Veterinary students awarded fellowships from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
Briana Gleizer and Taylor Mortensen, both veterinary students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, were selected for the Veterinary Student Research Fellowship. This marks the first time any student from the college has been chosen for this fellowship.
The three-month summer fellowship was created by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research in partnership with the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges with the goal of preparing veterinary students for careers in research and public service. Fellows also get the opportunity to present their research at the Veterinary Scholars Symposium.
Through the fellowship, Gleizer and Mortensen will be better equipped to tackle problems that threaten livestock and agriculture worldwide. They have worked with faculty mentors Kevin Lahmers and Roger Ramirez-Barrios to pursue research projects.
Gleizer, a second-year student in the small animal track, came to veterinary school with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon for dogs, but after she took Ramirez-Barrios’s parasitology class, she discovered a passion for parasitology in sheep and goats.
As part of her fellowship, she is working to develop an app that will help farmers determine if anemia treatment is necessary for sheep and goats affected by Haemonchus contortus. Haemonchus contortus, also known as the barber’s pole worm, causes anemia, decreased milk production, low-quality wool, and death in sheep and goats.
“I would consider Haemonchus contortus the No. 1 most economically devastating parasite in sheep and goats,” said Gleizer.
When a sheep or goat has a Haemonchus contortus infection, the severity of anemia can be determined by examining the mucous membranes of the eye. The color of the mucous membranes is rated on a score of one to five and the number determines whether or not the animal should be treated for anemia.
Gleizer has traveled to local sheep and goat farms to take blood samples, fecal samples, and photos of the eye and oral mucous membranes. Back in the lab, she tests the blood for the animal’s anemia level, the feces for a fecal egg count to determine the parasite load. All of this data will be used to develop an app that will help farmers make an educated decision on whether or not they should pursue expensive anemia treatment.
“By doing this fellowship, it has allowed me to not only do my project, but it's also opened so many doors. The money has helped with the financial side of vet school, I get to present my hard work and research, and it's also really nice meeting women in agriculture and other people in STEM who have the same interests as I do,” said Gleizer.
Mortensen traveled to Peru to collect sandfly samples to better understand the spread of leishmania, a disease carried by sandflies that affects domestic animals, wildlife, and humans. Through collecting sandflies and examining their microbiomes, Mortensen wants to determine if some species of sandfly are more likely to transmit the disease.
The fellowship has given Mortensen valuable hands-on fieldwork experience.
"It's a big confidence boost. I want to pursue this avenue of research for some portion of my future career, and this has encouraged me to go further,” said Mortensen, a second-year student in the public/corporate track.
The traps Mortensen used to collect sandflies also collected other insects, including a substantial quantity of mosquitoes. Given the concerning global spike in dengue fever cases this year, Mortensen decided to expand the project to encompass dengue and malaria in mosquitoes.
Mortensen’s research promotes One Health, the principle that human, animal, and environmental health are inextricably linked.
"The One Health initiative is something I'm really passionate about. It's important to bring more awareness to how veterinarians contribute to it,” said Mortensen.