for rodeo.
A camel in the Varner’s show.
the Educated Mule, riding with a bareback rigging while assisting with trail rides that were offered daily,“ Varner said. Alongside his two sisters, Victoria Star and Gay Linell, Varner began at a young age performing trick roping as the Ropin’ Rodeo Rascals. Around age 10, he began riding bulls at the insistence of his father. At the time, Varner thought he would prefer roping calves, but he quickly realized his passion after riding his first few bulls. “I eventually became hooked on bull riding,” he said. “I rode these critters until the weekend before I entered veterinary medical school.” It was a thrilling childhood. “Looking back, I think my youth was quite incredible, even though I didn’t fully appreciate it until I became older,” Varner said. “I am so thankful to my parents for providing me with such a unique and adrenaline-charged childhood.” But the wild ride didn’t end with his childhood. It had only begun.
for administration of mineral oil and castor oil, when one showed signs of colic.” But, an early experience with a veterinarian stands out in Varner’s mind. One day, he and his father took a trip to the University of Missouri to seek care for his father’s trick horse named Nugget, who was suffering from a “foul-smelling nasal discharge.” “Being the showman he was, my dad could not pass up the opportunity to perform some tricks with Nugget, so he had the horse sit down and drink Coke out of a bottle for
From Cowboy to Veterinarian Despite his extensive experience with animals during his childhood, Varner didn’t grow up wanting to be a veterinarian. Looking back, it seemed like he stumbled upon the career. “Why I wound up in veterinary school, I can’t rightly recollect,” he said. Most of the veterinary care Varner witnessed growing up was done at home by his father, who “even had a stomach tube in the barn that he passed into the horses’ stomach Trick roping Winter 2017 •
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some of the faculty and students,” Varner said. The visit led to a lasting friendship between Varner’s father and the veterinarian, Dr. Joe McGinity. As an undergraduate studying agriculture at the University of Missouri, Varner continued to compete in rodeos. But one day in the student union, an informational booth on veterinary medicine caught his eye. “My heart was set on making the national finals of the Rodeo Cowboy Association in those days,” he said, “but somehow I picked up an application form for veterinary school that was due the following Monday.” With some help from his mother, Varner managed to both compete in the rodeo in western Kansas and finish his veterinary school application. In addition to helping him put together his application letter, Varner’s mother also insisted that he include informational brochures on the Ozark Stampede. He said, “I reckon I owe my acceptance into veterinary school solely to my adoring mother!” Varner was accepted to veterinary school at the University of Missouri. “I entered the professional curriculum with
Dr. Varner with Pepto and Shiner 58 •
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little idea of what to expect. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all facets of this educational experience,” he said. Veterinary school was where Varner discovered his passion for theriogenology. He quickly became enamored with the clinical rotations that focused on theriogenology and learned firsthand from experts in the field. “It was this experience that prompted me to focus on animal reproduction following graduation.” In addition to finding his passion in veterinary school, Varner also found the love of his life, fellow student Tricia Anne Wilcox. “We married during her senior year of veterinary school, and she has stuck by the side of this renegade for the last 38 years!” he said. Varner credits a number of his accomplishments to her support and guidance. The couple would eventually have two sons, Victor and Zack, and four grandchildren.
Life as a Researcher After graduating from the University of Missouri, Varner sought more experience in theriogenology, so he interned
techniques ultimately help increase reproductive success in horses.
Success as an Academic
Dr. Dickson Varner at the horse show. at Castleton Farms, a large broodmare farm in Lexington, Kentucky. There, he practiced under the tutelage of Dr. H. Steve Conboy, the man Varner credits with “molding [him] into a worthwhile veterinarian.” After three and a half years of honing his clinical skills at Castleton Farms, Varner moved to a residency program in animal reproduction at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, where he worked as a resident and a lecturer. “My oh my, these were such enriching years,” he reminisced, “not only because of the direction and support I received from my mentors, but also because I was surrounded by such bright, energetic, and kindly residents.” These other residents included a number of the researchers that Varner works with today at the CVM, including Drs. Katrin Hinrichs, Charles C. “Charley” Love, and Terry L. Blanchard. “We have a wonderful group of folks here that are as much family as colleagues,” he said. “I think that allows us to be very productive as a unit.” Following his training at the University of Pennsylvania, Varner accepted a position at Texas A&M, where he has remained for the past 30 years. At the time, the CVM did not have a strong equine reproduction program—but that changed after Varner showed up. Today, when it comes to equine theriogenology, the CVM is a top institution. Varner and his research team travel across the globe to assess and improve stallion fertility. This work includes determining the optimal methods for freezing and preserving semen, diagnosing the quality of semen, and evaluating stallions’ breeding capabilities. “We probably have the strongest team worldwide in the area of stallion reproduction,” Varner said. During his time at the CVM, Varner has devoted his research to better understanding the sperm function and preservation in horses. For example, he identified a defect in the sperm’s acrosome, the “cap” on the sperm’s head that secretes enzymes to penetrate the egg, which severely interfered with fertility of some stallions. This later led to demonstration of a genetic basis for the defect in a project led by Dr. Terje Raudsepp, a colleague at the CVM. He also helped develop the use of Computer-Assisted Sperm Analysis (CASA) for semen evaluation and a variety of ways to improve storage and transport of semen. These
To his colleagues, Varner is an invaluable asset to the team. The procedures and approaches he pioneered have helped guide the team and the industry. “He guided the section of theriogenology at Texas A&M to become one of the top research and clinical facilities for stallions in the world,” Hinrichs said. On the other hand, Varner credits his success to his team, noting that collaboration with colleagues leads to better progress in research. “Multiple minds are always far brighter than any single mind,” he said. Beyond research, Varner’s team and others appreciate his dedication to equine theriogenology. Hinrichs recalled a breeder once saying, “It may seem like I am a bit over the top about Dickson, but in saving my stallion’s fertility, he didn’t just allow me to get more foals, he saved my entire ranch and livelihood.” The respect between industry and Varner is mutual. In fact, he believes one of the keys to success in the field of theriogenology is connecting with industry. “We have a lot of contacts with people in the industry, and that’s one area that you have to really focus on to be successful,” he said. “You have to know the industry. You have to immerse yourself in the industry.” For this cowboy-turned-veterinarian-turned-researcher, success is not only about how hard you work; it is also a matter of the connections you make and the fun you have along the way.
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Dr. Katrin Hinrichs:
by Dr. Megan Palsa and Callie Rainosek
Setting the Standard in Assisted Equine Reproduction
Dr. Hinrichs and students in the reproduction lab. Dr. Katrin Hinrichs, professor and Patsy Link Chair of Mare Reproductive Studies at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), grew up riding horses as a hobby. As an adult, she is internationally recognized for her research in equine reproductive physiology and for overseeing one of the few labs in the world capable of performing intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a process that has now become the standard in assisted reproduction in horses. A more complex and precise form of in vitro fertilization (IVF), ICSI is the only process that can efficiently produce a fertilized equine embryo outside of a mare’s body. Hinrichs’ research ultimately led to success and improved efficiency in ICSI, a goal that once seemed unreachable for equine reproduction researchers. In the last year, Hinrichs was named a Texas A&M Regents Professor and awarded the third Simmet Prize in Assisted Reproduction by the International Congress on Animal Reproduction. Her other achievements include producing the first cloned horse in North America, named Paris Texas, as well as other cloned foals to aid in her research on the application of cloning equids. Although she faced a number of challenges throughout her journey, Hinrichs’ work paved the way for the clinical and research application of many forms of assisted reproduction in horses.
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The Early Years As a child, Hinrichs was infatuated with horses. When she was nine years old, her mother purchased the family’s first horse. Soon after, Hinrichs got a horse of her own and recalls working with horses ever since. She and her mother kept the horses in a nearby boarding stable until they moved from Orange County to northern California, where they were able to keep their horses in their backyard. “I owned a mixed-breed horse named Tico. When we moved up to northern California, we were right next to El Dorado National Forest,” Hinrichs recalled. “My mother and I used to go out and ride for miles in the forest. It was a great way to grow up.” It was this passion for horses that motivated Hinrichs to become a veterinarian. “I’ve always been a horse fanatic. I always wanted to be a veterinarian growing up,” she said. Hinrichs began her journey to veterinary school as a biochemistry major at the University of California (UC), Davis with an intention of attending veterinary school. Although biochemistry encompassed many of her interests, it did not seem to align with Hinrichs’ true passion. “In my undergraduate studies, I kept telling people, ‘I want to know how muscles work,’” Hinrichs explained. “I started out in biology, switched to zoology and still did not learn about how muscles work. Then, I thought, ‘What I need is biochemistry,’ but that’s not what I needed either.”
After taking her first physiology class at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1974, Hinrichs realized that physiology was what she had wanted to learn about all along. “What I wanted to learn was physiology, but I didn’t even know what the word ‘physiology’ meant at that time,” she said. “I kept trying to find it until I got into veterinary school.”
The Road to Research Like many veterinary schools at the time, the students in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis were primarily male. “I specialized in equine medicine my last year, and out of the 13 people on the equine track, I was the only woman,” Hinrichs said. But, being the only woman in her field of study at UC Davis and one of few women in her graduating class did not deter her. Hinrichs graduated from veterinary school in 1978 with the intention of becoming an equine practitioner; however, she was not the kind of applicant that practitioners with open equine positions were looking for. “The fact that I was a woman really got in the way because nobody wanted to hire a woman as an equine practitioner back then, so I got a job in a mixed-animal practice in northern California,” she said. “However, I was disappointed in the work; it was using only a small amount of what I had learned in veterinary school. I wanted to be a veterinarian all my life, and when I became one, I wasn’t happy.” Things would soon change for Hinrichs. “I had a friend who went to the University of Pennsylvania as a visiting scholar in reproduction,” she said. “He wrote me and said, ‘I think you would like it here,’ so I applied for the large animal residency there. As soon as I started in academia, I knew that was exactly where I belonged because people were trying to be the best they could and learn the most they could.” Hinrichs pursued a Ph.D. in comparative medical sciences at the University of Pennsylvania after she completed her residency studying the hormonal requirements for pregnancy in the horse and equine oocytes—unfertilized egg cells. After earning her Ph.D., she took a faculty position in reproduction at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “My position at Tufts was an interesting change, because during my time at the University of Pennsylvania, I was in a strong and active section of equine reproduction. The section was probably one of the strongest in the world at that time,” Hinrichs explained. “Then, I went to Tufts, and I was the only equine reproduction faculty member. That was a very different environment. Luckily, I was able to get some money to do my research—and luckily there was tissue available.” After moving to Massachusetts, Hinrichs married and had two daughters. At the urging of a colleague at Texas A&M, she applied for an open physiologist position at the CVM in 1998. She recalled her excitement over the seemingly endless possibilities in research Texas A&M offered. “I came to Texas to interview for the position, and it was amazing,” Hinrichs said. “Texas A&M helped me see the light. It was like being in a stall and then being released out into a pasture; there were so many more resources
What is in vitro fertilization?
Commonly referred to as IVF, in vitro fertilization refers to having the process of fertilization—that is, the combining of a sperm and a mature oocyte, or unfertilized egg—occur outside of the body in the laboratory. In standard IVF, an egg is placed with sperm together in a dish, and one sperm must penetrate the egg. Under the right conditions, an early embryo can develop. If the process is successful, the embryo is then transferred into the uterus for further development. Although this process has been successful in many species, it has not had repeatable success in equine species because the sperm do not penetrate into the egg.
What is ICSI?
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) involves manually inserting a single sperm into a mature oocyte via a pipette. This produces a fertilized egg, and if the laboratory provides the right conditions, an early embryo can develop. In theory, only one sperm is needed for each egg, so ICSI provides a method by which numerous offspring can be produced from a small store of frozen sperm. This process has proved successful for assisted reproduction in horses and Texas A&M is home to one of the world’s few laboratories that can successfully perform this procedure.
What is cloning?
In reproductive cloning, researchers remove all the DNA from a mature oocyte. Scientists collect a single somatic cell, any cell except sperm and eggs, from the donor animal. The DNA from the somatic cell is then transferred through a needle into the egg that has had its own DNA removed. Given the right laboratory conditions, an early-stage embryo can develop and will be placed into a mare’s uterus for further development.
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and opportunities here. I was really fortunate to get the position.”
Testing the Possibilities When Hinrichs accepted the offer to teach physiology at the CVM she began researching cloning and reproduction. She brought along Dr. Young Ho Choi as a collaborator, who began as a post-doctoral trainee and is currently a senior research scientist. The two began exploring the possibility of producing a fertilized equine embryo in vitro, a basic research and clinical tool in other species that was not yet feasible in the horse. In conventional IVF, sperm are placed in a dish with a mature oocyte, and one sperm penetrates the oocyte to fertilize it. Given ideal laboratory conditions, the egg will develop into an early embryo, which can be transferred to a recipient female for further development. However, traditional IVF had yet to be successfully achieved in horses. Unlike other livestock species, such as cattle, horse eggs and sperm do not seem to respond to traditional IVF methods. Therefore, Hinrichs and Choi took a different approach by looking into a more complex assisted reproduction method: ICSI . In ICSI, a single sperm is manually injected into the cytoplasm, the fluid that fills the cell, of the mature oocyte. It is then placed in an incubator in hopes that fertilization occurs and an early embryo can develop. The embryo can then be transferred into a recipient mare’s uterus for gestation. Because so few sperm are needed, in theory, a single straw of frozen semen from a valuable stallion can produce thousands of offspring. This means that deceased stallions can continue to reproduce so long as they have provided frozen sperm. Mares who are no longer able to reproduce naturally, but still produce healthy oocytes, can also continue to produce offspring through ICSI.
Overcoming Challenges and Moving Forward To see if the ICSI process could even be performed in their lab, Choi began working with a micromanipulator and a powerful microscope that allowed for manipulation of the horse oocyte. Using the micromanipulator, Choi was able to hold the oocyte in place and inject a single sperm into the egg through a pipette. This marked the beginning of a journey toward successful assisted reproduction for horses in vitro; but the rest of the journey would not be easy. After Hinrichs and Choi discovered that the ICSI process could be successfully performed to fertilize a horse oocyte in the lab, the next challenge was to provide the ideal conditions for an early embryo to develop—a goal that would take over two years to reach. “We could put the sperm into the oocyte, but we did not have the right environment for it to develop in vitro,” Hinrichs explained. “IVF had never worked in horses, so nobody had produced early equine embryos in the laboratory, so no one had done any studies on how you culture an equine embryo to get it to develop.” Promising results led to research support in the form of grants, which were instrumental in the success of Hinrichs’ 62 •
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Dr. Hinrichs and student
ICSI program. More funding led to more research, and Choi and Hinrichs discovered that an equine embryo needed a complex medium to grow for seven to 10 days until it could be placed in a recipient mare. After more successful attempts at producing early equine embryos in vitro, Hinrichs and Choi were able to move on to perform the process clinically. “It took a couple of years for us to develop a method where an embryo could develop in vitro to the point where we could transfer it to the uterus of a recipient mare to make a pregnancy,” Hinrichs said. “It turns out the developing equine embryo needs a lot to survive; it needs a complete cell culture medium. Luckily, you can buy a cell culture medium at the cell culture store. It’s got everything in it a cell would ever need.” The clinical ICSI program quickly became successful. In 2015 Hinrichs and Choi performed over 450 procedures on oocytes from valuable client-owned mares. A large part of this demand is due to low semen supplies of stallions who are deceased or too old to reproduce any longer. In comparison to other forms of assisted reproduction, such as artificial insemination, ICSI is more efficient in these cases. For example, artificial insemination of a mare with frozen semen could potentially take several straws of sperm to produce a pregnancy, while for ICSI, one straw of frozen sperm can be thawed and diluted so that it yields enough doses to perform hundreds of ICSI procedures. In addition to external grants, Hinrichs credits The Patsy Link Equine Research Endowment Fund as playing a major role in the success of her and Choi. “The Patsy Link endowment was what funded us to keep researching ICSI so that we could get the process to work,” Hinrichs
said. “This helped fund Dr. Choi’s salary and our supplies in the laboratory. Recently, the clinical income has started to replace the Link funding, freeing up money to support other equine research programs at Texas A&M.” Increasing the efficiency of ICSI solved many challenges associated with assisted reproduction in horses. The research and time Hinrichs and Choi devoted to successfully performing ICSI also aided advancements in another aspect of assisted equine reproduction: cloning.
