2018 Research Symposium provides an exhibition platform for graduate student work

Master’s and Ph.D. students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as graduate students from the University of Maryland’s Department of Veterinary Sciences, gathered to present their research findings at the 29th Annual Research Symposium, held on Thursday, March 15. With graduate students and residents providing oral and poster presentations, the event highlighted the college’s research focus on One Health, which seeks to address both animal and human health.

Graduate students and symposium keynote speakers
Keynote speakers Jennifer McQuiston (DVM '97, MS '98) and Tim LaBranche (DVM '03, PhD '05) posed with graduate students for a group photo after the morning poster session.

“I find the symposium a great opportunity to actually find out what everyone gets up to in terms of work within the department,” Ashwin Ramesh, a recipient of the Outstanding Ph.D. Student Poster award said. “I certainly believe that I thrive in such an environment where knowledge is shared among like-minded peers. Seeing the quality of work put out by my peers only motivates me to be as successful as them.”

Melissa Mercer, a winner of the Outstanding Master’s Student Presentation award, echoed Ramesh, stating “I enjoyed being able to learn about the diverse and impressive research that is being produced by our college, and to learn so much from my colleagues.” In addition, she added, “this year’s speakers truly demonstrated the scope of research in veterinary medicine, and spoke to the diversity of species and conditions that we are able to impact as veterinarians.”

After analyzing students’ work, a panel of faculty judges chose winners for the top oral presentations and posters in both master’s and Ph.D. student categories; the prizes were presented to the winners that evening at the awards banquet, held at the Inn at Virginia Tech. A faculty member and staff member were also recognized at the banquet with the Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence and the Outstanding Co-Worker Recognition Award.


Keynote Speakers

Keynote speakers
The event featured (left to right) keynote speakers Jennifer McQuiston (DVM '97, MS '98), Deputy Director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology within the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, and Amy Pruden, the W. Thomas Rice Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, as well as alumni speaker Tim LaBranche (DVM '03, PhD '05), Senior Director of Drug Safety Evaluation at Blueprint Medicines in Boston.

Keynote speaker Jennifer McQuiston (DVM '97, MS '98) is the deputy director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology within Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. She is also a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service. McQuiston specializes in outbreak investigations and research involving zoonotic diseases – those that spread from animals to people. During much of her career at CDC, she has worked on diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever, and rabies. Widely recognized for her expertise on zoonotic diseases, McQuiston has received numerous national awards, including the Daniel E. Salmon award from the National Association of Federal Veterinarians and CDC’s James H. Steele Award for outstanding work on veterinary public health issues. She has more than 50 scientific publications.

Keynote speaker Amy Pruden, the W. Thomas Rice Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, focuses her research on applied environmental microbiology. In addition, she serves as an associate editor for the journal Environmental Science & Technology and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters on subjects pertaining to bioremediation, pathogens, and antibiotic resistance. She is a core faculty member in three interdisciplinary graduate education programs, Water for Health, Sustainable Nanotechnology, and Interfaces of Global Change.

Alumni speaker Tim LaBranche (DVM '03, PhD '05), Senior Director of Drug Safety Evaluation at Blueprint Medicines in Boston, is responsible for leveraging his toxicology and veterinary pathology expertise to perform the nonclinical evaluation of potential drug candidates across Blueprint Medicines’ portfolio of anti-cancer and rare genetic diseases drugs. He is also adjunct assistant professor for the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and a member of the Advisory Committee for VMCVM's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. LaBranche is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. He has published in several leading journals such as Journal of Autoimmunity, Science Translational Medicine, and Journal of Immunology.


Outstanding Master’s Student Presentation Awards

Jenna Giangarra
Jenna Giangarra, recipient of the Outstanding Master’s Student Presentation Award

Jenna Giangarra, of Omaha Nebraska, received her bachelor’s degrees in animal science, and in veterinary and biomedical science from the University of Nebraska. She also earned her DVM from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. Now a master’s student, Giangarra presented research at the symposium that was conducted under the direction of Sabrina Barry. A winner last year of the Outstanding Master’s Poster award, Giangarra said “I had presented on my results a few times prior to the symposium, so I was very familiar with the material and the oration.” Still, she reported, “I was very surprised to win this year.” Giangarra’s presentation covered research that evaluated the concentration of a marker for inflammation within canine joints, following injection of medication into the joint.








