Nadia Saklou first heard the term “clinician-scientist” while attending veterinary school at Colorado State. Now, with experience as both a clinician and scientist at Virginia Tech, she has become a clinician-scientist herself with a fellowship in hand that completes the circle back to Colorado State.

Saklou, a Ph.D. candidate at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, recently received a two-year Clinical and Translational Science Award One Health Alliance (COHA) Translational Research Fellowship, in which she will apply advanced bioinformatics training to connect medical records between animal and human patients from shared households.

Saklou, who earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State in 2015, will remain in Virginia while completing the fellowship, which is a collaboration between Colorado State University’s veterinary college and Colorado University’s Anschutz Medical Campus.

Saklou is scheduled to complete her Ph.D., researching the sequencing of DNA in equine herpesvirus type 1 with the intention of creating a diagnostic tool, in May. She has previously completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the veterinary college in Blacksburg, which gave her hands-on experience treating horses, cows and other large animals.

“I have this unique background where I have a very strong clinical background, but I also have a very strong research background,” Saklou said. “I've always wanted to be impactful. And I've always wanted to help save animals. Some of that can be done with research. And some of that's done clinically.”

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Mediciine recently joined COHA, sharing the mission of advancing the One Health initiative while accelerating translational research. Saklou will have three faculty mentors between the two Colorado universities for the fellowship.

During her veterinary school days at Colorado State a decade ago, Saklou said she learned the term “clinician-scientist” and was told that is what she should become. “Once I learned what it meant, I realized that some of my mentors were clinician-scientists,” said Saklou. “I thought: ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to be.’"

The term refers to a medical or veterinary doctor who also has scientific training. In Saklou’s case, veterinary clinical experience will now be crossing over with data research bridging both human and animal cases.

“I will be using big data to find and understand all those things within the medical and the veterinary records that we can use to further our understanding of different targets for treatments and different conceptual ideas for diagnostics,” Saklou said of the fellowship. “Looking at rare diseases, maybe animals have something similar and what can we extrapolate from our diagnostics and treatments for them? Can we apply those to some rare human diseases and vice versa?”

Saklou credits Kevin Lahmers, clinical associate professor of anatomic pathology and the principal investigator in Saklou’s Ph.D. research, with her research success at Virginia Tech and helping her obtain the fellowship. “He cultivates an environment that encourages us as his students and his lab team to really recognize and utilize our unique experiences and skill sets to do something that fulfills us,” Saklou said of Lahmers.

“Dr. Saklou has been an active member in our shared laboratory and is developing expertise in bioinformatics and diagnostic assay development,” said Lahmers. “This fellowship is a rare and unique opportunity to explore further the growing area of informatics in a One Health environment.

“Nadia is multitalented with the ability to succeed in various facets of veterinary medicine, and I am sure she will excel in this fellowship. I am excited to see where this fellowship takes her and the opportunities that lie ahead. “

Saklou will be receiving remote training from Colorado State in advanced data gathering and analysis as part of the fellowship. Her Ph.D. research already incorporates a healthy dose of bioinformatics.

“I am looking forward to being able to use the skill sets that I have to be able to find nuances in the data between humans and animals and see what we can do with it,” Saklou said.

“Perhaps, I can learn more from her when and if our paths cross in the future,” Lahmers said.

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