Cloning: The Next Step Cloning, a process that has been successful in many species, such as cats, cattle, and deer, was also a goal of Choi and Hinrichs’, and the findings from performing ICSI helped to advance their work on cloning. In reproductive cloning, researchers recover unfertilized eggs from mares, and eliminate all DNA from the eggs. They then collect a tissue sample, usually skin, from the valuable donor horse, and culture cells from the sample. The DNA from the donor cell is then transferred through a needle into an egg that had its own DNA removed. Given the right laboratory conditions, an early-stage embryo can develop and will be placed into a mare’s uterus for further development. The resulting foal has the same genetics as the donor horse—an “identical twin” born years later. Hinrichs funded her research in cloning through research agreements with private individuals who wanted to support advancements in this area and have cells from their horses used in the work. While reproductive cloning offered an opportunity for Hinrichs to further study the biology of the horse oocyte and early embryo, it also lead to her interests in endangered exotic equids. Hinrichs hopes that her cloning research can eventually assist in saving endangered equids, such as Grevy’s zebra, by producing fertilized cloned embryos in the laboratory and then allowing the cloned animal to develop in a recipient mare. The cloning process would aid populations with extremely low numbers and low genetic diversity by cloning deceased or old individuals that had not reproduced in that population. “A lot of people wonder why you would clone a horse,” Hinrichs said. “I’ve always been enthusiastic about cloning as a way to save endangered species or even endangered rare breeds. In fact, I have been in contact with people who work with rare breeds of horses who want to work with me on cloning and ICSI because there are only a few specimens left of certain breeds. For me, a major application of cloning is for saving endangered equids.”
A New Project: Saving the Northern and Southern White Rhino In addition to hoping to save endangered equids, Hinrichs recently became involved with a project initiated by the San Diego Zoo that aims to replenish the populations of African northern and southern white rhinoceros. Only three northern white rhinos, which live in Kenya, remain in the world, while about 20,000 southern white rhinos remain
in Africa. In the United States, there are approximately 100 southern white rhinos kept in captivity. “I got involved with this project through my membership in the International Embryo Technology Society,” Hinrichs said. “At our annual meeting, there was a day on which the society had a course on exotic animal reproduction. One of the people that was at the course, Dr. Barbara Durrant, Director of Reproductive Physiology and Henshaw Chair at the San Diego Zoo, asked me if I wanted to meet with her to talk about assisted reproduction in the rhinoceros. When we spoke, she invited me to a meeting they were planning at the Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research in which scientists and conservationists from around the world were going to brainstorm on approaches to saving the rhino.” It was no coincidence that Hinrichs was approached about assisted reproduction in rhinos. Although most people would not consider a domestic horse similar to a rhino, horses and rhinos are actually in the same family. Despite differences in physical appearance, the horse is accepted as being the best animal model for assisted reproduction in rhinos. Due to the threat of extinction in both the northern and southern white rhino, the San Diego Zoo has started an initiative to use assisted reproduction to save the two species, and Hinrichs’ work in the horse may pave the way for possible methods to accomplish this goal. Since the 1970s, the San Diego Zoo has been collecting and freezing cells from the zoo’s deceased animals. This “frozen zoo” includes northern white rhino sperm and skin cells, and many other cells from animals that have died in zoos across the United States. By collaborating with Hinrichs, the San Diego Zoo hopes to produce rhino embryos through ICSI and cloning. However, there are many challenges in the way of this goal. “Scientists in this project are trying to develop a way to get the eggs from rhinos that are still alive,” Hinrichs explained. “The rhino is so big that traditional methods of collecting oocytes, as used in other species including horses, can’t be performed. In addition, shipment of exotic animals and their sperm and cells is getting more difficult because of government regulations, so we cannot receive eggs from rhinos that die, say, in South Africa. This results in scientists trying to manage the population of southern white rhinos in the United States to maximize their numbers and genetic diversity, as a fallback if every single rhino in Africa is poached.” Hinrichs and her research team are exploring the idea of how ICSI and cloning could play a key role in saving the northern and southern white rhino. Because of the genetic similarities between the rhinos, Hinrichs said it is highly likely that a northern white rhino’s DNA could develop normally inside a southern white rhino’s oocyte. “If we develop a way to get oocytes from the live southern white rhinos in the United States, then we could use the eggs for two purposes: first, we could increase the genetic diversity in the United States southern white rhino population by using southern white rhino sperm in the frozen zoo to produce southern embryos through ICSI. Second, we could use the southern white rhino eggs as “host” eggs, to clone northern white rhinos.” For embryos produced by both ICSI and Winter 2017 •
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cloning, the southern white rhino would serve as a recipient; but there is an additional challenge of finding a way to transfer the embryo without surgery to the female. The size of the rhino makes both obtaining oocytes from female rhinos and placing them into a recipient a problem, one to which the rhino conservation group is now trying to find solutions. “Obtaining oocytes is a big problem, and so is putting the embryo back into the rhino,” Hinrichs explained. “Nobody knows how to do either procedure, because the methods that we use in domestic species won’t work. Not only are rhinos too big for these methods, their cervix, the pathway between the vagina and the uterus that you have to get through to put the embryo into the uterus, is spiral. You also can’t perform surgery on rhinos easily, because their skin doesn’t heal well, so we would rather not place embryos in surgically.” The San Diego Zoo’s initiative to save the northern and southern white rhino is a challenge, but Hinrichs and her research team are motivated and believe the methods of ICSI and cloning they have developed in the horse have the potential to save both species from extinction. “Every rhino is precious and irreplaceable,” Hinrichs said.
Hinrichs Honored for Her Research In recognition for her efforts in assisted reproduction, Hinrichs will be awarded the third Simmet Prize in Assisted Reproduction at the International Congress in
Dr. Hinrichs and a student in the lab. 64 •
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Animal Reproduction in 2016 in Tours, France. The award recognizes researchers for outstanding basic and applied research in the field of assisted reproductive technologies for animal production. The Simmet Prize is the most generous award of its type in the world and is presented every four years. “I never thought I would actually be awarded the Simmet Prize, especially for work in horses, because there are some amazing researchers out there,” Hinrichs said. “However, my research is more applied and perhaps that was my strength. I have been able to do the research and then translate it to a successful clinical program in assisted reproduction in the horse. Maybe that is what interested the award committee.” In addition to the Simmet Prize, Hinrichs has been recognized as a Texas A&M Regents Professor for her teaching, research, and service. As the highest honor in the Texas A&M University System for faculty members, the award recognizes faculty that have had a positive impact on their institution, their community, the state of Texas, and the nation. As a newly recognized Regents Professor and Simmet Prize winner, Hinrichs looks forward to making even stronger connections with her students in the classroom, where she teaches reproductive physiology to first-year veterinary students. In addition, she hopes to continue advancing the study of equine assisted reproduction and cloning while contributing to her institution, community, and world through her research efforts.
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by Sara Carney
Same Journey, Different Directions
Dr. Joe Arosh and Dr. Sakhila Banu Dr. Joe Arosh and Dr. Sakhila Banu share many things. They work in the same department—the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS) at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). Their offices are in the same hall. They share a marriage and a love for their twin daughters, Jerusha and Elsha Arosh. And, although they both conduct research on female reproduction, their research interests are unique from each other and within their respective fields. Arosh is one of the leading researchers on endometriosis, a condition characterized by pelvic pain and infertility in women of childbearing age. Banu is the only researcher in the United States focused on the effects of hexavalent chromium, a heavy metal toxicant in the environment, on ovarian development. Arosh and Banu’s story began well before they came to the CVM. The couple met in India, their home country,
and worked on a short-term collaborative project in large animal endocrinology between the University of Madras and Madras Veterinary College in Chennai (Madras), India. They both studied at the Centre de Recherché en Biologie de la Reproduction at Laval University in Quebec, Canada. They continued their research in the same lab and married in 2002. This journey ultimately led them to Texas A&M University. In 2004 and 2005, Arosh and Banu accepted jobs as faculty at the CVM, respectively. This became a turning point and opened the door for each of them to become leaders and innovators in their respective research areas.
Arosh: Endometriosis and Finding Relief Arosh began his career as a veterinarian and earned his B.V.Sc.—the equivalent of a DVM—from Madras Veterinary College in India. For five years he practiced as a mixedWinter 2017 •
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of reproductive age and is the most common cause of hysterectomies in the United States. “When I learned that endometriosis is an inflammatory disease and affects only menstruating women, I knew that prostaglandins should play a major role in this disease,” Arosh said. Currently, therapies for endometriosis are limited. Steroids may help ease the pain in the short term, but do not provide lasting benefits for pain or fertility. “People worked with steroids for the last 100 years,” Arosh said. Unfortunately, targeting estrogen is undesirable. Because estrogen is an important hormone women need for their healthy reproductive life, it’s time for researchers to think differently on non-estrogen targets to preserve fertility and reduce pain in endometriosis women.” Surgery is also an option. “The therapies we have now include removing the uterus or the ovaries, but we will not be able to preserve the fertility,” Arosh said. “The affected women can get some relief from the pain for about seven years. After that, the pain does come back.” Seeing the need for something better, Arosh began exploring alternative treatment options, mainly nonsteroidal therapy. He started looking for something more effective with less adverse effects on fertility. By understanding the biochemical mechanism of prostaglandins in endometriosis, he believes that targeting prostaglandin pathways or signaling may emerge as novel non-steroidal therapy for endometriosis in women. Arosh is in the process of developing a drug therapy that targets EP2 and EP4 receptors of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2)—involved in the development of endometriosis. He noticed that women with endometriosis have higher concentrations of PGE2, and previous research indicates that PGE2 play a role in the growth and development of endometrial lesions. The therapy Arosh is working on inhibits the PGE2 receptors, thus making PGE2 ineffective. The lesions are less likely to grow and survive. Formation of the blood vessels needed to nourish and supply blood to the lesions is suppressed. Neurons that cause pelvic pain are decreased, inflammation is reduced, and fertility is restored. In the future, this could mean a personalized approach to treating endometriosis. “I hope in the future we will create this potential targeted therapy for women with endometriosis, so that they can preserve their fertility and get some relief from the pain,” Arosh said. Further, Arosh noted that the benefits go beyond Dr. Joe Arosh, Dr. Sakhila Banu, and their twin daughters, Jerusha and Elsha. endometriosis. “When this practice veterinarian, seeing mostly dogs and ruminants. However, Arosh’s interest in reproduction inspired him to pursue research, starting with a master’s in obstetrics and gynecology (India) and a Ph.D. in reproductive endocrinology (Canada). Today, Arosh researches prostaglandins and the uterus using ruminants as a model. Prostaglandins are critical hormones required for estrous cycle and establishment of pregnancy in cows and sheep and other ruminants. “Prostaglandins are central inflammatory mediators,” Arosh said. “They play a major role in inflammation of several diseases. They can have a beneficial role in reproductive biology, but they can also have very adverse effects. Prostaglandin pathways have been targeted by drugs like NSAIDS—Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol—for more than 100 years to decrease pain and inflammation in human and animal health and diseases.” Pregnancy in ruminants is an essential part of the food and fiber industries, such as the dairy and beef industries, and issues with pregnancies in ruminants can cause economic losses. Therefore, Arosh is looking to understand the mechanisms behind prostaglandins and the uterus and improving reproductive efficiency in ruminants by developing new therapies. Arosh’s research goes beyond veterinary medicine. He has developed an interest in endometriosis, a disorder caused by growth of the uterine lining in places other than the uterus—such as the abdomen—and the body painfully attempting to shed that lining. The condition is estimated to affect between five and 10 percent of women who are
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medication is available, it will not only treat endometriosis,” he said. “It would be useful for most of the inflammatory diseases—rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and inflammatory cancers, such as colon cancer and breast cancer. Also, we could use this treatment across species.” At present no drugs are available to target these EP2 and EP4 receptors in human or veterinary medicine.
Diverging Interests Arosh knew from the beginning that research in female reproduction was his passion. “Since 1995, I have been working in the same area. My research interests have not changed,” Arosh said. “This area of research was really developing when I entered it in 1995, but we didn’t have all the new tools like we have now. With these tools, we can discover new things and revisit old knowledge.” However, the path was not as clear cut for Banu. She began her research career in developmental biology and endocrinology and earned a bachelor’s and master’s in zoology as well as a master’s and Ph.D. in endocrinology. For her doctoral research, she studied the role of sex steroids on the development of thyroid. Later, she and Arosh worked in the same lab at Laval University in Canada for postdoctoral training. The couple studied prostaglandins, a hormone-like compound found in various tissues in the body, and their effects on the uterus. After working in Canada, Arosh and Banu’s interests began to diverge. Banu began to realize a new passion. “Honestly, I was not interested in continuing my research career in the uterus or prostaglandins,” Banu said. “I thought, ‘You cannot do something in life you don’t have a passion for.’ Therefore, I dropped my research on the uterus and prostaglandins and started looking to the horizon for a new dawn.” When Banu moved away from research on prostaglandins, the transition wasn’t easy. “I felt I was lost in an unknown world. I did not have my own lab, start up, or any equipment—only a computer.” Despite the rough transition, Banu rose to the challenge and pushed forward.
Banu: Chromium and the Ovaries The toxic effects of hexavalent chromium are well documented and were popularized in the film Erin Brockovich. The widespread use of hexavalent chromium makes it an ideal heavy metal to study. “The number one problem with chromium is increased usage because it’s used in more than 50 industries—the catalytic converters in automobiles, welding, tanneries and leather industries, painting,” Banu said. “There are 20,000 metric tons of chromium released into the air every year in the United States alone. The second problem is improper disposal of chromium waste into the environment.” But, hexavalent chromium’s effects have only been studied in some organs, such as the liver and kidneys. Therefore, she developed her novel research to understand the effects of chromium in the unknown areas of the field, namely, in female reproduction and fetal development.
The goal for Banu and her lab is two-fold. First, she is working to understand the mechanism behind how heavy metals, including hexavalent chromium, affect female reproduction. Secondly, she is searching for interventions to help mitigate the toxic effects of heavy metals. Specifically, Banu is interested in understanding how hexavalent chromium affects a female offspring’s ovaries in utero. “My main goal is to see what happens to the children if pregnant women are exposed to hexavalent chromium, since it readily crosses the placenta and directly targets the fetal organs, mainly the ovary,” she said. Using a rat model, Banu discovered that hexavalent chromium leads to premature ovarian failure and ultimately infertility. She looked at several genes and proteins that regulate the ovary’s development and the onset of apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in ovarian cells. Although it is normal for cell death to occur in some cells during the development of the ovary, accelerating apoptosis during early ovarian development can have consequences later in a woman’s life—particularly infertility. “Many chemicals can cause cell death,” Banu said. “If liver cells or intestinal cells are targeted they rejuvenate to a certain extent. But, every woman is born with a specific number of immature eggs, called oocytes, in the ovary. If during early development the oocytes are exposed to chromium, which particularly targets those cells, and if chromium accelerates those molecular pathways that program cell death, then it is possible that you could end up with premature ovarian failure.” Although these results may seem alarming, Banu’s research also provides hope. She is looking into a number of therapies for mitigating the negative effects of hexavalent chromium, particularly through healthy eating or consuming enough antioxidants. Through her research, she has identified antioxidants including vitamin C, edaravone (a medication) and resveratrol (a compound found in grapes and wine) as potential therapies. “Oxidative stress is caused by the free radicals generated in our bodies,” Banu said. “Hexavalent chromium increases the free radical generation, and it increases oxidative stress. A natural antidote to reduce, suppress, subside, or mitigate the oxidative stress is consuming antioxidants. Antioxidants quench these free radicals in our body.”
Looking to the Future Both Arosh and Banu plan to continue pursuing their research, deepening the understanding within their fields, and evaluating new treatment options that would help humans and animals alike. Arosh and Banu’s research not only paves the way for advances in female reproductive health, but it also promotes the One Health mission of the CVM—the connection between the health of humans, animals, and the environment. “We are highlighting One Health. This research helps the environment, human beings, and animals. The goal is to protect the environment and to protect human health and animal health—that’s One Health.” Winter 2017 •
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by Sara Carney
The Tiny World Inside Your Pet The word “ecosystem” often evokes images of vast terrain and large expanses of wilderness, often at the continental or planetary scale. But, ecosystems aren’t always so massive. In fact, people, dogs, cats, and all other animals harbor tiny ecosystems within their guts and on their skin. This tiny world made up of microbes and metabolites is known as the microbiome. The microscopic microcosm within the guts of our pet cats and dogs is the subject of Dr. Jan Suchodolski’s research. As the associate director of research and head of microbiome sciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Gastrointestinal (GI) Laboratory, Suchodolski is much like a biologist trekking through unknown terrain to characterize and understand the life present. And, he is part of one of only two labs in the nation specializing in research on the companion animal microbiome.
Dr. Suchodolski and second-year DVM student, Hannah L. Klein.
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The microbiome is a relatively new field of study, making Suchodolski’s research cutting edge. He has spent much of his research career uncovering what makes up our pet’s digestive tract. But, Suchodolski’s work is more than just identification; he is also working on understanding how the microbiome affects the overall health of the digestive system and beyond. “In the past, we focused on understanding ‘who’ makes up the microbiome, categorizing the bacterial groups present in the GI tract,” Suchodolski said. “Over the last 10 years, we have acquired newer, better tools to characterize the bacteria. The next big step is understanding their function, and that’s what we’re doing now.” Understanding function means understanding how the microbiome influences disease processes and what a healthy—or unhealthy—microbiome looks like. This means being able to understand the root causes of and contributors
“It’s like a football team. You have two competing teams. The players are different, yet they’re doing the same thing. In the microbiome, every player is unique. In function, they’re quite similar. But, like a football team, not everyone is going to become Super Bowl champion, and not every individual will have the same stable microbiome.”
