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Current Research

Research Project Descriptions

Dr. Dawn Boothe: Control of Pain. This summer, among our other activities, the laboratory will focus on several questions related to pain control in animals. This includes the impact of opioids and other analgesic/chemical restraints on sperm quality in zoo animals (or models thereof), and the impact of cannabinoids in the control of pain in companion animals. 

Dr. Mary K Boudreaux and Dr. Pete W Christopherson:  Inherited Diseases of Hemostasis.  Our laboratory is involved with evaluating inherited platelet and coagulation disorders in dogs, horses, and cows at the functional, biochemical, and molecular level.  Students working in our laboratory would have exposure to a broad array of experiences ranging from blood collection, platelet isolation, platelet function testing, DNA isolation, PCR techniques, and flow cytometry.  

Dr. Julie Gard: I would like to have a Merial Scholar to help this summer. I have had one in the past helping to study proactively addressing lameness. However, I am currently looking at corneal healing following Vetericyn administration in experimentaly induced corneal epithelial lesions. We also, will be looking at pinkeye in cattle and how well Vetericn aids in healing and comparing it to traditional treatments. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Duran and Dr. Moore have helped with these projects. Please let me know if anything else is needed. 

Dr. Reid Hanson: A Study of the Visco-elastic and Friction Profiles of Equine Cartilage Surfaces. Our lab seeks to characterize and compare the material properties of cartilage located within various joints of the equine limb.  Specifically, we will investigate the visco-elastic stiffness and friction coefficient of the biphasic cartilage structure.  These biphasic properties affect the performance of the joint as it carries different loads and motions. This study is to determine if different types of joints with different ranges of motion possess different material properties best suited for the joint’s individual conditions. Analyzing the various cartilage surfaces within each joint and between joints will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms controlling the performance of healthy joints in horses and humans. This data will be used to translate into the design of better artificial joints. Articular cartilage samples will be extracted from recently deceased horses and analyzed in the Multiscale Tribology Laboratory in a multidiscipline lab between Engineering and Veterinary Medicine.  Cartilage surface geometries will be characterized using nano-scale surface profilometry, scanning and transmission electron microscopy and mathematical/numerical modeling techniques to analyze the structure of the surfaces over many scales. The key is to mesh the geometries at multiple different scales into one complete model. 

Dr. Amelia Munsterman and Dr. Reid Hanson:  Risk Factors and Complications of Laparoscopy in Horses. 

Laparoscopic procedures have become commonplace in the field of equine surgery.  However, the risks of the technique have not been fully investigated.   Our goal is to further categorize the link between abdominal insufflation and organ ischemia in the horse and its effects on prognosis and outcome of laparoscopic surgery.  Students working with us will have the opportunity to assist us in gathering data to monitor the effects of intra-abdominal hypertension during experimental laparoscopy.  A specific portion of the research will involve the measurement of intra-abdominal pressures in the abdominal cavity of the horse to further define normal values during and after surgery.  An additional portion of this project will involve participation in ongoing research investigating epiploic foramen entrapment, a specific type of small intestinal strangulating colic.  

Dr. Michael H. Irwin:  Rodent models of mitochondrial disease.  We work with animal models of severely debilitating (and often lethal) human disorders caused by genetic mutations that affect mitochondrial function. These animal models are used to gain a better understanding of mitochondrial dynamics and pave the way for basic and translational technologies including targeted gene therapies. Ongoing studies revolve around innovative approaches toward manipulation of mitochondrial genetics, modeling of mitochondrial complex I dysfunction, and testing of potential therapies in rat and mouse models and in cultured cells. 