Melissa Mercer
Melissa Mercer, recipient of the Outstanding Master’s Student Presentation Award

A native of Sherwood, Oregon, Melissa Mercer is a third-year resident in large animal internal medicine, seeking a master of science in Biomedical Veterinary Sciences under the guidance of Harold McKenzie. At the symposium, Mercer presented her work that examined the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of acetaminophen in horses. “Providing adequate pain relief is one of our key missions as veterinarians as we seek to ease and prevent animal suffering,” Mercer said. “The most common pain-relievers, both in humans and animals, are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, which are excellent at ameliorating pain, but have many detrimental side effects—particularly with prolonged or high dose use….Acetaminophen is commonly used in humans for control of pain and fever, and there have been clinical reports of its efficacy as an adjunctive pain reliever in horses with laminitis.” However, Mercer said, “no pharmacokinetic studies had been undertaken to look at the dose that was being used long-term repeated dosing.” Mercer’s work helps suggest that higher doses of acetaminophen may be more effective at pain relief, and may offer the best balance of effectiveness and dosing interval.

Outstanding Master’s Student Poster Awards

Sarah Khatibzadeh
Sarah Khatibzadeh, recipient of the Outstanding Master’s Student Poster Award

Sarah Khatibzadeh, from Raleigh, North Carolina, earned both her bachelor’s in animal science and her DVM from Cornell University. Now, as a master’s student, completing a residency in large animal surgery, Khatibzadeh is working in Linda Dahlgren’s lab on in vitro investigation of tendon generation and healing. The research she presented looked at a product that, Khatibzadeh said, “may help improve the quality of healing of tendon injuries in horses, which could help affected horses go back to work, maintain comfort and have less risk of re-injuring themselves.” Khatibzadeh’s goal in presenting, she said, was to interpret both her data, as well as that of others. “The challenge in interpreting each study is that each laboratory’s experimental methods vary, as do their specific criteria for assessing development and function of their tendon models. So one of my goals in my presentation was to not just describe our data, but compare or contrast it with what has been previously reported and try to account for some of the differences.” In response to receiving the award for Outstanding Master’s Student Poster, she reacted: “I was surprised and grateful for the award and very thankful for the collaboration and guidance of Dr. Dahlgren, Dr. Werre, Dr. Bruno Menarium and Anne Nichols during the course of the project.”

Lauren Trager
Lauren Trager, recipient of the Outstanding Master’s Student Poster Award

An alumna of VMCVM’s DVM program, Lauren Trager, of North Potomac, Maryland, is a clinical resident seeking board certification with the American College of Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. As a resident with an equine focus, Trager’s current research focuses on hoof wall fracture repair, and treatment modalities for back pain in horses. “Hoof wall fractures are common in our equine patients and result in lameness and loss of structural integrity of the hoof capsule,” Trager explained. “Currently, choice of composite used for repair is based on personal preference as opposed to evidence-based mechanical properties. Therefore, the objective of our study is to determine the mechanical properties (tension, bending, compression) of four commonly used composites.” Trager said the research presented at the symposium was the first of three phases in the study, and featured data from the tensile testing portion of the study. “Once we have data from all three phases,” she said, “we hope to provide veterinarians and farriers with the tools to make evidence-based treatment decisions for repair of hoof wall fractures.” In reaction to winning the Outstanding Master’s Student Poster award, Trager said she was “ecstatic,” as “a lot of time and effort was put into designing the study,” which included making each composite construct (96 total), running each test in the lab, and analyzing the data. “It was definitely a group effort,” Trager said, “and I’m grateful for the help from Dr. Pleasant, Travis Burns, and the group from the VT Engineering Science and Mechanics Laboratory.”

Outstanding Ph.D. Poster Awards

Dylan McDaniel
Dylan McDaniel, recipient of the Outstanding Ph.D. Poster Award

As a student in Irving Coy Allen’s lab, Dylan McDaniel, of Radford, Virginia, is studying how nanoparticles interact with the immune system. This work, he said, includes nanoparticules that can be used as therapeutic delivery vehicles as well as particles that could be potentially harmful. “The work that I showcased at the Annual Research Symposium was a unique form of nanoparticles called Magneli Phases,” McDaniel explained. “These particles were shown to be created during the coal-burning process and were also found to be in environmental samples in proximity to coal-burning plants. Our research focused on answering the question of whether these particles were harmful in the lungs, which is the natural route for entry for many particles. Overall, we found that these particles were not harmful in the lungs upon acute exposure. However, more work is needed to determine the effects of long-term exposure.” In response to receiving the award for his work, McDaniel said, because “there were so many excellent poster presentations,” he was “both very pleased and very surprised” to be recognized.