-Dr. Jan Suchodolski
to various illnesses, including inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD), obesity, and diabetes. “We now have diagnostic tests that can help veterinarians pinpoint a disease process in the microbiome,” Suchodolski said. Instead of looking at a single group of bacteria, Suchodolski takes a holistic approach and examines the entire ecosystem, looking at the positive and negative effects of the microbes working in concert. “It’s like a football team. You have two competing teams. The players are different, yet they’re doing the same thing,” Suchodolski said. “In the microbiome, every player is unique. In function, they’re quite similar. But, like a football team, not everyone is going to become Super Bowl champions, and not every individual will have the same stable microbiome.” Suchodolski is particularly interested in bile acids, including how they are metabolized and how they interact with bacteria to aid in digestion. “The reason that’s important for our research is that bacteria actually transform the bile acids in a physiological way. Normally, so-called primary bile acids are converted into secondary bile acids by bacteria. This perfect ratio of secondary bile acids to primary bile is really crucial to maintaining health. When you have a change in the microbiome, for whatever reason—disease, drugs, or antibiotics—you don’t have this right conversion anymore. Suddenly, it becomes a real problem. Bile acid metabolism has been linked to obesity, inflammation, and diabetes.” Although the microbiome is a completely new world with much left to explore, diagnostic tests that examine the relative abundances of certain microbial groups have already been developed. “The bile acids that we’re focusing
on, which are measured in fecal material, are part of the next big test that we’re going to start offering. That’s going to be really useful for diagnosis and treatment. It could also be a nice monitoring tool for the progression of disease.” It can be difficult to characterize an entire ecosystem in a single lab test, but Suchodolski and his team have helped to make it possible. What was previously a cumbersome test to interpret, which included multiple values reflecting the microbes present, Suchodolski and his colleagues have reduced to a single value for the veterinarian to interpret. “Before, veterinarians ran tests to look at all those bacteria groups separately, and they got this huge printout,” Suchodolski said. “It was very difficult for you to say, by looking at twenty variables, is the patient normal or abnormal? To put the bacterial groups mathematically into one single unit, suddenly you have one number, called a dysbiosis index, and that one number can better classify if the patient’s microbiome is normal or abnormal.” Suchodolski’s work is an example of One Health—the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health— and how veterinary medicine can be translated into human medicine. Recently, he and his colleagues published a study comparing the microbiome between humans and dogs with IBD, showing striking similarities. “The test showed that the patterns we see in humans with IBD are quite similar to canine IBD. That makes the dog a good model for human disease, at least at the microbiome level,” Suchodolski said. Suchodolski’s work is not just about One Health, it’s also about one being and the inseparability of animals from their microbes. “I think we really have to understand a more holistic point of view. Bacteria are a part of us. Bacteria are part of our evolution. We are really one physiological organism.” In studying a whole new microcosm, the potential for discovery seems endless. “There’s a lot of work to be done in the future,” Suchodolski said. “There are so many other components that we never even thought about.” A few of those possibilities include leveraging the microbiome during treatment. Illnesses caused by microbial imbalance, such as those using antibiotics, could be treated by transplanting healthy microbiota into the GI tract of the patient to “ jump start” the gut’s health. Additionally, “who makes up the microbiome” can vary widely between individuals as well. Just as a dog’s DNA is uniquely his, so too is his microbiome. This opens the doors for personalized medicine and precision treatments that are tailored to the individual for maximum effectiveness. There is still much to be learned before treatments can be developed and the full potential of this tiny world can be unveiled. “It’s not as straightforward,” Suchodolski said. “I think we still have a long way to go to develop optimal therapeutics. On one side, we’re highly precise. We have all of these high-tech instruments, and they’re excellent. On the other side, a crucial component of our well being is based on ecological principles. It’s like gardening. If you like to garden, you know that it takes a long time for a gardener to get experience and to answer questions like, ‘What do I really do to take care of my garden and keep it weed free?’”
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by Sara Carney
It’s Safe to Say, Impact Begins at Discovery Discovery and the unexpected—these are recurring themes in the research career of Dr. Stephen Safe, a distinguished professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). Trained as a chemist, Safe eventually found himself studying toxicology and examining the biochemical mechanisms of cancer with the hopes of developing effective drug treatments. Safe looks at receptors, a molecular lock to which chemical signals are the keys. When these chemical signals bind to the receptor, or turn the metaphorical key, it leads to a Rube Goldberg–like process, where one action affects
Dr. Stephen Safe
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another and then another, ultimately powering various biological processes. “Receptors are needed for life,” Safe said. “They are sensing molecules. They sense light. For example, you need sunlight to produce Vitamin D. What does Vitamin D do? It would do nothing if there wasn’t a Vitamin D receptor.” And, it all started with a single receptor—the aryl hydrocarbon, or AH, receptor. Known to play a role in a chemical’s toxicity in the body, the AH receptor was not known for its health benefits. However, research trends led Safe and his colleagues to suspect that this receptor’s
Dr. Stephen Safe with his research team in the laboratory. function was far from black and white. There were, in fact, health benefits yet to be uncovered. “I started off working on toxic compounds that bound to the AH receptor. It was always thought to be a receptor that was important for driving toxicity of various chemicals that bound to it,” Safe said. “Many people have discovered in the last 20 years that this receptor plays a huge role in all sorts of things, including the health of your gut, the health of your skin, and autoimmune diseases. We’ve been looking at ligands—or compounds that bind this receptor—that aren’t toxic. We’re using them for treating cancers, and investigating the heath benefits of the receptors in gut microbiota.” Excited by the possible health benefits associated with the AH receptor, Safe began looking for practical solutions to ailments such as pancreatic cancer. Through partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, Safe is working toward developing effective drug treatments that would specifically focus on receptors like the AH and NR4A1 receptors to promote pathways that prevent cancer growth. “We’ve got a new group of drugs that look like they’re really going to knock your socks off,” Safe said. Safe’s interest in the AH receptor has stimulated an interest in other receptors, such as NR4A1, which Safe and his colleagues are investigating for the treatment of multiple cancers including rhabdomyosarcoma—a devastating children’s cancer. “We think the AH and NR4A1 receptors
are really important in cancer, and we’ve been developing drugs that target them through different pathways,” he said. Developing these drugs can be a balancing act, looking for the appropriate dose to ensure effectiveness. “We’re trying to develop drugs that we can give at a much lower concentration to hopefully be below the toxic threshold. We think that they have relatively low toxicity and expect that the side effects will be minimal. In addition, they’re also useful for combination therapies.” Safe’s fascination with the AH receptor has caused his research to take an unexpected turn. In collaboration with other researchers at Texas A&M, he is focusing on the effects of microbial and food-derived AH-receptor compounds on gut health. For example, eating cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, could provide similar effects as the compounds acting on the AH receptor. “Maybe plants that produce a lot of AH receptor compounds, like cruciferous vegetables, which are known to be health-protective, could be combined with what the microbiota produces. The two in combination could be dynamite,” he said. The twists and turns of Safe’s research has led to continuous learning and a deep curiosity. “The good thing for me is I started off as a chemist and all we do in my lab is oncology and molecular biology. So, I’m learning all the time,” he said. Beyond the AH receptor discovery, Safe continues to search for much needed practical, life-saving therapies. Winter 2017 •
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by Callie Rainosek
Strengthening Foal Immune Systems, Preventing Pneumonia Dr. Noah Cohen
Dr. Noah Cohen, professor and associate department head for research and graduate studies in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), is leading the search for an effective strategy to prevent diseases caused by Rhodococcus equi (R. equi), a bacterium that commonly causes diseases in foals and in humans and animals with suppressed immune systems. R. equi may not always cause disease in an infected animal, but when it does, pneumonia is most often the disease that develops. R. equi frequently infects the lungs of foals, causing severe symptoms, such as fever and coughing, which can potentially lead to death. In addition to disease in the lungs, R. equi can affect bones, kidneys, the intestinal tract, and other parts of the body. To combat this potentially deadly pathogen, clinicianscientists like Cohen are working to develop strategies other than antibiotics that stimulate the patient’s immune system to help protect them from infection. 72 •
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Coming to the CVM In 1988, Cohen came to the CVM as an assistant professor in veterinary public health. However, his interest in applying epidemiology to large animal medicine soon led him to a residency in large animal internal medicine at the CVM. “I was honored and excited about my residency,” he said. “There were outstanding equine internists at Texas A&M, including Drs. Kent Carter, Joe Joyce, Tom Kasari, Bill McMullen, Dub Ruoff, and Allen Roussel. I knew that the excellent clinical training would enable me to identify critical questions for research. The opportunities and clinical questions seemed endless.” Before he started his residency, Cohen had the opportunity to meet Dr. Ronald J. Martens, the department head of what is now the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Several years before Cohen came to the CVM, Martens founded the Texas A&M Equine Infectious Disease Laboratory (EIDL) to combat infectious diseases such as those caused by R. equi. Martens’ work in infectious
diseases as a clinician-scientist inspired Cohen to complete his residency and join the faculty of the CVM. “Dr. Martens had the vision to recognize that a clinicianscientist with an interest in epidemiology would be of benefit to the department,” Cohen explained. “He encouraged me to complete my residency training in internal medicine, and then he recruited me to become a member of the large animal medicine faculty.” After he completed his residency, Cohen began researching R. equi in the EIDL under the direction of Martens. The main goal of Martens’ research was to find an effective preventative measure against infections caused by R. equi in foals because none previously existed. Treating pneumonia caused by R. equi can be difficult because treatment is lengthy, expensive, must be administered multiple times daily, can cause serious side-effects, and isn’t always effective. This is why Martens began working on ways to decrease foals’ susceptibility to developing disease from the bacteria. On breeding farms, pneumonia caused by R. equi is the most common and severe form of pneumonia in foals that are between the ages of one and six months. Pneumonia is a leading cause of disease and death for foals, which has motivated researchers like Martens and Cohen to seek an effective preventative strategy against pneumonia caused by R. equi. A vaccine to directly prevent the disease would be a major breakthrough for the health of foals on breeding farms, according to Cohen. Martens recognized the prevalence of R. equi in foals and knew the importance of preventing R. equi–related diseases, especially pneumonia. Martens’ biggest contribution to the prevention of R. equi disease was the use of hyperimmune plasma, which is harvested from the blood of horses that were vaccinated to produce high concentrations of antibodies against R. equi. The plasma is then transfused to foals. These transfusions partially protect foals against infection with R. equi. “The collection and transfusion of plasma that is hyperimmune against R. equi remains the only acceptable and commercially available approach for preventing R. equi pneumonia,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, it is not completely effective and has some other limitations, such as being expensive, labor-intensive to administer, and carrying some health risks for foals. Although the concept of preventing the disease by administering antibiotics has been demonstrated to be effective, this approach isn’t acceptable because it isn’t uniformly effective and, most importantly, can contribute to antibiotic resistance from overuse.” Martens was also interested in identifying alternatives to traditional antibiotics to control R. equi pneumonia because of emerging resistance to drugs commonly used to treat the disease. When Martens retired, he passed on the directorship of the EIDL to Cohen. Exploring alternative treatments of R. equi pneumonia as opposed to traditional antimicrobial drugs remains an area of interest for the EIDL. “We are working on two strategies for preventing R. equi pneumonia based on having the patient’s immune system protect them from infection rather than antibiotics,” Cohen said. “First, we are working
Dr. Cohen and students working with an equine patient. on developing a vaccine, which is a traditional and effective approach for preventing infections. Second, in collaboration with investigators from the Texas A&M University System’s Institute for Biosciences and Technology (IBT) in Houston, we are investigating if a mist inhaled into the lungs can stimulate a foal’s immune system to protect it against R. equi infection.”
Collaboration The CVM’s collaboration with numerous researchers worldwide is a critical component of Cohen’s goal to prevent R. equi pneumonia in foals. Cohen has collaborators in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Japan, and other countries, all of whom have contributed to the growing research in R. equi pneumonia prevention. In addition, Cohen said his research project benefits significantly from many researchers in the United States and the CVM. “We collaborate with numerous investigators from many countries,” he explained. “We work especially close with Dr. Steeve Giguère from the University of Georgia, one of the world’s authorities on this disease. We are also fortunate to benefit from many scientists at the CVM.”
Results To reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance, Cohen and his team are investigating new drugs and potential methods of administering preventative and therapeutic agents. After over five years of trying, Cohen and his team at the CVM have produced encouraging results with a vaccine for R. equi pneumonia. “We are exploring new approaches that we hope will be effective and not promote antibiotic resistance in R. equi,” Cohen said. “Examples include using inhaled substances that facilitate the foal’s own immune system by stimulating receptors of the immune system that eliminate R. equi, and drugs such as metal-based compounds and antibiotics that will reduce the risk of resistance.”
One Health The strategies Cohen and his team are exploring may have positive implications for other animals, including humans. Since there are striking similarities between R. Winter 2017 •
R ESE A RC H
Dr. Noah Cohen Cohen’s interest in veterinary epidemiology and large animal internal medicine led him to the CVM, where he began researching R. equi in the late 1980s; however, his passion for epidemiology developed during his childhood. “I was born in Pennsylvania, but I spent my middle school and high school years in Switzerland and Israel because of my father’s work,” Cohen said. “My father was a veterinarian who was interested in zoonotic diseases, and this strongly influenced my career. He worked for many years at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. I spent a lot of time at the Bolton Center, the university’s large animal hospital, where I fell in love with the idea of being an equine veterinarian.” Cohen attended the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his undergraduate degree in oriental studies with a minor in biology and his VMD (Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris). After he earned his VMD, Cohen spent over two years in private equine practice in and around Toronto and Ontario, Canada. He then earned his MPH and Ph.D. in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, now known as the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “At Penn, I benefitted greatly from a liberal arts education and the challenge to think and work independently,” Cohen explained. “In veterinary school, I had teachers whose expertise and dedication to excellence inspired my career. At Johns Hopkins, I was exposed to clinical and research excellence, and the principle that optimal clinical medicine and biomedical research are inextricably linked.” Cohen continued, “I was trained by superb clinicians and fellow residents in the art and science of clinical medicine at Texas A&M. I also learned about the extraordinary commitment that clinical faculty have for teaching veterinary students. My mentors at Texas A&M instilled in me the ‘students first’ attitude that is a cornerstone of Aggie education. I cherish each of these three institutions for enabling me to do what I love: to teach, to learn, and to help others reach their goals.”
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equi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB), their research on R. equi may give rise to potential therapies or preventives against TB in humans. “Our vaccine research on R. equi might be an appropriate strategy for preventing TB, which would be of global importance for human health,” Cohen explained. “Additionally, the strategy developed by Dr. Gerald Pier and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School, with whom we collaborate, is innovative and could lead to a ‘broadspectrum’ vaccine that is effective against many infectious agents.” The One Health Initiative, which stresses the connection between animal health, human health, and the environment, is an integral part of Cohen’s research. “Although our hearts and minds are committed to improving equine health, we are very much engaged in the One Health Initiative with our activities,” he said. “Developing new types of antibiotics and vaccines that can reduce the need for antibiotics is important for equine and human health because bacterial diseases remain important causes of disease for all species, and the emergence of antimicrobial resistance is a global health crisis in veterinary and human medicine.”
Research Support As Cohen continues his research on R. equi, he links his accomplishments and new findings to the support that Martens provided him when he began his journey at the CVM. Martens was more than an administrator or a clinician-scientist for Cohen to look up to; he was a mentor. “I learned so much from him, and we worked synergistically,” Cohen said. “One of the most important things I learned from Dr. Martens was that research is always better when done as a team. Martens was a role model for leadership, and he helped create a work environment in which we could work passionately, assiduously, and enjoyably. He offered advice and humor that made it fun to come to work each day.” In addition, Cohen expressed his gratitude for the cooperation and support from everyone at the CVM because it has positively impacted the success of his research. Before retirement from the CVM, Cohen hopes to develop a vaccine to control R. equi pneumonia because “it is of global importance.” He would like to help shift the emphasis of treating infectious bacterial disease with antibiotics to methods that help the patient’s immune response protect them against infection. This is of utmost importance because bacteria are rapidly developing resistance to antibiotic treatment. Cohen also recognizes the significance of students, believing they are the leaders of tomorrow. He aspires to make a positive impact on students by encouraging their research efforts. “During my time at the CVM, I would like to have trained scientists, including veterinary clinicianscientists, whose future contributions will far surpass mine,” he said.
Spotlight by Sara Carney
The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center From the plains of the Texas Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley, Texas is a diverse state, and its people are as diverse as its landscapes. We celebrate and cherish the differences that define yet unite us as a state. However, these differences present challenges in addressing the widely varying veterinary needs across Texas. The needs of people with pet iguanas in Austin are different than cattle ranchers in Hondo, yet they are both integral and valuable clients of veterinary services. According to the United States Census Bureau, Texas is the second most populous state in the nation and is steadily growing. More people mean more pets, more livestock, and more potential for zoonotic disease. These are all challenges that veterinarians have a unique and valuable role in addressing. But, the field of veterinary medicine has its own issues, including the lack of diversity and the shortage of food animal and rural veterinarians. Who is up to the task of addressing the veterinary challenges of Texas? Who is fearless enough to develop a plan to serve every Texan every day? Who has devoted 100 years of service to the state, the nation, and the world? That’s the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). Through the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center (TVMC) initiative, the CVM has partnered with four Texas A&M System institutions. Conversations and collaborations began in 2009, leading up to official partnerships and memorandums of agreement between Texas A&M, West Texas A&M University, Prairie View University, Tarleton State University, and Texas A&M—Kingsville. These collaborations form the TVMC and are designed to help meet the veterinary needs across Texas and improve the lives of all Texans.
