Nine Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine students were immersed in the world of veterinary biomedical research through the Veterinary Research Scholars Program.
Research plays a critical role in veterinary medicine.
From the development of new vaccines and pharmaceuticals, to unraveling the mysteries of emerging zoonotic diseases, research is an essential component that protects and advances animal, human and ecosystem health.
There are a variety of ways students at Texas Tech University's School of Veterinary Medicine can engage in research. One in particular is the Veterinary Research Scholars Program (VRSP), which gives students the opportunity to experience hands-on research under the mentorship of School of Veterinary Medicine faculty during the summer.
“We are excited and fortunate to partner with Boehringer Ingelheim's Veterinary Scholars Program for the past two years in supporting our students,” said Annelise Nguyen, associate dean for research. “The VRSP allows students to immerse themselves in research activities of importance to the profession of veterinary medicine. This program is part of the effort in creating new knowledge to advance veterinary medicine.”
VRSP is a 10-week paid program that allows a student to work alongside a faculty mentor with a similar research interest. These interests include a wide array of areas such as clinical medicine, animal reproduction, animal science, One Health, pharmacology, neuroscience, immunology, microbiology, physiology, molecular genetics or molecular pathology.
In the first year of the VRSP, three School of Veterinary Medicine students participated. During the second year this summer, that number grew to nine outstanding students.
Audrey Brooks, a third-year student, is a returning VRSP scholar who enjoyed her first year of research so much she wanted to continue to work with Fernanda Rosa in their exploration of microRNAs in bovine colostrum.
The research they conducted in Brooks' first year contributed to Rosa being awarded a prestigious USDA grant enabling further research into the role microRNA isolated from bovine colostrum has upon the immune response.
“Being a part of this program not only served as an excellent research experience, but also improved my ability to pick apart problems which will help me as a future clinician,” Brooks said. “Other benefits of this program were that it helped improve my communication skills while I worked with other Ph.D. students on this project, solidifying the fact that veterinary medicine and biomedical research go hand in hand for improving the health of our livestock populations.”
For second-year student Kyndal Terry, she worked with School of Veterinary Medicine equine experts Carolyn Arnold and James Brown. Together they documented the normal dimensions of navicular suspensory apparatus in horses to help veterinarians better understand and treat horse lameness.
“Although I grew up around horses, my clinical experience was limited and my research experience was nonexistent,” Terry said. “I was thrilled about being accepted as a summer scholar and having Drs. Arnold and Brown as my mentors. However, I was also filled with a lot of anxiety wondering if I knew enough to have a successful project.
“Drs. Arnold and Brown helped me every step of the way in not just helping me realize my potential, but also taking the time to share their knowledge and expertise to expand my education. I didn't think I would enjoy research, but after the VRSP experience and the motivation from Drs. Arnold and Brown, I plan on continuing and expanding my project to help it truly make an impact."
In addition to working on research projects, VRSP students attended seminars and weekly journal discussions to go over relevant science concepts. This strengthened their critical thinking, leadership and communication skills.
“The VRSP was a great experience,” said second-year student Keegan Taylor. “Prior to the start of this program, I had little exposure to benchtop lab work. However, throughout the 10-week program, I developed skills that I know will be an asset in practice.”
Another second-year student, Phoebe Rychener, along with mentor Devendra Shah, explored the development of a new method that rapidly detects biofilms, which are protective layers produced by bacteria such as salmonella. Rychener helped discover ways to revolutionize food safety measures and ensure the food supply is healthy and secure.
“I had so much fun working with Dr. Shah on this project over the summer,” Rychener said. “It was a new experience for me. I learned so much not only about salmonella biofilms, but also about the research process as a whole and what it is like to work in a laboratory.”
After 10 weeks of research, the VRSP students presented their research in a professional environment at the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“The symposium in Puerto Rico was amazing,” said second-year student Angelique Velasquez. “Each student presented their research in their own cohort with other scholars as hundreds of people walked around and asked questions about the research.”
More than 800 veterinary students from all over the U.S. had the opportunity to connect and network during poster sessions and enjoy several panels and speakers that discussed various topics related to veterinary research. Scholars also were able to kick back, relax and enjoy Puerto Rican culture.
“Having never left the mainland USA before, I was so grateful for the time we were allotted to explore Puerto Rico,” said second-year student Kayla Justiss. “We visited the beach and discovered a sunken fishing boat and a rocky sandbar covered in sea urchins. Additionally, we travelled by bus to historic sites in Old San Juan. I will be forever grateful to the VRSP for this incredible adventure.”
With the School of Veterinary Medicine offering this program, veterinary students are empowered to gain a unique perspective on research in the world of veterinary medicine.
“I would encourage anyone who is looking for something to push them out of their comfort zone a little bit and dive into something they never thought they would do, to do it,” Velasquez said. “I never thought I would have enjoyed this summer as much as I did, and I can say it has been one of the most memorable summers of my life.
Meet the Nine VRSP Students and Their Mentors
- Scholar: Andrea Paredes
Mentor: Annelise Nguyen
Project Summary: Paredes and Nguyen used the feline renal carcinoma cell line as a model to study kidney diseases. They aimed to target epithelial-mesenchymal transition, which is critical in cancer progression to treat renal tumors in cats.
- Scholar: Angelique Velasquez
Mentor: John Gibbons
Project Summary: Velasquez and Gibbons observed daily changes in embryo development to detect which embryos will go on to develop to a blastocyst, which is a cluster of dividing cells made by a fertilized egg, and those that do not. Their goal is to help enable progressive cattle producers reach their reproductive, genetic, and financial goals.
- Scholar: Audrey Brooks
Mentor: Fernanda Rosa
Project Summary: Brooks and Rosa researched new ways to improve calf health across the dairy and cattle industries through studying microRNAs found in bovine colostrum.
- Scholar: Karling Graves
Mentor: Clint Roof
Project Summary: Graves and Roof explored the effect of mycotoxins (a toxic compound that can be found in livestock feed) on vaccine efficacy in cattle.
- Scholar: Kayla Justiss
Mentor: Klementina Fon Tacer
Project Summary: Justiss and Fon Tacer studied the crossroads of equine and human cancer biology to find novel preventative and therapy opportunities for horses and humans.
- Scholar: Keegan Taylor
Mentor: Stephanie Myers and Michael Cruz Penn
Project Summary: Taylor, Myers and Cruz Penn investigated avenues for identifying bacteria involved in bovine respiratory disease (BRD) to help discover new and innovative ways to diagnose BRD.
- Scholar: Kyndal Terry
Mentor: Carolyn Arnold and James Brown
Project Summary: Terry, Arnold and Brown's goal was to document normal dimensions of the navicular suspensory apparatus in two mature horses with no lameness so they can grasp a better understanding of horse lameness.
- Scholar: Phoebe Rychener
Mentor: Devendra Shah
Project Summary: Rychener and Shah explored the development of a new method for rapidly detecting biofilms in Salmonella. Rychener's focus was to use two pieces of equipment, MALDI-TOF and Bruker IR Biotyper, to identify both the strain of bacteria and its ability to produce a biofilm.
- Scholar: Tommy Butler
Mentor: Carolyn Arnold and James Brown
Project Summary: Butler explored ways to help produce day-one ready veterinarians who are proficient in one of the most common large animal surgeries offered in rural medicine. He studied School of Veterinary Medicine second-year students performing castrations on feral donkeys.