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Program Gives Veterinary Students a
Look at the Need for Researchers

MU Veterinary Research Scholar’s Program participant Jamie Holland presents a poster displaying the results of her study during the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium held at North Carolina State University.

MU College of Veterinary Medicine student James  Bilof discusses her poster with Dr. Mark Simpson of the National Institutes of Health during the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium.

MU Veterinary Research Scholar Crystal Garnett works on her project within the laboratory of her mentor  Dr. Kimberly Selting.

A passion for their subject and a willingness to devote innumerable hours to their studies are the hallmarks of most veterinary students. It may be small wonder then that even when the requisite work is completed, that gnawing hunger for knowledge won’t be quieted. Each year a growing number of MU College of Veterinary Medicine students choose to forgo any break in their studies and spend their summers pursuing research.

The Veterinary Research Scholars Program is a summer program that encourages first- and second-year veterinary students, as well as a few selected members of the Pre-Veterinary Medical Scholars and AgScholars programs, to pursue research projects while exposing them to career opportunities in research.

The program has grown each year since its inception. During its first four years, applications steadily increased from 10 to 16, said Dr. Craig Franklin, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology and the co-director of the VRSP.  Franklin credited word-of-mouth testaments from students to their peers about the academic benefits for spurring participation numbers. This past summer the program, in its fifth year, attracted 40 applicants, although available funding limited participation to 20 students. Merck, Merial, Pfizer, the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, ASLAP/GlaxoSmithKline, and the Kansas City Life Sciences Institute provide funding for the program.

Students interested in participating attend an informational meeting and then decide if they wish to apply to become part of the program. Those who do take part submit an application, along with a letter of intent, the names of three potential volunteer mentors and a reference from a faculty member . A committee comprising a faculty member from each of the College’s three departments then evaluates the applications and matches each scholar with faculty mentor. The student meets with their assigned mentor to develop the concept for their research project.

Then the real work begins. When spring semester classes conclude, students head into their assigned laboratories full time to conduct their research. However, many don’t even wait for classes to end, instead they squeeze in hours where they can to get a jump on their projects.

“We have such a short summer, we really encourage the students to get started on their projects before the summer actually starts,” Franklin said.

One of those students who opted not to wait for the official start of summer before beginning work was second-year veterinary medicine student Jamie Holland. Franklin mentored Holland during her research work.

“I started working in Dr. Franklin’s lab starting in March,” Holland said. “I would go in when I had a few hours free and started to learn some of the techniques I would be using for my research. This really helped me hit the ground running. When the VRSP officially started, I worked in the lab typically from 8-5 every day. There were certain situations where timing of procedures, required me to come in on weekends or stay late at night.”

Holland said she was pleasantly surprised by how much information she had learned as part of regular classroom studies, in such subjects as physiology, bacteriology, cell biology and immunology, was applicable to her project. Personal interests guided her choice of research topic. She has a geriatric cat with inflammatory bowel disease and has personally struggled to find a diet or other treatment to improve his condition. Franklin’s own research includes studies on inflammatory bowel disease in mice making his laboratory the ideal setting for her project.

“Very little is known about the disease, which is one of the more frustrating things when attempting to treat it,” Holland said. “Since my cat is affected by the disease, it was fun to work in research knowing that I was participating in research that may someday find a cure for him and cats like him,” she said. “I chose to investigate the environmental factors, specifically the bacteria and possible maternal effects, that may contribute to the disease.”

Among the diverse topics pursued by other scholars involved in the program were: “Determining the Effect of Lunging on Lameness Locator™ Results,” “Primary and Metastatic Lung Cancer: Incidence and Biomarker Detection,” “Biological Replacement of Shoulder Joint Defects Using Tissue Engineered Osteochondral Constructs,” “Effect of a 24-Hour Fast on Glucose Regulation in Healthy Horses: Comparison of Two Methods,” “The Effects of Oral Exposure to Vinclozolin on Postpubertal Boars,” and “The Effect of Owner Visitation on Dogs Hospitalized in an Intensive Care Unit.”

In August, the scholars in the MU program, which included a visiting student from Mississippi State University, joined more than 300 other veterinary students engaged in formal research training programs from throughout the United States and Canada for the 2009 National Veterinary Scholars Symposium. The focus of this year’s symposium held at North Carolina State University was “Translational Research: Putting Discoveries to Work in Practice.”

During the symposium the scholars presented posters they had developed that represented their research work.

Colleen Risinger, a second-year veterinary student who examined the effects of the fungicide Vinclozolin on boars under the guidance of Drs. Tim Evans and Yuksel Agca, said the experience was at the same time sometimes frustrating and enlightening. “If anything, it opened my eyes to how much work and planning goes into research and that almost nothing goes as you plan, so you have to be flexible,” she said.

Most students participate in the program just one year. This increases the number of students given exposure to research experience. However, one MU CVM student, Heather Wise, a second-year veterinary medicine student who participated previously, served as a “senior scholar” helping to coordinate activities and providing leadership. Franklin said he hopes one of this year’s participants will volunteer next year to provide a similar type of guidance.

It is estimated there will be a shortfall of 15,000 veterinarians in the United States. Research is one of the disciplines where the demand for more veterinarians is increasing. The VRSP helps students appreciate the challenges, stimulation and career growth potential of the field.

For more information about the MU Veterinary Research Scholar’s Program, visit the VRSP Web page at http://www.cvm.missouri.edu/vrs. The application deadline to be a part of the program in its sixth year is Feb. 6, 2010.

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Last Update: February 24, 2012