Shaping the Next Generation of Veterinarians The need for more rural and food animal veterinarians is a widely held concern in the veterinary community. While the majority of Texas’ population is increasing in urban areas, rural areas are still important to the veterinary profession since they produce the food to feed people in all locations across the state and nation. As leading producers of the nation’s livestock, rural Texans are essential to veterinary medicine. Although much of our state’s growth is reported to be in urban areas, rural communities are very important because Texas remains number one in the nation in several livestock
Dr. Griffin and Dr. Posey at the CVM industries, so we have to take care of rural communities. Rural communities need to be a part of the “Serving Every Texan Every Day” conversation. To create more rural veterinarians, there must first be more veterinary students interested in rural and food animal medicine. But, since such interests are often nurtured before students are accepted into veterinary school, the CVM is positioning the TVMC partnership to recruit undergraduates from more rural areas. The idea is that students recruited from rural areas will have a higher likelihood of going back to practice in their communites once they graduate veterinary school. Additionally, recruiting from universities with higher minority populations could help increase diversity as well. “There are some excellent students out there whom we are not getting from rural communities, and it may not be a level playing field. If you were in a graduating class of 10 in rural Texas, it may be more difficult to compete with someone in a graduating class from an urban area,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. To make room for students from these rural communities, the CVM is creating seats for students coming from universities within the TVMC partnership, without compromising the CVM’s standards. This means actively mentoring rural students interested in veterinary school and then helping ensure they are successful. The administrators and faculty at the CVM and in the TVMC partnership are making sure that we aren’t lowering standards, but do want Winter 2017 •
Spotlight to select some of these young people who weren’t coming here before. As we began to look at developing partnerships across the Texas A&M University System, we conducted a comprehensive study of our veterinary curriculum, determined to set an example by finding ways to maintain high standards, while creating a learning environment
tailored to students interested in rural and food animal medicine. The CVM added a food animal track to complement its tracks in mixed animal and large animal medicine. The food animal track proved successful in its first year. All of the students from this first cohort intend to practice rural medicine in either food or mixed animal practices.
Meet Our Partners West Texas A&M University
• Herdsman and Research Feedlot—operates its own feedlot in the Panhandle, a region that feeds a third of the nation’s beef cattle and boasts expanding dairy and swine industries. • Beef Carcass Research Center • Nance Ranch Teaching and Research Facility
Texas A&M University–Kingsville
• Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute is the leading wildlife research organization in Texas. • Veterinary technology program with a new state-of-the-art facility
Prairie View A&M University
• International Goat Research Center, with more than 1,000 dairy and meat goats, is one of the largest and oldest goat research programs in the nation. It specializes in genetics, reproductive physiology, nutrition, and veterinary health.
Tarleton State University
• Operates the state’s only university-based dairy as a public-private partnership and collaborates regularly with the dairy cattle industry • Veterinary technology program
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A Historical View: Responding to Needs The CVM is uniquely poised to create a partnership like the TVMC, because of its 100-year service to livestock industries beginning with the college’s first dean, Dr. Mark Francis, who identified the root cause of Texas cattle fever. Further, the college has long provided affordable education to its students and currently has the second lowest debt load and the most favorable debt-to-income ratio of any veterinary school in the United States. Despite these capabilities, it was becoming clear that the CVM could do more to reach Texans. In 2009, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) issued the report “Projecting the Needs of Veterinary Medical Education in Texas.” The report concluded that there was a need for more veterinarians in Texas—particularly rural and food animal veterinarians—and more diversity in the profession. However, the THECB report also stated that Texas does not need a second veterinary school. This led Texas A&M to the conclusion that increasing its class size would be the most appropriate solution. But, it wasn’t that simple. Following the THECB report, the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE) stated that Texas A&M could not increase the class size without negatively affecting student learning because of the limitations of the facilities. By 2011, the CVM issued a plan for the $120 million Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex (VBEC) to address the need to modernize the facilities. “We set out to try to get new facilities. They were needed,” said Green. “It became the number one priority on the campus, in the Texas A&M System, with the Board of Regents, the Texas Legislature, and the THECB.” Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right. “It was a tough year financially and there were no tuition revenue bonds. Nobody got funded for construction, and therefore we didn’t either, even though we were at the top of the list,” Green said. “It was disheartening, but we had so much support from the Texas A&M President, the Chancellor, and the Texas A&M System. They devoted $120 million of the Permanent University Fund to the project. To get this amount of money was profound, and we are very appreciative.” Now, with the new VBEC, the CVM stood strong and ready to accept the challenge faced before it. “We wanted to design this building so that facilities were never a deciding factor in our class size,” Green said. “We want to be able to respond to the needs of Texas far into the future.”
Howdy, Partner! The CVM at West Texas A&M The first efforts of the TVMC partnership are beginning at West Texas A&M. Facilities such as the Herdsman and Research Feedlot, the Beef Carcass Research Center, and the Nance Ranch Teaching and Research Facility make West Texas A&M a unique opportunity for faculty and students to research and learn. In 2016, Dr. Dee Griffin and Dr. Dan Posey made West Texas A&M their home, establishing the TVMC’s presence at West Texas A&M. Griffin serves as the director of the TVMC and Posey is the director of special programs.
As director, Griffin is developing and overseeing the teaching, research, and outreach missions of this landmark partnership. He is also responsible for shaping the program at West Texas A&M and solidifying collaborations among West Texas A&M, the CVM, the veterinary profession, the livestock industry, and the other TVMC partnerships. “What a tremendous opportunity to continue to serve the livestock industry,” Griffin said. “I am envious of the next generations of veterinarians willing to serve cattle and the rural communities in which most have their roots. From my perspective the future is bright for those willing to dedicate their professional lives to the livestock industry. With great excitement, my wife and I looked forward to coming back to the Panhandle area.” Similarly, Posey will serve as a mentor, teacher, and advisor to pre-veterinary students at West Texas A&M. He will also advance and strengthen relationships with regional livestock industries to support veterinary education, outreach, and research. “This is a very exciting time to be part of the CVM,” Posey said. “The first step in this groundbreaking initiative is our partnership with West Texas A&M. I look forward to working with some of the best students in Texas and collaborating with West Texas A&M’s dedicated student-centered faculty.” The plan goes beyond teaching and mentoring undergraduates to target and mentor middle school and high school students in rural communities who are interested in food animal and rural veterinary medicine. The CVM is also working with groups such as FFA and 4-H and leveraging the help of livestock industries to help reach students. “Students make up their mind in middle school and high school of what they want to do, so we want to make sure that we target these young people and recruit these students,” Green said. Students at the CVM can also benefit from the opportunities associated with the West Texas A&M partnership through internships and externships for veterinary students. Through these opportunities, CVM veterinary students will learn about practicing veterinary medicine in a rural environment. “To make this program work, we must have the ability to close the loop and have our students from the CVM come out here for the educational process,” Posey said.
Maintaining the Standard After years of hard work the CVM and its partners are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. With the TVMC starting up in West Texas, the next step is to focus on partnerships with Prairie View A&M, Texas A&M— Kingsville, and Tarleton State, expanding service to Texas with each step. We have an obligation to this state to provide the highest quality education that we can. We think that in a state of this magnitude we should have a school with national and international impact and acclaim. We are providing veterinarians to serve the future, and they will be leaders. Through all this, we’re going to contribute to economic viability and health of the state. Winter 2017 •
Through the Fire and the Flood: The VET Serves Texas Communities by Callie Rainosek
VET leadership in operational planning session. Early June 2016 brought devastating floods and tornadoes to southeast Texas. In emergency situations such as these, it is important to have safe and efficient evacuation plans prepared for our communities, including our family pets and livestock. Just like people, animals need care and shelter when a disaster strikes, and the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is there to provide such care. “We are Aggies,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, the executive director of the VET. “Aggies do special things in tough times, they stand up and serve.” The VET was a dream brought to life in response to Hurricane Ike in 2008. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Bissett noticed that the care of animals in disasters was practically nonexistent. Many disaster victims were not willing to evacuate because they couldn’t take their pets with them. They often stayed in place to protect their pets, putting their own lives at risk. In 2006, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was passed at the federal level and required communities to have a plan for the evacuation of people with their animals during emergencies. The passage of PETS motivated Bissett to begin forming a veterinary emergency response team in 2008 at the CVM. The VET was fully established in 2009. Since proving their effectiveness in the 2011 wildfire disaster in Bastrop, the VET has expanded to over 30 dedicated veterinarians, veterinary technicians, volunteers, and Texas A&M faculty, students, and staff. In addition, the VET also allows veterinary students a unique opportunity for field experience and is a required rotation in veterinary school at Texas A&M, something unique to the CVM. “The bulk of the team is primarily faculty and staff that volunteer their time to be there,” said Angela Clendenin, public information officer for the VET. “However, students participate in a two-week rotation called Community Connections, which is taught by the faculty members on the VET. When there’s a disaster, we are able to take students 78 •
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that happen to be on the Community Connections rotation if they are able to go. Some of them have obligations that preclude them from going, and it’s not mandatory that they deploy with us, but they are encouraged to go and share in that experience.” The program is unique because students’ experience with disaster relief goes beyond theoretical knowledge. Instead, they learn first-hand about animal issues in disasters. When there’s not a disaster, the students work with faculty, local governments, and communities around the state of Texas to develop evacuation, sheltering, and medical operations plans for animals impacted by disasters. Working out of several trailers and tents when on duty, the team has worked hard to secure equipment to serve their needs since its formation. It can be hard to anticipate the condition of animals when a disaster strikes; therefore, the team has developed special equipment, including a decontamination unit, to aid in the recovery of wounded or sick animals. In June 2016, special equipment, like the decontamination unit, played a key role in treating animals affected by the flooding in Fort Bend and Brazoria Counties in southeast
Erin Wilkens decontaminating flood victims.
Melissa Bean and Cindy Schocke triaging flood victims in Brazoria county.
Texas. The portable decontamination unit, which helps VET members safely remove bacteria and debris from animals, allowed animal victims to be placed in a shelter or back in the homes of their families. The VET was deployed to the two counties and spent two weeks treating more than 100 animals—including livestock, cats, ducks, horses, and dogs—in the flooded community. Along with decontaminating animals that may have come into contact with toxic chemicals in the flood water, the team treated many other conditions, such as dehydration and submersion injuries. Students say they found the experience rewarding and eye-opening. “Spending my time in Brazoria County was such an unforgettable experience. I gained so much knowledge in veterinary medicine from my time there,” said Heather Cook, a fourth-year veterinary student at the VET members preparing to return to campus.
VET triaging large animal flood victims during Brazos River flooding. CVM. “The first couple of days I was deployed, I worked with small animals because I am focusing on small animal medicine. I gained a lot of experience performing physical examinations on dogs and cats, coming up with my own diagnoses and treatment plans. I also talked with clients about spaying, neutering, and vaccinating their pets, as well as putting them on heartworm and flea and tick prevention.” When deployed by the state or county, the VET works with the county’s local veterinarians for extra supplies. AgriLife Extension is also included in the relief efforts to care for livestock, and shelters make sure the animals are kept safe and healthy until they can be returned to their owners. “It’s a large group effort that we try to bring together. Linking with local veterinarians is crucial,” explained Dr. Deb Zoran, medical operations officer for the VET. “In
Brazoria County, the local veterinarians came out to our base of operations and would bring things that we needed, such as supplies and equipment. They were out there almost every day, checking on us to make sure we were okay. The relationship between our team and local veterinarians is vital to our success.” The VET’s formation was a result of Bissett’s dream and a group of passionate, caring Aggies who wanted to make a difference for people and their pets during emergency situations. The PETS Act of 2006 solidified the need for animals to be cared for in disasters, and the VET’s proven effectiveness led to the team’s expansion. Now, as one of the most seasoned veterinary emergency response teams in the country, the VET has demonstrated time and time again that it can be counted on to care for animals in crises. Winter 2017 •
L E A D E R SH I P
by Dr. Megan Palsa
Welcoming Our New Associate Dean– Dr. Karen Cornell
Dr. Karen Cornell One of the newest members of the CVM family is Dr. Karen Cornell, DVM, Ph.D., who was recently hired as the associate dean for professional programs. Hailing from Boonville, Indiana, Cornell grew up on a farm and knew early on that she wanted to be a veterinarian. “We always had livestock and animals,” she said. “It’s kind of that classic veterinary story. Since I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian.” She fulfilled that dream at Purdue University, where she earned her undergraduate degree and her DVM, then— after a two-year stint at a private small-animal practice— returned for her internship, residency, and earned a Ph.D. During her graduate studies, Cornell became a clinical instructor, a move that kicked off an unexpected career in academia. It wasn’t the farm practice she’d imagined as a child, but she soon grew to love it. After completing her Ph.D., she was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, where she would spend the next 18 years working her way up the proverbial ladder. “I was an assistant professor, associate professor, then full professor. I served as the surgery section chief, the assistant department head and at one point I became the interim hospital director for 16 months. I was also the continuing education—or 80 •
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CE—director. In January 2016, I became their associate dean for academic affairs, which is their equivalent of the associate dean for professional programs here.” Cornell said, and joked, “I feel like I can’t hold a job, but it was all at one university!” However, despite her promotion, a long-standing regard for Texas A&M University had Cornell itching for a change. It all started back in 2008–2009, when Cornell visited the CVM to interview for a position as director of a leadership program. At the interview she experienced a taste of Texas A&M, and she liked what she saw. “I thought the faculty and the people were fabulous,” she said. “It made a lasting impression about what a great environment College Station—specifically the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM)—was, and since that time, she said she has “always had a positive impression of Texas A&M.” Subsequently, Cornell met Dr. Eleanor Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine, and Dr. Kenita Rogers, executive associate dean of the CVM. She quickly realized that the college had a team of “exceptional people.” Thus, when the associate dean for professional programs job opened up, Cornell leaped at the chance. “The opportunity to work with the great leadership team that the CVM has in place here, knowing that it has such a great faculty, it just made sense,” she said. After 18 years at one institution, Cornell acknowledges that starting a new job is a challenge, but she’s eager to prove her worth—“to develop street cred”—during what she calls “a very exciting time for education at the CVM.” It’s a time of new beginnings for the CVM and for Cornell. Along with the opening of the new veterinary school facilities, the DVM curriculum is being extensively updated.
“I see the CVM community as one big team, including the students and faculty. I want to make sure that we understand their viewpoint in creating the curriculum.” -Dr. Karen Cornell
Heather Quiram, Belinda Hale and Dr. Karen Cornell at the VBEC Grand Opening celebration. “Texas A&M has a lot going on with their veterinary curriculum. They’ve established new graduate outcomes; they’ve done an assessment of the curriculum. Now, we are in the phase of making the changes a reality,” Cornell said. “To be a part of the team that will help move that process forward is really exciting. TAMU has a huge opportunity to lead the way in veterinary education and be at the cutting edge.” As associate dean for professional programs, Cornell is deeply involved in changes to the curriculum. Her job involves interfacing with administration, faculty, and students to make sure that everyone is on the same page with the program. To that end, Cornell sees teamwork and relationship building as the keys to success. She wants everyone—from students, to faculty, to deans—to know that their opinions matter in shaping the new direction of the CVM. “To begin with, I’m focused on developing relationships with those in the dean’s office, understanding the team I’m joining. I see the CVM community as one big team, including the students and faculty,” Cornell explained. “I want to make sure that we understand what their viewpoint is in creating the curriculum. We have to, as a faculty, be able to look at the end goal and say, ‘What should our new graduates be capable of doing?’ We have to figure out, as a team, how to make this happen.” With her dedication to communication and relationship building, Cornell seems to be a perfect fit for her new job, and she’s happy to call the CVM her new home. “I’m just excited to be here and join the team,” she said. “Feel free to come by—I look forward to meeting everyone!”