Ashwin Ramesh
Ashwin Ramesh, recipient of the Outstanding Ph.D. Poster Award

Representing his hometown of Sunderland in the United Kingdom, Ashwin Ramesh said it was “a great honor to be seen standing side-by-side with the driven individuals who are on the edge of academic breakthroughs.” With an educational background that includes a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from the University of Westminster and a master’s degree in medical parasitology from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Ramesh is now pursuing his Ph.D. in biomedical and veterinary sciences with a specific focus on virology and immunology. Working under Lijuan Yuan, Ramesh said their primary interests focus on understanding the effects of vaccines, pro- and pre-biotics against enteric viral infections, using a neonatal gnotobiotic pig model. In this year’s symposium, Ramesh presented a poster on a novel human norovirus vaccine that was administered to gnotobiotic piglets, and whose immune-boosting effects were later analyzed. “Human noroviruses are the most common causative agents of acute gastroenteritis in people of all ages,” Ramesh said. “In the US alone, they cause over 21 million cases, around 70,000 hospitalizations, and 800 deaths each year. Globally, they cause an overall economic loss of over $64 billion annually due to healthcare bills as well as loss of productively caused by this pathogen.” The results of the study, Ramesh said, proved that the vaccine was effective for the stimulation of an immune response, and have given his team an idea to target a more localized site for a future vaccine study.

Outstanding Ph.D. Student Presentation Awards

Kristin Eden
Kristin Eden, recipient of the Outstanding Ph.D. Student Presentation Award

Having spent over a decade in Blacksburg, receiving her bachelor’s in biochemistry from Virginia Tech and her DVM from VMCVM, Kristin Eden is originally from Arlington, Virginia. After completing a residency in anatomic pathology at Texas A&M University, Eden returned to Blacksburg to complete her Ph.D. in biomedical and veterinary sciences at VMCVM. Under the mentorship of Irving Coy Allen, Eden’s research is on the immunologic mechanisms of gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. The work she presented at the symposium focused on a novel protein kinase that appears to control stem cells in the large intestine. “Your stem cells are critical for the proper regulation and healing of the epithelium of the GI tract,” Eden explained, “and when you have problems with your stem cells it can predispose you to cancer.” A skilled presenter, Eden said “I try to place a great effort on being able to present my work both efficiently in a limited timeframe, and in a way that is accessible to a variety of people. I spent a lot of time working on how to condense my material into a short presentation that everyone could follow.”

Quighui Mu
Quighui Mu, recipient of the Outstanding Ph.D. Student Presentation Award

Quighui Mu of Penglai, a historic coastal town in China, has been living in what he calls his “U.S. hometown,” Blacksburg, since 2013. Mu earned his bachelor’s of agriculture from China Agricultural University, and plans to graduate with his Ph.D. in immunology this May. Since joining Xin Luo’s lab in January 2013, Mu’s worked in a lab that focuses on immunological and microbial regulation of autoimmunity and immunodeficiency. His individual focus, he said, is on how commensal bacteria in the gut affects the host immune system, and vice versa. “We utilize murine models and human patient samples to study various diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus and primary immunodeficiencies,” he explained. Studying lupus, which is a systemic autoimmune disease with no known cure, Mu presented a study that showed when the lupus-prone MRL/lpr mice were treated oral vancomycin during active disease, the disease outcomes were ameliorated. “These results suggest an important protective mechanism against lupus that involves bacterial DNA in the gut microbiota and the induction of Breg cells,” Mu said. “The administration of bacterial DNA may be a new and attractive therapeutic strategy for lupus, especially juvenile lupus.” Presenting just three days after defending his dissertation, Mu said “I feel so happy to win the award. I always enjoy the research symposium every year. It’s a great opportunity to learn what’s going on in other labs, and to seek chances for collaboration with other labs.”



Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence

John Rossmeisl
John Rossmeisl, recipient of the Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence

John Rossmeisl, the Dr. and Mrs. Dorsey Taylor Mahin Professor and associate head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, won the Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence. A member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 2003, Rossmeisl focuses his research on the development of new therapies for malignant brain tumors, which represent some of the most aggressive types of cancers of both dogs and humans. His work is helping both veterinary and human patients, and he is considered to be among the top researchers in the world in the area of canine neuro-oncology.

The Zoetis award is a nationally recognized honor for a faculty member at each veterinary school in the United States. The award seeks to “foster innovative research, on which the scientific advancement of the profession depends, by recognizing outstanding research effort and productivity.”

Outstanding Co-Worker Recognition Award

Doris Tickle
Doris Tickle, recipient of the Outstanding Co-Worker Recognition Award

Doris Tickle, laboratory technician in the glassware service laboratory, received the Outstanding Co-Worker Recognition Award. She joined the glassware service lab in 2003 and currently rotates between all three of the college's glassware lab facilities and ensures that labs have clean and sterile glassware, plastics, instruments, and media. Tickle also provides glassware orientation and safe autoclave use training. Known for being hard-working, dependable, and kind, she was recognized for consistently going above and beyond to help fellow staff, students, and faculty.