Emily Lemoine, Carley Allen and Milan Piva have been awarded grants for research they will be conducting this summer. The three MU College of Veterinary Medicine students will pursue their research projects through the Veterinary Research Scholars Program, which exposes veterinary students to research career opportunities through mentored research experiences and creates a community of veterinary research scientists.
Emily Lemoine, who will be a third-year CVM student, is from Oklahoma and attended Oklahoma State University for her bachelor’s degree in animal science and a minor in microbiology. She has been named the recipient of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s Second Opportunity Research Scholarship. This grant is awarded to students who participated in the VRSP program in the past and are interested in participating again. “This is my second year in the program and I really wanted to focus on something that would be furthering my career,” said Lemoine. “I’ve been interested in the field of oncology, so I thought I should try to pursue an oncology related research project.”
Specifically, Lemoine’s research will focus on the changes that occur to the microbiome during the course of chemotherapy. Lemoine’s mentors, Lindsay Donnelly, DVM, MS, DACVIM -Oncology, assistant professor of oncology, and Aaron Ericsson, DVM, PhD, assistant professor and director of the University of Missouri Metagenomics Center, will be assisting her throughout. Donnelly detailed the project. “Specifically, we are evaluating how the microbiome changes in dogs that have been diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma as they receive a multiagent chemotherapy protocol called CHOP,” said Donnelly. “Some dogs experience side effects of chemotherapy like vomiting and diarrhea, and it is currently unknown if there is any association between these bacteria and the severity of these symptoms.”
While gaining more knowledge, they hope to eventually be able to manipulate a cancer patient’s gut microbiome so that it lessens the severity of side effects and increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy. “There is also some evidence that the gut microbiome of an individual may alter how effective a therapy is for the cancer,” said Donnelly. “With more knowledge of how the gut microbiome and cancer treatment interact, we may be able to manipulate a cancer patient’s gut microbiome to both make chemotherapy more tolerable and more effective.”
As of now, COVID-19 hasn’t had much of an effect on the plan for Lemoine’s project. “I’m lucky because I think the lab where we’re doing the analysis of the samples we have obtained is going to be exempt from shutting down,” said Lemoine. “I think it should be fine, because if they open up that lab, then I can still get my samples analyzed. I may not be the one to extract the DNA, but I should be able to get the analysis from the lab and do all of my computer work.”
Carley Allen will be a second-year CVM student. She is from northwest Arkansas and went to Arkansas Tech University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural business with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine and a minor in biology. Allen has been named the recipient of a Morris Animal Foundation grant for her research project. Her project will focus on finding a better understanding of cell growth signaling pathways in canine osteosarcoma. “Canine osteosarcoma is one of the more common bone tumors in dogs,” said Allen. “It’s actually a pretty aggressive cancer that can cause a lot of pain and bone destruction. We’re hoping that this is a potential target for treatment and mitigation of some of the symptoms associated with it.”
Allen’s mentors, assistant professors of oncology Brian Flesner, DVM, MS, DACVIM-Oncology, and Angela McCleary-Wheeler, DVM, PhD, DACVIM-Oncology, will be working with her through the process of this project. McCleary-Wheeler added more detail about Allen’s project. “The study was conceived and designed based upon some data in human cancers, including human osteosarcoma, looking at the contribution of SHIP (src homology domain containing inositol polyphosphate) enzymes to cancer,” said McCleary-Wheeler. “Because comparative oncology, the study of cancers that occur in both animals and humans, can help accelerate our understanding of the biology and potentially the development of new therapies, we wanted to investigate the role of SHIP in canine osteosarcoma. Canine osteosarcoma is remarkably similar to human osteosarcoma. Carley will be investigating how SHIP contributes to canine osteosarcoma cell growth and survival mechanisms in vitro by evaluating the effect of novel SHIP inhibitors on established canine osteosarcoma cell lines.”
As of now, Allen’s team is still planning on moving forward, despite uncertainty caused by COVID-19. However, they have a back-up plan in case they are unable to get in the lab this summer. “Currently, the plan is still to go, but we have decided on a plan B that is a retrospective study to look at pain mechanisms with canine osteosarcoma,” said Allen.
Milan Piva will also be a second-year CVM student. She is from Parsons, Kansas, and went to Baker University for her bachelor’s degree and attended Emporia State University, where she earned her master’s degree in biology, ecology and biodiversity. Piva has been awarded a grant by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG), a group that supports the advancement of research for crocodiles, alligators and other crocodilian species. Piva’s project will focus on American alligator anatomy and morphology. “I’ll be 3-D reconstructing the phallus and the cloaca from MRI imaging. We will identify where different tissue types lie and how those function together to allow male and female alligator copulation” said Piva.
Piva’s project mentor is Brandon Moore Ph.D., assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. “Milan and I will better describe the anatomical structures and functions of the male American alligator cloaca,” said Moore. “We will focus on the male alligator genitals found in the outer chamber of the cloaca and how muscles in the cloacal wall contract to evert the phallus during copulation. Adult male alligators are doing this right now throughout the country, as it is breeding season, and anatomically we do not know how the mechanism works in full detail.”
Piva will be constructing her 3-D modeling remotely because of COVID-19, and the grant will go toward making her remote project possible. “The money from the grant will essentially allow us to be socially distanced. It will provide a computer and the software for me to work from home, rather than me having to go on campus and use a keyboard and mouse that everyone else has touched,” said Piva. “It’s a big change from what my original project was going to be. I was going to spend a lot of time on campus doing 3-D reconstructions, but also in the anatomy lab dissecting cloacae, making the histological sections, and analyzing the MRI scans. It has definitely changed, and now it will just be at home.”
Piva is excited about the discoveries that can be made through her project. “Little is known about a lot of the crocodilian species and how their phallus functions during copulation. There is a lot to be discovered and it’s an exciting project to be working on with Dr. Moore, who has extensive knowledge in crocodilian reproductive biology.”