Dr. Karen Cornell and Dean Eleanor M. Green. Winter 2017 •
C U R R I C U LU M
by Dr. Kristin Chaney
Spotlight on Curriculum A successful partnership between the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and the university’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) is making a lasting impact within the college, including a complete curriculum review of the DVM program. It has been more than 10 years since the last curriculum review at the CVM. During this time, the volume of medical information has dramatically increased, making it challenging for veterinary programs to remain current and at the cutting edge of veterinary education. Systematic program review provides a means through which programs can remain relevant, effective, and innovative. In an effort to ensure that our students continue to receive the best education possible, the CVM embarked on a comprehensive review of its DVM program in the spring of 2014. The CVM-CTE team that has served as the driving force in the curriculum review initiative consisted of four CVM faculty members and one member from the CTE. The first step in the curriculum review process involved developing a set of program learning outcomes for our graduates. Program outcomes enable students, faculty, and administrators, as well as governing bodies (such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Council on Education), to understand the knowledge, skills, and attributes a Texas A&M veterinary graduate should possess
at the time of graduation. The CVM-CTE partnership assisted the DVM curriculum committee in the creation of the Texas A&M New Graduate Outcomes, which were then reviewed by the entire faculty. A copy of the DVM New Graduate Outcomes may be found on our website at http://vetmed.tamu.edu/dvm/ngos. Once the New Graduate Outcomes were defined, it became necessary to find out how each of the outcomes is addressed throughout the current program and determine whether there are gaps and/or redundancies. To assess this, the college developed a computer program to map all of the current educational experiences, including lectures, laboratories, and small group sessions. Then stakeholder feedback was gathered from students in all four years of the program, recent alumni, faculty, employers of Texas A&M graduates, and practitioners working alongside our new graduates. Feedback was obtained through surveys and small group interviews. Students in groups of six or seven from each year of the program were interviewed, as well as veterinary practitioners from the community representing a wide variety of medical practices (for example, small animal, equine, food animal, exotic, and mixed animal practitioners). After gathering all stakeholder data regarding the current curriculum, the CVM-CTE partnership summarized and
Dr. Claudia Barton instructs students in one of the VBEC flexible teaching spaces. 82 •
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VBEC teaching laboratories promote student engagement, active learning, and peer-to-peer interactions. presented all stakeholder data to the DVM curriculum committee. Although the curriculum committee comprises faculty members from each of the five departments in the college, due to the overwhelming amount of information produced from the yearlong data collection, additional faculty members from each department were recruited to join the curriculum committee members as part of “analysis teams.” In fall 2015, through a series of workshops facilitated by the CVM-CTE, the faculty analysis teams reviewed the data and began developing solutions to the recommendations found within the stakeholder feedback. Following completion of the analysis team workshops in spring 2016, all college faculty were asked to evaluate the summarized data and share their opinions and suggestions for implementing changes suggested by the stakeholders.
This summer, in the final phase of the curricular review project, the CVM hosted a series of “Boot Camp” workshops for both CVM faculty and practitioners from the community. For these workshops, teams of faculty worked alongside general practice veterinarians to determine the core content of the DVM program and determine how best to integrate core content in both vertical and horizontal directions within the program. Based upon the information from faculty analysis teams and Boot Camp workshops, the DVM curriculum committee then developed a new curriculum framework to support the change data from all stakeholder feedback. In the new curricular framework, it will be necessary to ensure appropriate instruction and assessment of the New Graduate Outcomes occurs throughout the DVM curriculum. In addition, the new curricular framework emphasizes student-centered learning activities, experiences that encourage the application of knowledge and the promotion of life-long learning habits, as well as the importance of personal wellness in the veterinary profession. As the comprehensive two-year curriculum review enters its final phases, the partnership between the CVM and the CTE will continue to provide support to the DVM curriculum committee and all faculty members to ensure our program offers Texas A&M graduates the best education possible. The college celebrates the work of the DVM curriculum committee, the many faculty members who have engaged in this comprehensive review process, and the CVM-CTE partnership for providing guidance and support during the curriculum review initiative.
Students and faculty prepare for Gross Anatomy Lab. Winter 2017 •
A LU M N I
by Sara Carney
A Q&A with Alumna Kelly Scribner We perform air monitoring and environmental sampling, and I work to keep first responders, the community, and the environment safe. I work with regulators and private companies, and work to communicate about the chemicals themselves, hazards, and results of air and environmental sampling to the general public. What made you want to become a toxicologist? I’ve always loved science. I was at the University of Nebraska finishing up my bachelor’s in veterinary science (the equivalent of a degree in biomedical sciences from Texas A&M). One of the last classes I had to take was a pharmacology/toxicology course. When we got to the toxicology portion of the class, I was hooked. Toxicology incorporates a wide variety of sciences, such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and zoology. The applications of toxicology really appealed to me. I think the first story that really got me hooked was the Salem Witch Trials Ergot Theory, which suggests that the individuals who were suffering from curses were actually suffering from ergot poisoning due to moldy bread. Within a week of starting the toxicology portion of the class, I was thinking I wanted to do this for a career. A month before the end of the semester I decided I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in toxicology, took the GRE, and applied to graduate school!
Dr. Kelly Scribner Dr. Kelly Scribner, an alumna of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), works at the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, L.L.C. There, she ensures the health and safety of humans and the environment by leveraging her expertise in human and environmental toxicology, mechanistic toxicology, cell biology, systems biology, and cancer research. After receiving her bachelor of science degree in veterinary/ biomedical science from the University of Nebraska, she earned a doctorate in toxicology at the CVM. Tell me about your work at the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health. At the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, I work as a responding toxicologist. While I do a large amount of general toxicology consulting, such as risk assessment, toxicological consulting, litigation, and industrial hygiene, my primary role is to lead a team of responders and travel around the nation—sometimes the world—and respond to chemical emergencies, including crude oil spills, train derailments, plant fires, even hurricanes—anything that can or has caused an uncontrolled release of chemicals. 84 •
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Why did you choose to study toxicology at Texas A&M? I am originally from northern Texas and left the state for my undergraduate education. When I was applying to graduate school I looked at a few places, but decided I was ready to come back to Texas for a while. The only school I applied to was Texas A&M because it had such a diverse toxicology program with a lot of research options and scientists, so I knew it was where I wanted to be. When I came to College Station and interviewed with the program, I immediately liked the faculty and students, so I knew I had chosen the right place! Who mentored you at Texas A&M and how did they influence you? While I had many mentors at Texas A&M, Dr. Weston Porter was my mentor and primary investigator during my time at the CVM. Porter was a great mentor. Besides teaching me and training me in the lab and in research, he supported and encouraged me to think outside the box, voice my opinions, try new ideas and hypotheses, and encouraged me to take chances on pursuing grants, presentations, and publications. All of these skills have translated well into my life out of academia, where being able to think on your feet and try new options are important, especially in a response setting. I had a large number of other mentors at Texas A&M. All of them influenced me in various ways. They held me
“Having a work-life balance is a challenge; you have to balance different things, such as your thesis, husband, kids, health, career, and promotions. I think it’s important for women to know that it’s not fair to yourself to feel like everything has to be perfect...”
- Dr. Kelly Scribner to high standards that challenged me, and in turn made me a better scientist. They supported me and gave me opportunities to stretch myself and gain new experiences as part of my graduate career. But more than that, Porter and the toxicology faculty have in many ways become part of my family. Beyond professional support, this team cares about it students, their lives, and their happiness. It’s part of what makes the toxicology program at Texas A&M such a great place. Tell me about the projects/research you were involved in at Texas A&M. My thesis was on a gene, Singleminded-2s, that is associated with the Down Syndrome critical region of chromosome 21, and a breast cancer tumor suppressor. I did several projects looking at tumors, metastasis, metabolism, muscles, mammary gland development, and stem cells. I also had some great opportunities to work with other grad students and labs on projects, including nano-toxicology with Dr. Amelia Romoser and Dr. Mike Berg, and the study of manganese exposure with early puberty and breast cancer risk with Dr. Les Dees. How have the projects you worked on at Texas A&M helped you in your work today? While my work today is not as mechanistic as my graduate research, it’s helped me in a lot of ways. My cancer research has been very helpful when it comes to chemicals and whether they can cause cancer in humans or not—that is a common concern in the community and something that is always brought up with chemicals. Something else that is important to me is the ability to find information and process it. Dealing with unusual or unknown chemicals can be a challenge, and knowing the right questions to ask and where to find the answers can make the process run much more smoothly. More indirectly, my projects taught me to think along multiple lines at once, and to multi-task— something that has been a big help to me in my work. What do you like to do in your spare time? In my spare time I really enjoy camping and hiking— something I didn’t do a lot of in graduate school! I also have started bike riding. I read a lot. Plus, I am trying to bring a couple of my family’s horses down from north Texas now that I’m in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. I like
to stay diversified, and try to do a lot of things if my time allows. I’ve always felt that having different ways to stimulate yourself is a great way to stay balanced and not burn out on one job or task. My boyfriend and I love to travel, and we try to find a new place every year that we’ve never been to explore and unwind. How often do you get back to Texas A&M? Since I’ve left I made about one trip back per year. This year I have relocated to DFW for my company, so I’m excited to be able to make more frequent trips to A&M and get more involved on campus again. This year I was also lucky enough to see a majority of my A&M colleagues at the Society of Toxicology meeting in New Orleans, La. You recently presented at Texas A&M. Can you tell us about your presentation? I was invited to speak at the Women in Science and Engineering annual conference in February of 2016. The theme of the conference was, “One Woman Show: Juggling Career, Family Life, and Well-being.” For me, this is an important topic. First, it’s something I was baffled by, and admittedly bad at, in graduate school. Second, it’s something that I still struggle with. Third, it’s important for women to support one another and not get caught up in the game of always trying to look like you have it all together. Women in science—really everyone who chooses a career in science and research—are driven. It’s part of what makes a scientist a scientist. Because of that, it can be easy to get lost in the career we’ve chosen and love, and let other things slip. And, in many ways the system in the United States promotes this. Having a work-life balance is a challenge; you have to balance different things, such as your thesis, husband, kids, health, career, and promotions. I think it’s important for women to know that it’s not fair to yourself to feel like everything has to be perfect and to know that it’s a pendulum—every day is a new day to try again and it’s OK. There are times when one area of your life will demand more attention than others! Where do you see your career in the future? I’m not sure. I currently love what I do, so I will continue to do applied toxicology in some fashion. I’m passionate about response work, so I hope to continue doing it as long as my travel and life will allow. I am also planning on getting back into teaching and getting more involved at the collegiate level, introducing more people to toxicology, and introducing academic toxicologists to the applied, “in-thefield” side of what toxicologists do. Would you suggest Texas A&M’s toxicology Ph.D. program to other students? If so, why? Absolutely. The years I spent at Texas A&M were some of the best of my life. I made some of my best friends and got a great education that prepared me well for my career choice after graduation. The toxicology program at Texas A&M is challenging, but rewarding, and the campus itself is a great place to be. I will always look back fondly at my time at the CVM and the people who helped me along the way! Winter 2017 •
D E V E LO P M E N T
Jim and Debra Parchman Swaim and their dog, Cole
by Laura Gerik and Dr. Megan Palsa
Living the Aggie Spirit When Jim Swaim and his wife, Debra Parchman-Swaim, began estate planning, one question kept coming up: Who would take care of their beloved animals? Fortunately, the Swaims didn’t have to look far to find peace of mind. They returned to Jim’s Aggie roots and enrolled the fourlegged members of their family at Texas A&M University’s Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center. 86 •
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As lifelong animal lovers, the Swaims were thrilled to know that their cats, Alley-MacCrews, Kwiz, and Puff, and border collie, Cole, would always have a home at Jim’s alma mater. In a sense, it was their family’s way of coming full circle, ensuring that the animals would live out their final years in comfort at the university that always had a piece of Jim’s heart.
From Aggieland and Back Again After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in accounting in 1974, Jim moved to Fort Worth to work for Arthur Andersen. There he met and married Debra before sweeping her off to El Paso in 1984, where he became CFO of Farah Incorporated, a men’s slacks manufacturer. Debra wasn’t thrilled about the move, but Jim tried to assuage her worries. “I told her at the time, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s only a couple of years,’” Jim laughed. “So 19 years later…” Even in El Paso, the Swaims remained loyal Aggies, returning to College Station for football games when possible. It was a long trip, but as Debra put it, “I believe when you’re an Aggie, you follow Aggie things.” By 2003, the Swaims were ready for a change of scenery. After looking all over Texas, they finally settled in Fort Worth, where they remain to this day. Jim became CFO of Ross Perot Jr.’s real estate company for seven years before retiring. However, “retirement” didn’t necessarily mean that Jim slowed down. “This is the third time I’ve been retired,” he joked. “It has a way of not lasting.” Instead, he now dedicates his time to “a lot of Aggie stuff.” Jim is on the Texas A&M Press Advancement Board, where he and fellow Aggie, Ted Paup, spearheaded a series of books about Aggie sports.
Finding Peace of Mind As the Swaims began to spend more time in College Station, mapping out their retirement and thinking about the future, they started to talk about what to do with the animals when Jim and Debra were no longer able to care for them. At the time, they just had three cats, and leaving their pets’ fates to chance made them uneasy. For a long time, Jim and Debra considered asking family or friends to take their pets, but the realities of such a commitment were starting to seem unrealistic. “Our friends and family are our age or older,” Debra explained. “Their life circumstances are changing. We thought, ‘This isn’t going to work. We have to find a better option.’” Fortunately, around 2011, Jim and Debra remembered some magazine articles they’d read about a place on campus that would provide long-term care for companion animals: the Stevenson Center. Debra had even clipped the articles out and saved them. After looking over the clippings, the Swaims knew they had to see the place for themselves. The first visit sealed the deal. Ellie Greenbaum, associate director of the Stevenson Center, gave the Swaims a tour, and Jim and Debra immediately knew they’d found the perfect home for their pets. “We thought, ‘This is just exactly what we’ve been looking for,’” Jim said. Debra agreed. “It seemed natural, and then we went and looked and were so amazed at the animals and how happy they were, the environment, and the personnel. It was amazing to us. The Aggie connection started it.” Since then, the Swaims have visited the center several more times, getting to know Dr. Henry “Sonny” Presnal and the rest of the “phenomenal” staff. They said they were particularly struck by the staff’s commitment to the animals,
Puff the communal areas for residents to relax and play, and the center’s close ties with the veterinary school to provide care in any situation. Although nothing can truly replace the Swaim’s loving home environment, “It will be close, they can adapt,” Debra said. “It’s a wonderful concept.”
Caring for Special Needs Little did the Swaims know, but their connection to the Stevenson Center would pay off much sooner than anticipated—in an unexpected way. Shortly after enrolling the three cats, Debra and Jim adopted a border collie puppy they named Cole. At first, everything seemed to be going well. But when Cole was only 2 years old, the young dog began having seizures. After consultation with a local veterinary neurologist, Jim called Presnal for advice. Jim explained, “I called Sonny and he put us in touch with Dr. Jonathan Levine, who met with us the next day. We went down and met Dr. Levine and Dr. Megan Steele, and we’ve been involved with them ever since.” Under the care of Levine and Steele, and now Dr. Arturo Otamendi, at the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital, Cole’s seizures are finally under control. The Swaims said they are grateful for the neurology team’s excellent work and for Presnal quickly putting the family in touch with Texas A&M veterinarians. The situation with Cole reinforced the Swaims’ decision to enroll their pets in the Stevenson Center. With three specialneeds pets—in addition to Cole, Alley and Kwiz require special diets and medications for chronic conditions—the close relationship between the Stevenson Center and Small Animal Hospital gives Debra and Jim the confidence that their four-legged family will be happy and healthy no matter what happens. In Jim’s words, “We just needed to have some peace of mind that we had something we trusted, and the fact that it was Aggie on top of it—we just hit the jackpot.” Winter 2017 •
Honor Roll Texas A&M, Johns Hopkins receive $5.3 million NIH grant to study how lead exposure affects humans
Dr. David Threadgill When researchers try to uncover the cause of disease, they commonly start with two questions: Did a quirk in the patient’s genes open the door to illness, or did exposure to environmental factors play havoc with the patient’s health? Very often, both genes and the environment are at least partly to blame, and to provide the most effective treatment, health care providers need to know as much as possible about how they work together. With support from a $5.3 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, scientists from Texas A&M University and Johns Hopkins University will further investigate how individuals’ health is affected by the environment and genetics. Two NIH units—The National Human Genome Research Institute and The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences—will provide the funding over a five-year period. David Threadgill, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M Institute for Genome Sciences and Society at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & 88 •
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Biomedical Sciences and professor and holder of the Tom and Jean McMullin Chair of Genetics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine is co-lead on the project, along with Andrew Feinberg, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Epigenetics at Johns Hopkins. Research on how genetics work in concert with the environment to affect health is a relatively new area of research, according to Threadgill. “For the last several decades, research has largely focused on genetic differences that are associated with disease,” he said. “However, the environment, particularly intersecting with genetics, probably has a much larger impact on our health.” Threadgill will provide the expertise in genetics and clinical phenotyping for the project. “My research group has a long-standing interest in how environmental exposures, such as chemicals and diet, interact with our genetics to impact future health and disease,” he added, “and importantly how this knowledge can be used
to reduce the health impacts of detrimental environmental exposures.” Epigenetics is the study of genetic activity changes that occur without alteration of the basic DNA sequences. Sometimes, epigenetic changes triggered by environmental factors lead to serious health problems. As a first step toward averting or treating such illnesses, researchers need to figure out precisely how this process unfolds. “The environment is perhaps the major contributor to human disease, yet its effect is virtually impossible to control for in human genetic studies,” Feinberg said. “One example of how this team will try to get around this problem is by studying a very genetically diverse set of animal models and an environmental issue that is important to many people: exposure to lead and how it is linked to significant health and behavioral issues.” The team will use advanced genomic and mathematical methods to gather data and relate these findings directly to human disease population studies in order to understand how our distinct genomes and individual exposures to environmental factors affect human health. “We are using epigenetic information,” Feinberg said, “to understand how genes and environment connect as information that reprograms our bodies in early development to behave in a healthy or unhealthy way, and how it sets us up for adverse responses to stressors later in life. In particular, we are studying lead exposure in the mouse model, and then will connect these results to a large group of urban lead-exposed people in Baltimore and the behavioral effects this exposure causes.” “This is one of several collaborative projects we are working on to address how the environment alters our epigenome to influence health and disease,” Threadgill said. “We hope that this work will lay the foundation for understanding the mechanisms by which the environment alters our health and to identify interventions that can reduce the negative impacts of disease.”
