A Virginia Tech graduate student who helps develop stem cell treatments for horses at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., will travel to the Baltic region of Northern Europe to do similar research in human medicine.

Daniel W. Youngstrom of Marlborough, Mass., a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical and veterinary sciences at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, received a fellowship under the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to pursue studies in Latvia. 

He is also a doctoral scholar at the Virginia Tech Institute of Critical Technology and Applied Science and a member of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in Regenerative Medicine.

Youngstrom will spend nine months in Latvia’s capital city of Riga at the Cell Transplantation Center, a research laboratory affiliated with the University of Latvia and the Pauls Stradins Clinical University Hospital. He will characterize adult human stem cells and their potential uses to treat osteoarthritis — a complex process that results in joint degradation and chronic pain.

“The Equine Medical Center is known as a focal point in veterinary orthopedic research. Our laboratory rapidly translates research to clinical therapeutics to improve quality of life in horses,” said Youngstrom, who drew comparisons between degenerative musculoskeletal conditions in horses and people. “The Cell Transplantation Center is similarly developing cell-based therapies to treat a variety of conditions in humans. I am excited to apply my experience in veterinary research to its work, and the collaboration should prove to be mutually beneficial.”

In September, Youngstrom will travel to Latvia, where he already has a family history and fundamental language skills, for the academic year. He is one of more than 1,700 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the upcoming academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Youngstrom currently works in the Equine Medical Center’s Regenerative Medicine Research Laboratory under the direction of Dr. Jennifer G. Barrett, associate professor of equine surgery in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. The laboratory works alongside the center’s Regenerative Medicine Service.

Youngstrom’s research focuses on equine stem cells — self-renewing cells that have the potential to become any cell type and are responsible for restoring tissue following injury. “The idea is that a patient’s own cells can be expanded in the laboratory and either transplanted directly to the site of injury or used to grow replacement tissue,” Youngstrom explained.

His research on the ability of stem cells to repair tendons in horses has obvious human health implications. “The horse is an excellent model because the pathophysiological characteristics of (tendon disease) are very similar to the condition in humans, and there is a high clinical demand for regenerative therapies for tendon lesions in performance horses,” he said. “Much of the work that I currently do is directly applicable to both equine and human medicine.”

In Latvia, Youngstrom will assist in a pre-clinical characterization of human stem cells and their ability to repair cartilage tissue in patients with osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The program operates in over 155 countries worldwide.

Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright program has given approximately 318,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, scientists, and other professionals the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Virginia Tech’s application deadline for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is Sept. 14. Graduating seniors, graduate students, and alumni are eligible to apply. To learn more, visit the University Honors website or contact Christina McIntyre, Virginia Tech’s Fulbright program advisor. The Office of International Research, Education, and Development website has information for faculty members interested in pursuing a Fulbright.

Written by Michael Sutphin.

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