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VRSP Exposes Students to a
Different Side of Veterinary Medicine

Although the Veterinary Research Scholars Program involves several intense months engaged in scientific research, students also enjoy some recreational activities during the duration of the program. While in Loveland, Colo. to present the findings of their studies at an annual research convention, the VRSP scholars took time to enjoy the scenery with a hike in the mountains.


Senior scholar Lynn Brockway, who has participated in the VRSP for two years, presents the results of her study on inflammation in horses during the convention in Colorado.

Nathanial Kollias is a self-described nerd who reads scientific journals for fun. The Wheaton, Ill., native is a second-year student at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in public health. He said that rather than seeking work in a traditional private veterinary practice after graduation, he aspires to find a position with the federal Centers for Disease Control or a similar organization.

“I know that research is crucial to public health,” he said.

To increase his knowledge of that research, Kollias became one of 33 students who participated in this past summer’s Veterinary Research Scholars Program. The program, first established at the CVM in 2005, exposes veterinary students to research career opportunities through a faculty-mentored experience. To participate, students with at least one year in the CVM or those who have been accepted into the incoming class must submit an application that includes current veterinary school GPA, resume, statement of interest, and one letter of reference.  Students also choose three mentors with whom they would like to work.

Participants who are selected receive a stipend during the full-time research activity portion of the program, which takes place during their summer break. However, work begins months earlier with mentor meetings and attendance at a weekly course, Foundations in Veterinary Research and Discovery.

Kollias focused his research project on examining Johne’s Disease. Johne’s is a bacterial infection that affects the small intestine of ruminants, usually cows, causing wasting. It can be fatal. Kollias proposed examining the prevalence of the infection in goats, which is one of the fastest growing populations of food animals.

Under the tutelage of mentor Dr. Patrick Pithua, an assistant professor at the CVM, Kollias collected blood samples at 30 farms and found positive tests for John’s Disease at eight of them.

He said he notified the farmers of the results and advised them to contact their veterinarians; however, providing veterinary medical advice and care was not within the scope of his research project.

For Beverly Thompson her interest in research is rooted in the One Health/One Medicine concept. She worked on a project under the direction of Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction.

“My project dealt with children undergoing forensic interviews after alleged abuse,” she explained. Thompson collected data on the children’s heart rates, peripheral skin temperatures and their self-assessed level of fear before, during and after the interviews.

A control group was examined following current standard of care guidelines, while a second group of children had a specially trained therapy dog present with them during their interviews.

Thompson, who hails from Chatham, Ill., said the project increased her awareness of the unique role veterinarians have and the importance of being an active member of the community.

Previously, students were allowed to participate in the VRSP for one year only. Two years ago, program director Dr. Craig Franklin implemented a “Senior Scholars” component that allows several students to return for a second year of the program while serving as mentors to the first-year participants.

Minnesota native Lynn Brockway said she had such a positive experience her first year, she applied to become one of this year’s senior scholars.

“Research can be overwhelming when you first step into it. I encouraged the students to keep going and to be proactive about their projects and in contacting their mentors,” she said. Brockway and two other senior scholars also took on organizational duties, such as coordinating some of the social activities that included touring research facilities, taking a float trip, and going hiking while the group was in Colorado for the annual research convention.

A second year of participation also allowed Brockway to take her research project from her first year to the next level. Brockway, who is also pursuing a master’s degree in veterinary public health, worked with mentors Dr. Philip Johnson, a professor in equine medicine at the CVM, and Dr. Amy DeClue, CVM assistant professor in small animal internal medicine and associate director of MU’s Comparative Internal Medicine Laboratory. Brockway examined the effects of a compound in reducing the inflammatory response in horses. During her first year in the VRSP, her research was confined to a laboratory setting treating blood with the compound and measuring responses. This past summer, she was able to treat horses with the compound and measure differences in the inflammatory response before and after treatment.

Franklin said the goal of the program is to spark the kind of interest that infected Brockway, Thompson and Kollias to develop a much-needed community of veterinary research scientists.

“Veterinarians with their broad-based knowledge of multiple animal species and comparative mindset offer a unique perspective to scientific questions and as a result are very valuable contributors to biomedical research both as primary investigators and collaborators,” Franklin said. “Moreover, here at MU, we’re fortunate to have the best and the brightest and it is an absolute thrill to watch them explore research through the VRSP.”

Funding for the program was supplied by Merial, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer, Morris Animal Foundation, RADIL endowment, the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory and the MU College of Veterinary Medicine Dean’s office and all three CVM departments.


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Last Update: February 29, 2012