Honor Roll Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Dr. James Herman Receives a Presidential Professor of Teaching Excellence Award The College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is pleased to announce Dr. James Herman, clinical professor in the Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology (VTPP) has been selected as one of two recipients of the 2016 Presidential Professorships for Teaching Excellence. This honor is based upon the recommendation of a university-wide selection committee facilitated by Dean of Faculties John R. August, in concurrence with Provost Karan L. Watson and President Michael K. Young. Two Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Awards are presented every spring, each with a $25,000 stipend. The recipients are given the title “Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence,” which they retain for the remainder of his or her career. Along with Herman, Dr. Arvind Mahajan of Mays Business School received this award. Herman holds four degrees from Texas A&M—a B.S., DVM, M.S., and Ph.D. He joined the veterinary faculty in 1996 after operating a practice in San Antonio, Texas. His commitment to excellence in teaching has been recognized through The Association of Former Students’ College-Level and University-Level Awards for teaching, and he is a Montague–Center for Teaching Excellence Scholar. He received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to research how bioengineers use the internet to enhance collaborative teaching experiences. “We were proud and honored to hear President Young’s announcement that our own Dr. Herman is receiving the prestigious Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence Award at May graduation,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “He has made exceptional contributions to our college and to the university, and his remarkable achievements in the classroom are evident in the lives of his students.” A few of the comments in his nomination letter reflect his impact on students, “His lectures were so
Dr. James Herman entertaining and really aided in my understanding of the material,” said one student. “Dr. Herman is the most inspiring teacher that I have ever had, he made the classroom environment conducive to learning by interacting with us and making us feel comfortable,” said another. Dr. Larry Suva, department head of VTPP said, “To quote Albert Einstein, ‘It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.’ This attribute epitomizes Dr. Herman’s teaching philosophy and is what all his students experience. I am privileged to know him and very thankful that Dr. Herman is a member of our department, college, and university.” The Presidential Professor Award nominations are received from students, faculty members, and deans in each of the university’s colleges. Faculty Senate representatives review each nomination and narrow the list
that is sent to the president for the final selections. “My main goal is to help my students succeed by teaching them how to think critically, solve problems, and apply information so they excel in their chosen careers,” Herman said. “From my experience as a clinician and a researcher, I know that these are valuable tools and worth pursuing. The challenge comes in tailoring my approach to their specifications. Carefully, I construct a learning environment that is founded on respect and fairness so that the students will listen.” Herman was named Presidential Professor of Teaching Excellence at the university commencement ceremony on Friday, May 13, 2016, in Reed Arena. The award was established in 2003 by former Texas A&M President Robert M. Gates to underscore the importance of teaching at a major research university. Winter 2017 •
Honor Roll Three Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Faculty Recognized with University-Level Distinguished Achievement Awards
Musser The Texas A&M Association of Former Students (AFS) honored three members of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) faculty with University-Level Distinguished Achievement Awards, one of the highest honors presented by the AFS. Dr. Wesley Bissett, associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (VLCS) and director of the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET); Dr. Jeffrey M.B. Musser, clinical professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB); and Dr. Ashley Saunders, associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS) were announced as this year’s honorees from the CVM. Recipients are recognized for their efforts in one of several categories: teaching; research; staff; student relations; administration; extension, outreach, continuing education, and professional development; and graduate mentoring. Bissett earned the award in recognition of his excellence in the extension, outreach, continuing education, and professional development category. Musser and Saunders were awarded based on excellence in the teaching category. “The CVM is fortunate to have such dedicated faculty whose work plays a critical role in the success of our college,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “This is an exciting honor 90 •
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for Drs. Bissett, Musser, and Saunders. These three leaders contribute to the CVM in a unique and meaningful way and help facilitate a welcoming and productive educational environment.” Bissett’s primary interests are in veterinary emergency response, environmental health, epidemiology, and public health. As director of the VET, he oversees and leads the VET’s rescue efforts. “I have never seen anyone more passionate about his work than Wesley Bissett is about the VET,” said Dr. Allen Roussel, department head of VLCS. “Dr. Bissett took the VET from an idea spawned in the wake of Hurricane Rita to the largest, best equipped, and most successful veterinary emergency response team in the USA. Through selfless dedication and endless hours of work, he and his team have assembled an unparalleled emergency response unit that touches the lives of animals and human beings every day. While they have performed incredible service on deployments to areas in need, their greatest contribution to the state and the country is working with county officials to develop local emergency response plans and training future veterinary leaders, who will bring emergency preparedness wherever they go. Witnessing the passion and dedication of Wesley Bissett and the successful outcome of his efforts has been one of the highlights of my career as a department head.” Musser joined the CVM faculty in 2000 and has won several awards at the CVM, including the 2003 Montague– Center for Teaching Excellence Award, the 2005 Texas Veterinary Medical Association Research Award, and the 2007 Texas A&M University International Excellence Award. He has also been nominated twice by the CVM for the Bush Excellence Award for Faculty in International Teaching. With an interest in global veterinary medicine and emerging infectious diseases, Musser has worked diligently to provide opportunities for Texas A&M students to intern overseas in Zambia, Malawi, Norway, Australia, Ghana, and Ecuador. In addition,
he has taught several study abroad courses. “In veterinary medicine, we are lucky to have so many caring, passionate, and outstanding teachers, making it difficult to single out a few for special recognition,” said Dr. Roger Smith, interim head of VTPB. “Musser’s passion for students is obvious to all who see him in a classroom, laboratory, or any student gathering. His love of students, combined with his creative teaching, makes him truly deserving of this recognition.” Saunders has been with the CVM since 2005 as a clinical assistant professor, where she focuses on cardiac issues in small animals, including congenital heart disease and heart failure management. In the Small Animal Cardiology Service, Saunders works closely with veterinary students in the hospital to prepare them for difficult and complex cases. She is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (subspecialty cardiology) and has been widely recognized for her teaching, having won several other awards. Her teaching awards include the Bridges Teaching and Service Award in 2011 and the Richard H. Davis Teaching Award in 2010; she was also named a Montague–Center for Teaching Excellence Scholar in 2009. Additionally, she is the assistant department head for teaching in VSCS. “Ashley Saunders is a superstar. She is an outstanding clinician-scientist, who is a truly gifted educator,” said Dr. Jonathan Levine, department head of VSCS. “By fusing her passion for teaching, novel technologies, and scholarship, she is defining veterinary education in the 21st century.” Each honoree will receive a framed certificate from the AFS along with a $4,000 monetary award in a ceremony scheduled for Monday, April 25, at 1:30 pm in Rudder Theater. The awards, begun in 1955, recognize outstanding members of Texas A&M’s faculty and staff for their commitment, performance, and positive impact on Aggie students, Texas citizens, and the world around them.
Honor Roll Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Names Banu a Montague-Center for Teaching Excellence Scholar
Dr. Sakhila Banu Dr. Sakhila Banu, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) was named a 2016–17 Montague–Center for Teaching Excellence Scholar. The Montague–Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) Scholar award has been given annually since 1991 to one tenure-track faculty member from each college, based on their early ability and interest in teaching. Awardees receive a $6,500 grant to encourage further development of undergraduate teaching excellence. Each spring semester, Banu teaches a course in endocrine toxicology to undergraduate and graduate students. The course examines the mechanisms behind endocrine disrupting chemicals and their role in environmental
contamination and development of some diseases, such as cancer. “I teach because it energizes me and gives me an opportunity to influence and motivate students’ lives in a positive way,” Banu said. “I treat my students with care and compassion, and I appreciate them for their confidence in me and their eagerness to learn.” With the grant provided by the Montague–CTE Scholars program, Banu intends to develop a lab module for the endocrine toxicology course she currently teaches. She also plans on facilitating field trips related to the endocrine toxicology course for students. Further, the funds from this program will also allow Banu to promote research experiences for undergraduates, through purchasing materials and supplies for training
and by sponsoring students to present posters in local scientific meetings. “I would like to thank the awards committee for honoring me with this nomination for a Montague– Center for Teaching Excellence Award,” Banu said. “I am extremely proud to be a teacher, and I consider it one of the most important and responsible professions.” “Dr. Banu is truly dedicated to her students, and her enthusiasm for teaching is inspiring,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “We congratulate Dr. Banu on this well-deserved honor and believe that her teaching efforts help facilitate an engaging and active learning environment at the CVM.” “Dr. Banu is a lifelong learner herself and strives to nurture this habit and mindset in her students,” said Dr. Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, department head in Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at the CVM. “She is also a highly accomplished researcher who conveys the immediacy of science to her students in their everyday lives and future careers. Whether they pursue jobs, research, or professional school after graduation, Dr. Banu’s students are inspired by her teaching.” The Montague–CTE Scholars awards are named in honor of Kenneth Montague, Texas A&M class of ’37, a distinguished alumnus and outstanding trustee of the Texas A&M Foundation, who had a long and storied career in the Texas oil industry. The award is designed to benefit Aggies who are lifelong learners and contributors to their communities. The goal of the CTE is to stimulate the development of innovative teaching strategies and technologies at Texas A&M University and to recognize excellence in teaching early in a faculty member’s career.
“I am extremely proud to be a teacher.”
-Dr. Sakhila Banu Winter 2017 •
Honor Roll Two Texas A&M Veterinary Faculty Recognized for Teaching Excellence
Dr. Ashley Saunders
Dr. Audrey Cook The Texas A&M Association of Former Students recently honored two outstanding Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) faculty members in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS). Dr. Audrey Cook, associate professor, and Dr. Ashley Saunders, associate professor, received The Association of Former Students College-Level Teaching Award during a department meeting on Dec. 7, 2015. The award recognizes Cook and Saunders for their excellence in teaching and devotion to their students. “This award recognizes the important contribution Dr. Cook and Dr. Saunders make to the lives of so many here at Texas A&M University,” said Kathryn Greenwade ’88, vice president for communications and human resources at The Association of Former Students. “Texas A&M is fortunate to have many outstanding classroom teachers across our campus, and The Association is proud to recognize the best of the best annually with this meaningful award.” “We’d like to thank them for the work they do to increase learning,” said Dr. Blanca Lupiani, interim dean of faculties and associate provost, “as well as the work they do for the students and for the good work they do in research, teaching, and service.” “Drs. Cook and Saunders are truly outstanding clinicians and educators,” said Dr. Jonathan Levine, department 92 •
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head and Helen McWhorter chair in VSCS. “It is an honor to work with them as our department continues to prioritize excellence in student learning.” Cook works with both the Internal Medicine Service and the Feline Internal Medicine Service at the Small Animal Hospital and has been with the CVM since 2007. She is also a diplomate of both the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and is recognized as a specialist in feline practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Cook works diligently with veterinary students in a clinical setting to prepare them for their future work in the veterinary profession. This is her first teaching award while serving on the faculty at the CVM. “It is a real thrill to receive this award, and I am very grateful to all those who made it happen,” Cook said. “It is such a privilege to be part of this college and to help our students follow their dreams. I have the best job in the world!” “Dr. Cook is an exceptional clinician and teacher,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “The enthusiasm she brings to work each day makes her a delight to work with, and the care she shows her patients and students is outstanding. She provides students with unique educational experiences,
and we are proud that she is being recognized with this prestigious award.” Saunders has been with the CVM since joining the faculty in 2005 as a clinical assistant professor, where she focuses on cardiac issues in small animals, including congenital heart disease and heart failure management. In the Small Animal Cardiology Service, Saunders works closely with veterinary students in the hospital to prepare them for difficult and complex cases. She is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (subspecialty cardiology) and has been widely recognized for her teaching, having won several other awards. Her teaching awards include the Bridges Teaching and Service Award in 2011 and the Richard H. Davis Teaching Award in 2010, and she was named a Montague– Center for Teaching Excellence Scholar in 2009. Additionally, she is the assistant department head for teaching in VSCS. “Every interaction in the classroom or on the clinical cardiology service is an opportunity for me to get the students excited about cardiology and to teach them the fundamentals to be successful when they graduate,” said Saunders. “I am honored to receive this award.” “Dr. Saunders’ passion for patient care and complete devotion to her students make her so worthy of this award,” Green said. “We congratulate Dr. Saunders on this well-deserved honor that recognizes her exceptional contributions to the education of veterinary students that begin in the clinic and make long-lasting impacts on the profession.” Every year faculty and students select the honorees of The Association’s College-Level Teaching Award, and they are presented with a plaque and a stipend. The awards was begun in 1955 and recognizes outstanding members of Texas A&M’s faculty and staff for their commitment, performance, and positive impact on Aggie students, Texas citizens, and the world around them.
Honor Roll Texas A&M Professor Honored with AAVMC Excellence in Research Award
Dr. James Womack The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) announced the recognition of Dr. James Womack, distinguished professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, with the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges’ (AAVMC) 2016 Excellence in Research Award. This award recognizes Womack’s efforts in advancing the fundamental
boundaries of knowledge in the veterinary profession and for facilitating the research careers of veterinarians. The Excellence in Research Award is one of the highest honors bestowed by the AAVMC and is given to the outstanding researcher of the year. As a leader in genomic research, Womack has a tradition of excellence in research, having won the Bush Excellence Award for Faculty in
International Research (2008) and the Wolf Prize in Agriculture (2001) among others. In addition, he earned recognition from the National Academy of Sciences in 1999, and was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that same year. Womack’s research in genomics and genome mapping has led to discoveries impacting cattle, chickens, horses, and humans. His comparative studies between animal genomes and the human genome are paving the way for an improved understanding of gene function and expression. “Dr. Womack has a distinguished history of research excellence,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “His past discoveries and future research endeavors are unlocking the mysteries of the genome in different species, which are leading to novel approaches in diagnosing and treating genetic disorders in animals and humans. Dr. Womack’s commitment to promoting research careers for veterinarians is a legacy that will define our profession and ensure it is prepared to meet the needs of both human and veterinary medicine in the future.” Womack was selected to receive this honor by a committee of peer veterinarians within the AAVMC and was presented with the award at the AAVMC Annual Conference held March 4–6, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Winter 2017 •
Honor Roll Texas A&M Professor Leads Team Awarded $1 Million Food Safety Grant from USDA
Dr. Morgan Scott with a student The USDA recently announced 35 Food Safety Grants, one of which was awarded to a team led by Dr. H. Morgan Scott, professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), based on their research on antimicrobial resistance. The grant funding awarded to the team totaled $1 million. The Food Safety Grants are administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and are designed to enable 94 •
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research that promotes safe and nutritious food as well as agricultural competitiveness. Antimicrobials, including antibiotics, have been used for decades to successfully treat both humans and animals. However, strains of bacteria have evolved resistance to antibiotics, leading to growing concern about aspects of food safety related to animal agriculture. Through this research, Scott and his team hope to address these concerns. Scott will lead a team of researchers and extension faculty: Mayukh Dass
and Guy H. Loneragan of Texas Tech University, Yrjö T. Gröhn of Cornell University, Ellen R. Jordan and Jason Sawyer of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Alex W. McIntosh of Texas A&M University, and Gerald R. Midgley of the University of Hull in the United Kingdom. The team will focus on designing and implementing science-based and stakeholderinformed stewardship programs for beef and dairy cattle systems. The overall goal of the project is to identify, evaluate, and implement practical and effective strategies for mitigating and preventing antimicrobial resistance. To do this, Scott and his team seek to recruit and engage stakeholders in designing and implementing voluntary antimicrobial stewardship programs. Additionally, the researchers will conduct field studies and develop models to better understand various aspects of this complex issue, including economics, microbiology, and the social sciences. The research team aims to enhance environmental quality and food safety by reducing the burden of antibiotic resistance among enteric bacteria. Scott’s research will lay the foundation by which decisions can be made by stakeholders to prevent and combat antimicrobial resistance. This includes qualitative and quantitative modeling to test tools that support stakeholder’s decisions, both in the short and long term. This project differs from previous attempts to mitigate antimicrobial resistance in animal agriculture because it focuses on voluntary stewardship programs rather than relying strictly on legislation or regulation. “Dr. Scott’s research on antimicrobial resistance is truly exceptional,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “Receiving this grant is a testament to Dr. Scott’s commitment to excellence in research, and we are proud of him and the team he is leading.”
Honor Roll Hinrichs Named Texas A&M University System Regents Professor Dr. Katrin Hinrichs at the International Congress on Animal Reproduction.