Dr. Robert Judd: Regulation of Adipokine Trafficking and Secretion. Adipokines are proteins secreted primarily by adipose tissue and have been shown to regulate energy metabolism and consumption. Over the past 10 years, we have been particularly interested in the physiological role and regulation of the adipokines resistin, leptin and adiponectin. Adiponectin has insulin sensitizing and anti-atherogenic properties which make it an excellent marker of the metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. However, little is known about the factors which regulate adiponectin synthesis and secretion. Recent investigations from our laboratory suggest that a novel G-protein coupled receptor for niacin (vitamin B3) (GPR109A) decreases lipolysis and increases adiponectin secretion from adipocytes in a coordinated fashion. Other studies from our laboratory and others have shown the involvement of other G-protein coupled receptors in the modulation of lipolysis. However, there is no information regarding the regulation of adiponectin secretion. Studies conducted in the Summer of 2015 will be focused on identifying the downstream intermediates that are required for adiponectin secretion from the GPR109A receptor and other G-protein coupled receptors. The results of these studies will provide important information regarding the regulation and secretion of adiponectin and could lead to the development of pharmacological and molecular biology strategies to regulate lipolysis and adiponectin secretion. The prospective student will be exposed to a number of adipocyte cell and molecular biology techniques including: 3T3-L1 and primary adipocyte cell culture, rodent handling and care, electron microscopy, confocal microscopy, real-time polymerase chain reaction, western blotting and ELISAs. 

Dr. SeungWoo Jung: Mitral valve disease (MVD) is the most common heart disease in the dog. Medical therapy for MVD is only palliative, not curative because of the absence of effective new approaches addressing underlying mechanisms. Gene-to-gene regulatory networks of the MVD need to be established to further enhance our understanding of the pathogenesis of MVD and heart failure in dogs. My laboratory is testing hypothesis that unique microRNA signatures in a canine model of mitral regurgitation regulate downstream signaling networks that determine valvular molecular phenotypes. Projects include the characterization of microRNA expression profiles of the mitral valve and the identification of their target genes and functional pathways in these dogs. 

Dr. Jey Koehler: Although cancer is a genetic disease in the sense that mutations allow cancer cells to grow independent of the inhibitory mechanisms, another important factor in how cancer behaves is the effect on the tumor cells of various internal “microenvironments”.  This includes areas of low or ineffective blood flow, necrosis, acidic pH, scar tissue formation, and cross-talk between tumor cells and stromal cells.  Our lab is focused on the role of low oxygen in the biology of cancer, including the formation and survival of a subset of cancer cells that behave like stem cells.  This subpopulation often has increased resistance to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and new therapies designed to kill this specific population may improve outcomes in cancer patients.  Opportunities exist for the student to participate in developing and interpreting cell viability assays in response to drug treatment of cultured cells, RNA extraction for RNA and microRNA analysis via q-PCR and deep sequencing, immunocytochemistry, immunohistochemistry, and Western Blot assays, digital image analysis, and projects involving retrospective histopathology studies of tumors.    

Dr. Robert Lofton:

Research summary to be updated. Please check with Dr. Lofton directly at this time. 

Dr. Mahmoud Mansour: Our lab is interested in the molecular mechanisms of prostate cancer development, prostate cancer animal models, and novel targeted therapeutics. We used human prostate cancer cell lines and molecular biology techniques to focus on compounds that inhibit prostate cancer cell viability, motility and invasion. 

Dr. Douglas Martin: Molecular Therapy of Neurodegenerative Disease. The laboratory’s model of neurodegenerative disease is feline gangliosidosis, similar to human Tay-Sachs disease, a disorder in which abnormal function of lysosomes causes progressive nervous system dysfunction and death. Though first reported in 1881, Tay-Sachs disease remains virtually untreatable, and affected children die by 5 years of age after spending several years in a semi-vegetative state. However, new gene therapy strategies have been tested in mouse models of gangliosidosis with excellent results. Before inclusion in human clinical trials, new therapies are tested in the feline model for safety and therapeutic benefit. The laboratory employs a variety of experimental techniques including intracranial injection of therapeutic agents, MRI-based analyses of disease progression, and biochemical and molecular biological evaluation of therapeutic benefit. Students may participate in both experimental procedures and laboratory research. This work is part of an international effort of collaborative scientists and physicians, the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium, whose goal is to begin gene therapy clinical trials in humans. 

Dr. Jennifer Panizzi:  Myeloperoxidase is an important mediator of inflammation, but has been linked to adverse effects in cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and cancer, for example.  We are currently conducting in vivo developmental and organ-specific toxicity studies of novel inhibitors of myeloperoxidase using the zebrafish as a vertebrate model system.  Systematic testing in wild-type and various transgenic zebrafish will be followed by tests in the mouse to identify the safest and most potent anti-inflammatory compounds.  Another project in the lab also utilizes the zebrafish model system to analyze proteins important for the proper function of ciliated epithelial cells, such as those found in the mammalian respiratory tract, reproductive system, etc. 

Dr. Jay Ramapuram: My laboratory is interested in developing stable nano-liposomal formulations for the co-delivery of doxorubicin and various ceramides using different lipid carriers for melanoma treatment. We are currently collaborating with Dr. Robert Arnold and the rotation student will have opportunity to formulate and evaluate various liposomal carriers and deliver to two different melanoma cell lines. The vet med student will possibly test these formulations in a mouse model of melanoma.

Dr. Bruce F. Smith: Molecular Genetics Of Inherited Disease And Cancer.   Several projects are available in the area of gene therapy for a variety of diseases including cancer.  Cancer projects include laboratory studies and pre-clinical and clinical trials for dogs with osteosarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma, mast cell tumor and breast cancer.  These studies involve the creation, evaluation and administration of gene therapy vectors and novel biological molecules, and the assessment of patient progress, as well as detailed laboratory assessments of the impact of the therapy.  The latest genetic approaches may be used to understand the basis of components of the disease.  Projects involve the use of a wide variety of techniques including RNA and DNA isolation, quantitative PCR amplification, cell culture and flow cytometry as well as animal handling, phlebotomy, tissue biopsy and necropsy. 

Dr. Debra Taylor: Hoof pathologies continue to be a leading cause of lameness in horses.  Our research interests lie in the adaptive potential of the hoof in response to exercise.  Our recent work demonstrated that bovine hooves have adaptive capabilities.  Calves that walked several miles daily developed increased digital cushion and bone volume over controls who were sedentary.  We have recently collected hoof morphology, radiographic and bone density data from TB racehorses before and after being trained in a high mileage barefoot program.  The Merial student scholar will assist with data analysis from these TB horses which will include; creating hoof models from molds, organizing and analyzing measurement and bone density data, creating Metron Morphs of the photographs and radiographs as well as creating 3D ultrasound images of the digital cushions of these horses.  Results will be submitted for presentation at the 2015 International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Hoof, in West Palm Beach Florida. 

Dr. Robyn Wilborn: Opportunity available to assist with pharmacokinetic studies in foals.  The project involves administration of altrenogest (Regumate) orally to mares during peak lactation and measurement of the concentration of drug available in the milk of the mare as well as the systemic circulation of the nursing foal.  Because this medication is a powerful hormone, it is potentially capable of altering reproductive development in the nursing foal and this has never been studied before.  A basic level of horse experience is required for safety reasons.  *Due to safety concerns regarding the medications being studied, this project is not recommended for students who are pregnant or might become pregnant during the course of the study. 

Dr. Anne Wooldridge: My lab is interested in vascular disease and metabolic disease in the horse.  We are currently collaborating closely with Dr. Elizabeth Lipke in the Department of Chemical Engineering to culture endothelial progenitor cells from horses and combine those cells with different biomaterials to study vascularization. This process is essential for tissue engineering and regenerative therapy.  Projects for the summer may involve primary cell culture from blood or bone marrow of horses, characterization assays, flow cytometry, immunofluorescence, and analysis of cell behavior within 3-dimensional biomaterials. 







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