Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program Selects New Candidates

Each year, the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation (TVMF) funds a grant to the Texas A&M University (TAMU) Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program (VMSRTP), which supports the exposure of veterinary students to cutting-edge research within the veterinary profession. These funds are raised through TVMF’s Buck-A-Year development initiative.

Student fellows conduct full-time research during a 12-week period in the summer under the advice and direction of a faculty mentor. In addition to conducting research, students participate in field trips to other research sites to broaden and enrich their exposure to veterinary research. The program concludes with a research conference and a closing banquet.

This year’s TVMF grant recipients were Morgan Gunn and Andrew Brown. This summer, Gunn was mentored by Dr. Aline Rodrigues Hoffmann, a pathologist in the veterinary pathology department, and her research project was on “In vitro evaluation of Staphyloccous felis as a potential probiotic therapy for canine superficial pyoderma.” Brown was mentored by Dr. Mary Nabity in the veterinary pathobiology (clinical pathology) department and Dr. Gui Verocai in the department of veterinary pathobiology (parasitology), and his research project was on the evaluation of urine for antigen detection of Dirofilaria immitis in dogs.

The daughter of a shelter veterinarian and veterinary surgeon, Gunn spent most of her childhood growing up in Orange Grove, Texas, with her younger brother and sister.

Despite spending her childhood in her mother’s veterinary clinic, Gunn did not always want to be a veterinarian.

“I spent lots of time on the floor of my mom’s surgery room in her vet clinic growing up, but I didn’t have the same love for medicine that I do now,” she said. “I think that as I progressed through my animal science bachelor’s degree, I slowly began to put pieces together that I loved problem solving, striving to understand how animals interact with the environment around them, how we can improve their welfare and most importantly how to empower animal stewards and caretakers to provide the best care possible. Once I began to seriously consider medicine, many of my advisors urged me to pursue animal science graduate school instead, but I’m so glad I made the leap of faith to pursue vet med and fall in love with medicine!”

Gunn loves waking up every day knowing she is going to learn something new, and that’s a big reason why she applied for the VMSRTP.
“My ultimate goal was to push myself outside of my comfort zone and try something completely new to me,” she said.

Although new to research, Gunn is inspired by knowing her work will benefit so many more than just herself.

“I am extremely passionate about our growing knowledge of how the microbiome, or the microorganisms living in and on the body, influence our health,” she said. “As we discover more and more about how the bacteria on our skin and in our gut protect and benefit us, we are finding more opportunities to manipulate the microbiome to treat disease and reduce the use of conventional antibiotics. This is especially important to us as veterinarians, as the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine creates a huge opportunity for dangerous antibiotic resistance in companion animals, food animals and even human beings.”

Gunn is still undecided on what field of medicine she wants to pursue as everything is exciting and interesting to her in its own way. She is passionate about small animal emergency medicine and loves the variety of cases and the fast pace. She also loves being able to be there for owners and provide approachable, judgment-free support and education in their times of greatest stress and need.

“I am considering specializing in critical care, so I have an opportunity to practice this passion at the highest level,” she said. “I am also considering internal medicine as an opportunity to work on challenging, puzzling cases that require following a trail of physiology breadcrumbs and work with each patient as an individual.”

Although she has yet to pin down her specific field of medicine, Gunn hopes to explore the country after graduation and be knee-deep in a residency in a field that excites and challenges her. Until then, you can find her staying active by hiking and backpacking, destressing with yoga and baking new desserts and baked goods to test out on her classmates.

Brown hails from Maryland and knew since he was a child that he wanted to be a veterinarian. He was surrounded by dogs and cats and was always excited to go to the veterinarian with his pets growing up. Although in college, he briefly considered a career in physics, he soon came back to veterinary medicine and never looked back.

“It’s cliché, but going from saying I wanted to be a veterinarian as a child to actually being in veterinary school is pretty cool.” Brown said. “I’ve enjoyed learning a lot of the ‘whys’ behind things I’ve watched veterinarians do while working as a technician. I really like physiology-based classes as well as our clinical pathology and pharmacology classes.”

Brown applied for the VMSRTP as an opportunity to gain experience in a different field of veterinary medicine and to see if research was something he could see himself doing as a career. He chose his particular project because his two favorite areas of veterinary medicine are parasites and the kidneys.

“This project seemed like a good intersection between the two,” he said. “I think that investigating new and easier methods to detect heartworm infection will lead to better medical outcomes for dogs (and maybe even cats) with these infections, so this project felt very worthwhile and meaningful to me.”

Not knowing much of the behind-the-scenes aspect of research, Brown found that he was very interested in the clinical application of research.

“New diagnostic methods for diseases have a big impact on the clinic floor day-to-day, so I try to focus on the animals that this work could help, even if it’s not a huge number,” Brown said.

Brown came into veterinary school thinking he wanted to pursue anatomic pathology, but he has also considered emergency and critical care and clinical pathology. Brown has now set his sights on small animal internal medicine.

“Seeing the clinical professors at A&M that are internists and my experience shadowing an internist back home have solidified my desire to pursue that path,” Brown said.

So what does the future hold for Brown? He hopes to be in a small animal internal medicine residency. Until then, you can find him improving his cooking skills and doing anything outdoors, including snowboarding during the Texas winter storm earlier this year.