In November 2015, the Board of Regents for the Texas A&M University System designated 12 faculty members as Regents Professors. Dr. Katrin Hinrichs, professor and Patsy Link Chair in Mare Reproductive Studies, in the Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, was one of seven faculty members from Texas A&M University to be honored with the award. “These individuals exemplify the commitment to excellence in research and service that sets Texas A&M System employees apart,” said John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System. “Our System is made up of outstanding people who do incredible work on behalf of the people and the state of Texas. I am grateful to all of them every day, and particularly to this group that really represents the best of the best.” Hinrichs is internationally recognized for her research in equine reproductive physiology. Among her achievements are producing the
first cloned horse in North America, named Paris Texas, and developing methods for effective intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) for embryo development in horses, a process that has now become the standard in assisted reproduction in horses. The Board of Regents established the Regents Professor Awards program in 1996 and the Regents Fellow Service Awards program in 1998 to recognize employees who have made exemplary contributions to their university or agency and to the people of Texas. “Dr. Hinrichs and her research efforts have made an indelible impact on the equine industry,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “Dr. Hinrichs is internationally recognized for her work in equine reproduction and her laboratory is one of only a few in the world capable of performing ICSI. We are pleased to see her achievements recognized across the Texas A&M University System and are excited to celebrate this special honor with her.”
The selection process for the awards begins with a call for nominations from the chancellor, after which an internal selection committee is formed within each institution or agency. Final nominations are put forth to the chief executive officer of each respective entity. They are then subject to a system-level review consisting of academic vice chancellors and past recipients of the awards. Finally, nominations are forwarded to the chancellor and the board for final approval. “I am exceptionally honored to be named a Texas A&M University System Regents Professor,” said Hinrichs. “Those who were recognized this year, and in the years prior, are some of the leading minds in their respective disciplines. It is a tremendous privilege to be included among them.” To date, 201 Texas A&M System faculty members have been recognized with the Regents Professor Award and 118 agency professionals have received the Regents Fellow Service Award.
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Honor Roll Texas A&M Professor Awarded the Prestigious Nilsson-Ehle Gold Medal Dr. Leif Andersson receiving Nilsson-Ehle Gold Medal
Dr. Leif Andersson, professor in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and at Uppsala University in Sweden, received the Royal Swedish Academy of Forestry and Agriculture’s Nilsson-Ehle Gold Medal for his research in animal genetics. Named after the pioneering geneticist Dr. Herman NilssonEhle, the award honors those with outstanding contributions to the field of genetics with practical applications in agriculture. Andersson, a Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Studies Faculty Fellow, was chosen for the Nilsson-Ehle Gold Medal based on his exceptional molecular genetics research, which has important applications in animal breeding and veterinary medicine. Specifically, he investigates how genetic mutations can affect gene function and regulation. He also compares genomes from many species to uncover the importance of the molecular mechanisms and underlying 96 •
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genetic traits to human and veterinary medicine. “It is a great honor to receive this prestigious award as a recognition for my research,” Andersson said, “and the ceremony in the Stockholm City Hall, where the Nobel prize banquet takes place in December every year, was fabulous—a memory for life.” Andersson’s work has garnered national and international attention both among scholars and in the media. Recently, he discovered the gene that is responsible for the ability of some horse breeds, such as the Paso Fino and Tennessee Walker, to move with a smooth ambling gait. Additionally, in his recent paper published in Nature, Andersson determined the gene responsible for the variation in beak shape in Darwin’s finches. Andersson has also been uniquely elected to four major scientific royal societies in Sweden (Royal Swedish Society for Agriculture and Forestry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala, and the Royal Physiographic
Society in Lund) and was elected as a Foreign Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Andersson has received numerous other prizes: the Wolf Prize, the Thureus Prize in Natural History and Medicine from the Royal Society of Sciences, the Linnaeus Prize in Zoology from the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund, the Hilda and Alfred Eriksson’s Prize in Medicine from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the Olof Rudbeck Prize from Uppsala Medical Society. “Dr. Leif Andersson has dedicated his career to molecular genetics, and his research is truly exceptional,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “Dr. Andersson has achieved international recognition for his outstanding research, and we are proud of his accomplishments. This award is a well-deserved recognition of his contributions to the fields of genetics, agriculture, and veterinary medicine.”
Honor Roll Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Studies Faculty Fellow Awarded Governor’s University Research Initiative Grant Dr. Leif Andersson, former Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS) Faculty Fellow and professor at Uppsala University in Sweden was one of five faculty members at Texas A&M University to be awarded a Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI) Grant. As part of the grant, Andersson was awarded $1,568,000 to support his research in molecular and comparative genetics, which has numerous applications in animal breeding and veterinary medicine. “Texas is the home of innovation, and with the addition of these world-class scholars to our university faculties, we will continue to lead the nation in cutting-edge research,” Governor Greg Abbott said. “This strategic investment in higher education will further elevate future generations of students and faculty at Texas universities while spearheading new breakthroughs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine, all of which are crucial to the long-term success of the Texas economy. I would like to thank GURI Advisory Board Chairman James Huffines and all our advisory board members for their outstanding work. I am proud and deeply honored to welcome these distinguished researchers to the Lone Star State.” “We congratulate Dr. Andersson on receiving a GURI grant, a welldeserved honor for an accomplished and distinguished researcher, whose work has the potential to truly transform and improve the lives of people locally, nationally, and internationally,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “Additionally, we would like to recognize the vision of Governor Abbott in establishing this grant through which great advancements in science and research can be made.” Andersson will join the faculty half time at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). In this role, he will participate in graduate education programs as well
Dr. Leif Andersson as teach and assist with graduate and undergraduate courses. “It is a great honor to receive this prestigious award that will allow me to more quickly build up a strong research program at Texas A&M,” Andersson said. “I am very much looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity and initiating my research program together with my faculty colleagues at Texas A&M. I applaud the governor and his staff for making this major investment in research and higher education.” A world-renowned scientist who has published more than 370 scientific articles and has received six patents and filed applications for two more, Andersson has mentored 27 students to doctorate or professional degrees. He has also been uniquely elected to four major scientific royal societies in Sweden (Royal Swedish Society for Agriculture and Forestry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala and the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund) and was recently elected as a Foreign Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He received the Wolf Prize in Agriculture in 2014.
“Dr. Andersson previously was a TIAS Faculty Fellow in our college, and we are thrilled that he soon will be a permanent faculty member,” said Dr. Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, department head of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences. “My perception of his interactions with collaborators at Texas A&M is that Dr. Andersson’s recruitment will greatly accelerate research here in the area of domestic animal genetics. His brilliant explorations of genetic diversity in domesticated animals have already had far-reaching implications in animal agriculture and human health.” The aim of the GURI is to recruit nationally recognized researchers to universities in Texas who bring with them a breadth of knowledge and great potential for scientific progress and development. The initiative has been a top priority for Governor Greg Abbott, and is set to bring transformative research to Texas that positively impacts the lives of Texans and the Texas economy. A total of $34,292,550 was awarded through the GURI grant to various Texas higher education institutions.
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College News Bo Connell Named Assistant Dean of Hospital Operations of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
Mark Bomon “Bo” Connell Mark Bomon “Bo” Connell has been selected as the assistant dean of hospital operations at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). In this role, he will serve on the CVM’s Executive Committee, chair the VMTH Hospital Board,
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and work closely with Departments of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Small Animal Clinical Sciences, and Veterinary Pathobiology. In addition to supporting the CVM in continuing to deliver state-of-the-art healthcare to its veterinary patients, Connell will support an environment that values teaching, the hospital’s growing clinical trials, and the CVM’s One Health emphasis. Currently, Connell oversees the teaching hospital at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, where he identifies areas for strategic investment across the school. He has also served as director of strategic initiatives at the Savannah College of Art and Design and director of planning & business development at Memorial Health University Medical Center, both in Savannah, Ga. “Bo Connell is an individual who is forward thinking, team-oriented, and understands the intersection of our expanding teaching, research, and patient care missions,” said Eleanor M. Green, the Carl. B. King dean of
veterinary medicine. “He shares our aspirational goals for excellence in all aspects of hospital operations, including creating the hospital of the future. He is an outstanding leader and will make a great addition to the CVM’s innovative leadership team.” Connell received his master of business administration in 2002 at the University of Florida, his master of health services administration in 1995 from the University of Central Florida, and his certificate in executive leadership in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. “I am excited about the opportunity to join the outstanding team at Texas A&M University, and I look forward to working together as we create the veterinary medical teaching hospital of the future,” said Connell. The VMTH is a world-class animal healthcare facility that sees over 18,000 small animals and 9,000 large animals per year. An additional 30,000 to 40,000 state-owned animals are treated annually through external CVM and VMTH programs.
College News Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Number One in Nation in Student Debt to Income
DVM Students at graduation Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) was recently identified as the number one veterinary college in the nation in terms of lower student debt compared to income. Texas A&M’s veterinary students enjoy the second lowest student debt in the nation among veterinary colleges. The CVM offers a valuable and affordable veterinary medical education in Texas. The CVM ranking occurs in concert with Texas A&M recently being ranked among the top universities in the country in Money magazine’s 2016 “Best Colleges For Your Money” report. According to the magazine, Texas A&M moved up two places on the list since last year, placing fourth among public institutions. Among all U.S. colleges—private and public—Texas A&M now ranks 13th in the nation, moving up seven spots since last year. Universities were ranked based on factors such as graduation rates, affordability, and alumni success. Veterinary students at Texas A&M receive more than an affordable education. The quality of the CVM program is also strikingly high. In 2015, leading into its centennial year, the CVM ranked third in the
nation and sixth in the world among veterinary schools. “Clearly, the students at the CVM get a tremendous education,” said Dr. Kenita Rogers, executive associate dean at the CVM. “What is often overlooked is how the college has focused on providing an extremely cost effective professional education for the students. Texas A&M veterinary students have the second lowest mean debt load in the country while still receiving a world class, experiential education.” “Student debt and the cost of veterinary medical education are a high priority for the veterinary profession,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M and the president of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). “All facets of the veterinary profession, including colleges, students, and employers, accept the complex nature of student debt and are seeking viable, shared solutions to ensure that the cost of a veterinary education is affordable and enticing to those seeking careers in veterinary medicine.” Veterinary professionals across the nation will continue to meet and
discuss ways to raise awareness among all stakeholders about student debt and its impact on the profession. A shared understanding of the issues, including the cost of education, debt management, and starting salaries, are important steps in working across the board to control student debt. “Although we have the second lowest mean debt load in the country, we are continually working to keep our educational costs low and to better prepare our students to manage the debt they accumulate,” said Dr. Karen Cornell, associate dean for professional programs. “This year we are partnering with experts on the Texas A&M campus to provide education regarding personal and professional financial literacy that begins during orientation to veterinary school.” “Here at Texas A&M University, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to offering the best veterinary education and graduating the best, career-ready veterinarians, while maintaining our number one ranking in student debt to income,” Green said. “In doing so, we will help Texas A&M continue climbing as one of the best universities for your money.”
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College News Texas A&M Faculty and Researchers Develop Chagas Case Study Learning Module Kissing Bug
Faculty and researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) have turned the recent increase in Chagas disease cases in Texas into a learning opportunity by developing an online case study learning module. The case study was one of only 15 selected for web publication by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges’ (AAVMC) and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research’s (APTR) joint One Health Interprofessional Education Initiative. Chagas disease, an infectious disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by the kissing bug, has many Texans concerned. Recent spread of Chagas disease, which affects humans and animals in the southern United States and Latin America, has made media headlines. This increase in cases and growing concern over the disease led researchers to develop the Chagas case study as an educational tool for health professionals. The module was created through a collaboration between faculty and researchers at the CVM, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas A&M Health Science Center–McAllen. The module was supported through funding from the Texas A&M One Health Initiative.
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The module’s content was developed by faculty and students at the CVM: Associate Professor Dr. Ashley Saunders, expert in clinical cardiology in dogs, as well as Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Hamer, Ph.D. student Rachel CurtisRobles, and veterinary student Trevor Tenney, experts in the ecology and epidemiology of the kissing bug and T. cruzi. Additional content addressing public health was contributed by Dr. Ann Millard, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center– McAllen, and Dr. Melissa Garcia, research associate at Baylor College of Medicine. The case was developed in collaboration with The Center for Educational Technologies (CET) at the CVM, including Dr. Jodi Korich and Dr. Jordan Tayce. The web-based case study allows students to make a series of clinical decisions as they follow a real case from diagnosis through treatment and is supplemented with instructional video lectures, diagnostic charts, and other reference materials in an interactive and media-rich format. “The case study turned out really cool, and it’s interactive. That is the beauty of working with the CET,” said Saunders, who was designated as an AAVMC One Health Scholar as the principal investigator. “The whole point is that faculty at another university in other health professions could teach their students with a case study that was developed by experts from Texas A&M.” “It’s all digitally interactive,” said Tayce, an instructional assistant professor at the CET. “A user can be in any location at any time and still go through this case. That’s what makes our case study unique.” The case study features a dog diagnosed with Chagas disease in Texas, but it is not limited to veterinary applications. According to the researchers, the Chagas case highlights the One Health Initiative
by focusing on important connections between humans, animals, and the environment. Therefore, it can be used by students in a variety of disciplines, including human and veterinary medicine. “It’s not just veterinary,” Tayce said. “It’s geared toward medical students, public health students, environmental science students, and others.” According to Saunders, the collaborations that built the case study are what make it so versatile. “The AAVMC and APTR wanted the case study to not just be veterinary focused, but they also wanted to include people from all disciplines,” she said. “I knew we had enough people, and it was going to be a successful collaborative effort. I knew we could do it, so I started pulling people in from all different places to help us.” The Chagas case study uses technology to enhance students’ knowledge and understanding of the disease, including the clinical presentation and cardiac manifestations in dogs, when to test for infectious diseases, kissing bug ecology and epidemiology, and client education on animal and human health aspects and kissing bug management. “At the CET, we work to make sure we’re using proven educational practices in all of the material we build,” Tayce said. “We work with the faculty to make sure that from the beginning and all the way through to the end we’re using these established educational practices when we create content.” Saunders noted that, as a veterinarian, she could imagine the benefits of increased education. “One of the difficult things about Chagas disease is the questions I receive from owners about how to save their dog,” she said. “We can definitely help the dogs, but even more important is what goes on at home, like where did they get exposed and who else can get infected. So, we brought in all these experts to build a case that was comprehensive and a really great collaborative effort.”
College News Texas A&M Researchers “Paint” the Congo African Grey Parrot’s Chromosomes
A Congo African grey parrot Congo African grey parrots are well known for their intelligence and beloved by many as pets, but little is known about their genetic make-up. Researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) are changing that by studying the parrot’s chromosomes. In a paper published in Cytogenetic and Genomic Research, scientists looked at the Congo African grey parrot’s chromosomes and compared them to other parrot species from South America and Australia. “This is the first study of its kind in true African parrots,” said Dr. Terje Raudsepp, associate professor and lead author of the study. “So far, analogous work in parrots has been done in three South American macaws, Australian budgerigars and cockatiels, and peachfaced lovebirds from Asia and Africa.” The study found that Congo African grey parrots were strikingly similar to Neotropical macaws found in South America. Unexpectedly, Congo African grey parrots were genetically more similar to Neotropical macaws, such as the scarlet macaw and the red-and-green macaw, than parrots from Australia, such as cockatiels and budgerigars.
“We found that the rearrangements are essentially, but not completely, indistinguishable from the scarlet macaw,” said Dr. Ian Tizard, distinguished professor of immunology at the CVM, director of the Shubot Exotic Bird Health Center, and an author of the study. “That was a bit of a surprise because you’re talking about an African parrot and a South American parrot. It implies a much closer relationship between the South American parrots and the African parrots than we would have predicted.” Further, Tizard suggested that this genetic similarity could have originated before Africa and South America were separated over 70 million years ago. The African and South American parrot species ended up on opposite sides of the world due to continental drift, yet much of their genome remained similar. To get a better look at the African grey parrot’s chromosomes, the researchers “painted” them, using a technique known as Zoo-FISH (Fluorescence In-situ Hybridization). This color codes a known genome—in this case the chicken’s genome—and compares it to a less understood genome, such as the Congo
African grey parrot. By painting the chromosomes with Zoo-FISH, researchers can identify identical or similar sets of genes between species that get rearranged during the process of evolution. For example, genes that are all together on one chromosome of one species may appear on two different chromosomes in another species. “Zoo-FISH, or comparative chromosome painting, allows comparison of chromosomes of different species at a molecular level and exchange genome sequence or gene mapping data between the species,” Raudsepp said. “Zoo-FISH shows chromosomal correspondence between species, but also allows indirect transfer of genetic information from well-studied species, such as the chicken, to species with no genome sequence information, such as African grey parrots.” Although the genes’ locations on the chromosome don’t greatly affect the animal, the comparative location of these genes can give researchers clues about evolutionary relationships. Species with genes in similar chromosomal locations are generally more closely related than those with dissimilar genetic arrangements. “From the body’s point of view, it doesn’t matter whether a gene is on chromosome one or chromosome seven, as long as it’s there,” Tizard said. Increased understanding of the Congo African grey parrot also has conservation implications, Tizard said. Although parrots may look the same, they might be genetically distinct and, in some cases, separate species. “We’re trying to dissect out these relationships and they’re proving to be a little bit more complex than expected,” he said. This is the third collaboration between Raudsepp’s research group and researchers at the Shubot Center, including sequencing the genome of the scarlet macaw. More collaborations between the groups are expected in the future, according to Raudsepp. Tizard agreed and suggested that similar studies could be done on other exotic birds.
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Development News by Laura Gerik and Dr. Megan Palsa
A Second Chance for Charlette
When Mark Cone first noticed the small knot on Charlette’s hip in 2014, he wasn’t overly concerned. The 11-year-old chocolate Labrador didn’t seem bothered by the lump, and the local veterinarian didn’t say anything about it during Charlette’s routine exams. However, in mid-2015, everything changed. The knot quickly grew larger and Charlette started biting at it. Soon, the mass was an angry pink—hairless, infected, and ulcerated. The Cones knew something was terribly wrong. This prompted another trip to the local veterinarian, but this time he suggested surgery. Not quite convinced this was the best option for Charlette or the family, Mark’s wife, Diane, decided to call the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital for a second opinion. As it turned out, Dr. Heather WilsonRobles, associate professor of oncology and the Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology, happened to be conducting a study of a new drug for grade II or grade III mast cell tumors that had either returned after surgery alone or had never been treated. Charlette looked like a candidate. Wary of invasive surgical techniques, the Cones were relieved to have a new option for their dog. “This trial focuses on investigating a novel drug, which is a mitochondrial toxin. The mitochondria are the engines of the cell, so those cells with an increased metabolic rate, like cancer cells, are most sensitive to this drug. Additionally, this drug is very sparing of the other cells in the body so we have seen almost no side effects to the drug so far,” explained WilsonRobles. The same drug—dubbed RC2Beta—is also being used for lymphoma in dogs. After initial laboratory work confirmed that Charlette had a grade II mast cell tumor and was otherwise in good health, the Labrador began treatment. For 13 weeks, Mark drove Charlette from Waller to College Station for weekly infusions. For Mark, the 45-minute commute wasn’t a problem—he had to do it anyway. For the past 11 years, Mark has 102 •
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Mark Cone and Charlette worked for Kone Elevators, servicing the elevators around Texas A&M’s campus. Charlette simply came along for the ride. Mark could drop her off in the morning, go to work, and then collect her at the end of the day. Mark was grateful for the convenience and excellent service from the Small Animal Hospital staff. “I love it here. I love this college and the veterinarians. I haven’t had a bad incident with the CVM staff at all,” he said. “They call me, and they tell me that Charlette’s ready. If I say, ‘Well, I’m tied up on some stuff,’ then they say, ‘That’s fine. She’ll be ready to go when you get here.’ They take good care of her.” So far, Charlette’s treatment has been successful. “She went through all the treatments just great,” Mark said. “No problems whatsoever; no side effects or anything. It never knocked her down at all.” By the end of the 13 weeks, Charlette was in remission.
“She tolerated the treatment beautifully,” Wilson-Robles said. Since then, Mark has brought Charlette back for monthly checkups, and she has maintained a clean bill of health. Her hip looks normal again—covered with chocolate fur and showing no sign of the mass. The study is currently accepting dogs of any stage, including metastasis, with grade II or grade III mast cell tumors that may be recurrent after surgery but that may not have received any previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy. For interested clients, the cost of study participation is covered. However, the tests to determine eligibility, including a biopsy of the mass to confirm grade, are performed at the owner’s expense. For more information regarding this trial or a patient’s eligibility, please contact Wilson-Robles or Dr. Carissa Wood at 979-845-2351 or email@example.com.
Alumni News by Callie Rainosek
College Honors 2016 Outstanding Alumni, Rising Star Recipients During Homecoming The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) honored five of its alumni at a dinner held on April 1, 2016, at the Miramont Country Club. The recipients of the 2016 Outstanding Alumni Awards and the Rising Star Award are all leaders in the veterinary profession, and the awards recognize their contributions and service to their communities. “It is an honor and a privilege to recognize our former students and the impact of their work on our college, our state, our nation, and the world,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King dean of veterinary medicine. “These alumni are ambassadors for the CVM, and we are proud of their commitment to serve, educate, and lead.”
Rising Star Award Captain Casey Barton Behravesh earned her B.S. in biomedical sciences in 1997 and her M.S. in veterinary parasitology in 1999 from Texas A&M University. She went on to earn her doctor of public health (DrPH) degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health in 2005 and her DVM from Texas A&M University that same year. Currently, Barton Behravesh serves as the director for the One Health
Dr. Eleanor M. Green and Capt. Casey Barton Behravesh
Office of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she provides direction and advice on aspects of public health issues related to zoonotic diseases at the intersection between animals, humans, and the ecosystem. From 2014 to 2015, Barton Behravesh served as the chief of epidemiology activity in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Division of Vectorborne Diseases at the CDC. Her work in both domestic and international One Health projects highlights the critical importance of disease control efforts for human, animal, and environmental health. From 2006 to 2014, Barton Behravesh worked in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases (DFWED), where she served as the Deputy Branch Chief of the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch (ORPB) and as the DFWED coordinator for Enteric Zoonoses and One Health. At DFWED she investigated outbreaks of human illnesses caused by enteric bacteria. In addition, her work with the poultry and pet industries led to the formation of an Enteric Zoonoses Team in the ORPB. Barton Behravesh has also been recognized for her exemplary service to her country. She was recently one of six CDC commissioned corps officers to be selected for a prestigious Early Proficiency Promotion, promoting her to the rank of captain in the United States Public Health Service in 2015. Outside of work Barton Behravesh continues her education through annual conventions and conferences. She presents her research in the United States through numerous presentations and various scholarly articles and books. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Texas A&M and as a mentor to epidemiology students who study at the CDC for internships and externships. Barton Behravesh enjoys spending time with her husband, Essy, and two daughters, Gia, who is 9, and Lila, who is 5. She also helps care for the non-human
members her family: a dog, a cat, hamsters, a gerbil, rabbits, hermit crabs, and fish.
Dr. Eleanor M. Green and Jason D. Jennings
Outstanding Alumni Awards Jason D. Jennings is a graduate of Texas A&M University, where he earned his B.S. in biomedical sciences. He also holds an M.S. in physical therapy from the University of Texas Medical Branch and an MBA in business administration from the University of Texas at Tyler. He currently serves as the chief executive officer (CEO) of Baylor Scott & White Health: College Station Region, where he directs the day-to-day operations of two hospitals and nine regional clinics in the College Station area. Jennings was a critical component in the planning and preparation for the Baylor Scott & White Health in College Station, which was a $200 million investment for the community. The new hospital in College Station has a successful open-heart program, an ICU, a neonatal ICU, neurosurgery, cancer care, endoscopy, and specialty services. His hard work and leadership in executing medical strategies in the College Station region is evident in the satisfaction of patients and clients in the community. Prior to becoming the CEO of Baylor Scott & White in College Station, Winter 2017 •
Alumni News Jennings was the chief operating officer and senior executive vice president for the Hillcrest Health System and Scott & White Healthcare. He was an operations and quality specialist for Tenet Health System, the director of rehabilitation for Bowie Memorial Hospital, the clinical programs coordinator for Good Shepherd Health System, and a practicing physical and senior therapist. In each of these positions, he has helped to expand the capacity of hospitals and clinics, reduce costs, recruit strong employees, and influence the community in which each hospital functioned. Jennings is committed to giving back to his community. Just a few of his roles include being a member of the executive council for the American Heart Association, a round table member of the Wounded Warrior Program, and a Mobile Meals volunteer. He is a guest lecturer at the Texas A&M University Mays Business School, a board member of the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce, and a proud member of Grace Bible Church. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and playing soccer as well as spending time with his wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Reagan, who is 13, and Taylor, who is 10.
Dr. Eleanor M. Green and Dr. Duane Carl Kraemer Dr. Duane Carl Kraemer earned his B.S. in animal husbandry from the University of Wisconsin in 1955. Additionally, he went on to earn his 104 •
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M.S. in physiology of reproduction in 1960 and a B.S. in veterinary science in 1965 from Texas A&M University. Kraemer then decided to attend veterinary school while earning a Ph.D. in physiology of reproduction. He graduated with his DVM and Ph.D. in 1966 from Texas A&M University. Currently, Kraemer is a senior professor in the Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). He was recruited in 1975 as an associate professor at the CVM, where he continued his work developing methods for the collection and transfer of embryos in a variety of species. Today, he is recognized for his work in developing methods for assisted reproduction in more animal species than any other person in the world. His research has played a critical role in the conservation of many mammalian species, including wild and exotic animals. A few of the accomplishments of Kraemer, his colleagues, and students at Texas A&M include producing the first horse that was the product of embryo transfer in the United States, being the first to demonstrate the birth of live offspring following embryo transfer in deer, cats, and dogs, and conducting the first embryo transfer in the cattle industry for commercial purposes. Kraemer is also responsible for producing the first cloned cat, CC. The successful cloning of CC was big news in the scientific community and the world in general, garnering many headlines. In addition to his contributions to reproductive physiology, Kraemer has dedicated himself to selflessly serving students, his college, his university, and many other people and organizations. He even served his country in the army as a commanding officer for the military police in 1958-1959. As a part of devoting his life to teaching and research, Kraemer has served as chair or co-chair for 32 Ph.D. students and 45 M.S. students. In addition, he has served on committees for 88 more graduate students. He is also an author of many publications, abstracts, and book chapters. Outside of work, Kraemer may be found working with the Lions Club or at home with his wife, Shirley, of 54 years. They have two lovely daughters,
Pam and Cyndi. He also enjoys spending time with his favorite pet, CC.
Dr. Eleanor M. Green and Dr. Gary Norwood Dr. Gary Norwood received his B.S. in animal science in 1964 and his DVM in 1965 from Texas A&M University. His journey to become a successful equine practitioner was both unique and adventurous. After earning his DVM, he joined the thoroughbred racetrack of Dr. Joe Burch based in Miami, Florida, and New England. In 1966, Norwood was drafted into the Army Veterinary Corps as a first lieutenant and served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. He inspected food at the Saigon Portland, held rabies clinics in and around Saigon, and treated livestock in the Montagnard villages located in the central highlands of the country. Norwood was promoted to the rank of captain during his service. After returning to the United States, he continued to work at thoroughbred racetracks. In 1972, Norwood joined Dr. Tom David, who had established Backstretch Surgery and Medicine, Inc.—a private racetrack practice based in New Orleans and with offices in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, and Texas. For over 40 years, Norwood served the equine community and promoted organized veterinary medicine through his private practice. He has encouraged and supported countless young veterinarians with interests in equine medicine. Norwood is also proud of his veterinary
Alumni News assistants, who became involved in the racing industry as trainers and racing officials. He, along with colleague Dr. Peter Haynes, expanded the Louisiana Equine Veterinary Committee’s activities to include a popular fall continuing education program in Shreveport, La. Norwood has been an active member of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association for 35 years, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) for over 50 years, and the World Equine Veterinary Association (WEVA) for over 15 years. His activities in the AAEP were especially extensive and resulted in his presidency of AAEP in 1998. He was instrumental in the formation of the Texas Equine Veterinary Association in 2008 and served as the organization’s president in 2010. He was also president of WEVA from 2008 to 2009. Norwood has kept in touch with Texas A&M and the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, returning as a guest speaker for veterinary students. Over the course of his career, the fondest memories Norwood has are of the friends he has made and the horses he has helped. He is now retired from active veterinary practice and resides in McKinney, Texas, with his wife, Nancy, of over 40 years. They have a son, Justin Norwood, a daughter, Kelly Luckett, and two grandchildren, Elizabeth and Emily Luckett. Dr. Robert A. Taylor grew up in South Texas and earned a B.S. in animal science in 1968 and his DVM degree with honors in 1970 from Texas A&M University. Following graduation, he served as a captain in the United States Air Force. He earned an M.S in surgery from the Foothills Surgical Laboratory at Colorado State University. He is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgery and the founding president of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Taylor and his family own and operate Lonetree Ranch in Wyoming. The ranch is certified organic and is considered a national standard for organic cattle ranching. Before owning Lonetree Ranch, he established Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, which he operated for 37 years. Alameda East Veterinary Hospital
Dr. Eleanor M. Green and Dr. Robert A. Taylor became the first veterinary hospital to be featured on Animal Planet as part of the TV show, Emergency Vets. The show aired for 10 seasons, had 125 million viewers, and exhibited a real veterinary emergency setting. He was also co-founder of Bel-Rea Institute of Animal Technology. For 15 years, Taylor was treasurer of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). He guided ACVS in the purchase of their national headquarters. As a long-term Denver Zoo Board member, he helped form the Research and Conservation
Committee. He represented the zoo on many projects, including population studies on cinereous vultures and argali sheep. He also provided pro bono surgical support to the Denver Zoo. Additionally, he developed the Colorado Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic replete with a dexascanner, swimming pools, water therapy pools, motion analysis, and force plate equipment. Taylor has written three books and many chapters for veterinary texts as well as articles for scientific literature. He has contributed internationally to animal sports injuries and physical therapy. Taylor has worked as a board member with many professional and community organizations. He has been recognized nationally and internationally for his professional work as well as his community service. Currently, Taylor strives to be a great steward of the land. He works closely with state and federal entities, universities, and other organizations to improve his land, water, and animals. He works with Trout Unlimited and Wyoming Fish and Game on population studies, animal relocations, and fish habitat in Wyoming. He is also raising his first litter of black Labrador puppies. Taylor and Margueritte, his wife of 38 years, have two children, Marissa and Sam. Taylor also has two daughters from his first marriage, Tegan and Baye.
Dean Eleanor M. Green at homecoming Winter 2017 •
In Memoriam Class of 1941 Theodore Eugene Franklin, 98, died May 25, 2016. Class of 1943 James O. Rinehart, 99, of Green Valley, Arizona, died March 16, 2016. Class of 1947 Charlie Brooks Bucy, 91, of Odell, Texas, died March 19, 2016. Class of 1948 Robert Nathaniel Gray Jr., 89, of Terrell, Texas, died December 19, 2015. Robert Hutson Kokernot, 94, of Alpine, Texas, died June 12, 2016. Class of 1950 Everett C. Martin Jr., 94, of Bryan, Texas, died April 19, 2016. Class of 1951 Edward Taylor Stanford, 90, of Linden, Texas, died December 7, 2015. Barry Allen, 90, of Old Glory, Texas, died February 27, 2016. Class of 1952 F. Raymond Fields, 90, of Mobile, Alabama, died January 2, 2016. Class of 1953 Henry William Schmidt, 84, of Corpus Christi, Texas, died February 26, 2012. Charles M. Cocanougher, 84, of Decatur, Texas, died March 25, 2016. Class of 1954 Daniel E. Scott, 84, of Murchison, Texas, died January 21, 2016. Class of 1955 Dick Walther, 86, of Houma, Louisiana, died March 25, 2016. Ralph Weir George, 83, of Hillsboro, Texas, died June 22, 2016. Class of 1956 Alvin L. Griffith, 89, of Port Arthur, Texas, died February 1, 2016. Class of 1957 Reno Petry Jr., 82, of Gueydan, Louisiana, died December 27, 2015. Class of 1961 Robert W. Field, 83, of Pasadena, Texas, died January 16, 2016.
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Class of 1962 Fehrlin E. Sonny Tutt, 82, of Fisher County, Texas, died January 31, 2015. Class of 1963 Lloyd Paul Guillot, 79, of Covington, Louisiana, died on June 28, 2016. Class of 1964 Stephen Shores, 75, of Irving, Texas, died April 17, 2016. Class of 1965 David W. Baxter, 64, of Tyler, Texas, died March 15, 2016. Class of 1970 Edgar James “Eddie” Els II, 70, of Lafayette, Louisiana, died October 30, 2015. Class of 1971 William Michael Ritchey, 71, of Mason, Texas, died March 29, 2016. Class of 1973 Glenn D. Rinn, 68, of Richmond, Texas, died December 31, 2015. Dan M. Leach, 67, of Lubbock, Texas, died April 19, 2016. Class of 1974 Patricia “Pat” Marie Zook, 65, of Decatur, Georgia, died May 30, 2016. Class of 1978 John Ross Dutton, 64, of San Angelo, Texas, died February 29, 2016. Class of 1982 Jesse Dirk Kerley, 59, of Denton, Texas, died February 5, 2016.
2017 Conference Schedule
Food Animal Conference
Veterinary Technician Conference
March 3 - 5, 2017
June 2 - 3, 2017
Canine Conference August 25 - 27, 2017
April 28 - 30, 2017
May 20 - 21, 2017
July 14 -15, 2017
June 24 - 25, 2017
Emergency & Critical Care Conference October 21 - 22, 2017
Cargill Equine Nutrition Conference November 18, 2017
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by Tim Stephenson
Published on Feb 22, 2017
A semi-annual publication for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical...