Category Archives: Awards

Stories about faculty, students, and staff who win awards for teaching, research, or service.

Dr. Cynthia Leifer honored with 2012 Pfizer Animal Health Award

LeiferDr. Cynthia Leifer, assistant professor of immunology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has been selected to receive the Pfizer Animal Health Award for Veterinary Research Excellence. The award fosters innovative research by recognizing outstanding research and productivity from a faculty member early in his or her career. Nominees are selected for innovative research relevant to animal health that is likely to make national impact.

Leifer’s research sheds light on the currently cloudy causes of autoimmune disease by uncovering inner workings of the innate immune system. Afflicting one in five Americans, autoimmune diseases include a wide array of disorders from rheumatoid arthritis to the skin disease Lupus to irritable bowel syndrome.

“The immune system fights to protect us against invading microorganisms,” said Leifer. “But it must also recognize what to attack and keep its aggressive responses under control to prevent damaging our own bodies.”

When recognition and regulation fail, the immune system can attack the body and lead to autoimmune disorders. Leifer explores how immune cell receptors affect the way these cells recognize and respond to whatever they encounter, whether it’s a microbial invader or a piece of the self.

“Most innate immune receptors identify microbes by detecting unique structures found only on microbes,” said Leifer. “But some work by detecting structures present in both microbes and the self, such as DNA.”

Focusing her research on one such receptor, Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9), Leifer recently discovered how TLR9 makes the kind of recognition mistakes that lead to autoimmune attacks, opening the door to new possible autoimmune disease therapies.

“Identifying immune-cell regulation systems may reveal therapeutic targets for managing TLR9 function, leading to new treatments for autoimmune diseases,” said Leifer.

Leifer will present her research at a special seminar to be held in September 2012. At a ceremony that follows she will receive an award of $1,000 and an engraved plaque.

“This is a great honor for Dr. Leifer at this stage of her career,” said Dr. Avery August, chair of the department of microbiology and immunology. “Her cutting-edge work on how the immune system senses pathogens is being recognized, and she will join a distinguished list of Cornell faculty who have received this award. We congratulate her on this great accomplishment.”

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College of Veterinary Medicine News
http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/LeiferPfizer.cfm

 

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Conservation in action

First Indonesian to receive major fellowship will help save world’s rarest rhinoceroses

Deep in the Indonesian rainforest on the island of Java roam the last of earth’s most critically endangered large mammal species: the Javan rhinoceros. Once Asia’s most widespread rhinoceroses, these secretive forest-dwellers disappeared altogether from the continent’s mainland in October 2011, when the last individual was found dead in Vietnam with its horn chopped off by poachers. A single population of just 40 rhinoceroses survives in the western half of Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park, cramped into a corner of the island that has reached its carrying capacity.

The Indonesian government recently endorsed a daring plan to expand the range of their emblem species by establishing a second population with more room to grow. Yet a major concern remains. The plan involves moving some rhinoceroses from the isolated westernmost tip of Java to the eastern side of the park—an area surrounded by 19 agricultural villages whose inhabitants rely on water buffalo to work their rice paddies. No fences limit the wanderings of these loosely managed buffalo, which regularly pass into the park and could spread diseases that would quickly decimate the rhino’s population.

Cornell postdoc Dr. Kurnia Khairani has received a Fellowship Training Grant from the Morris Animal Foundation to address this problem. With the help of faculty and students at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Khairani is combining fieldwork in Indonesia with labwork and training at Cornell to improve the health and outlook of Javan rhinoceroses. It is the first time an Indonesian has received this prestigious award, and the first time a Cornell fellow will be trained in conservation medicine.

“Of the five rhinoceros species the Javan is the rarest, and Khairani’s work is critical to its future,” said Dr. Robin Radcliffe, director of the Cornell Conservation Medicine Program, one of the world’s foremost experts working in rhino conservation. Radcliffe oversees the project and is excited by its possibilities. “Khairani herself is a major investment for conservation efforts in this region: she will take her Cornell training back to Indonesia and become a decision-maker in her own country. Cornell is involved in real-world conservation, training people who will use what they learn here to tackle new problems in the race to preserve biodiversity.”

A postdoc in the laboratory of immunologist Dr. Julia Fellipe, Khairani will work under the joint mentorship of Fellipe and Radcliffe. Additional mentorship from epidemiologist Dr. Daryl Nydam and microbiologist Dr. Pat McDonough will round out Khairani’s skills.

Conducting a preliminary health survey of village buffalo, Khairani found several diseases of concern to rhinoceroses, including blood parasites, salmonellosis, and leptospirosis. With highly infectious diseases such as SARS, West Nile Virus, and Avian Influenza making worldwide headlines for crossing species barriers and ecosystems, it is critical to get this historic move of the rarest rhinoceros right the first time. Khairani’s ongoing survey will focus on hemorrhagic septicemia, a bacterial disease linked to four recorded die-offs of Javan rhinoceroses in the region. Khairani will determine the prevalence, distribution, and risk of contracting septicemia faced by the buffalo population; conduct questionnaire-based interviews with buffalo owners to determine management factors that might contribute to the regional epidemiology of the disease; and propose possible interventions.

The project also involves outreach, educating local public health officers and villagers on septicemia diagnosis and management through hands-on training. It has also opened doors for Cornell veterinary students to gain valuable hands-on international experience, and several have already conducted internships in Indonesia with Khairani through Cornell’s Conservation Medicine Program with funding by Expanding Horizons.


“Knowledge of the region’s diseases will help veterinary officers improve the health of buffalo, a resource crucial to the region’s economic vitality,” said Khairani. “Healthier buffalo will enhance the well-being of local villagers while reducing their impact on the park. Improving our understanding of animal health in the area will help reduce the risk of disease transmission from livestock to rhinoceroses. This is essential to establishing a second habitat and population of the rare Javan rhinoceros, a crown jewel of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity.”

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Graduate student wins veterinary training grant to model economics of epidemics

smithWhere economics and epidemiology collide, graduate student Rebecca Smith, DVM ’05 builds the tools to chart their course. In March 2011 Smith won a specialized veterinary training grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), making her the first student in eight years to win at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Smith will use the $350,000 five-year fellowship to model key cattle diseases and find cost-effective ways of limiting their spread.

As animal models grow increasingly valuable to biomedical research, so do veterinary investigators with animal expertise. The Special Emphasis Research Career Award (K01 Award) in Pathology and Comparative Medicine is the sole NIH grant available to researchers with DVM degrees. Its funds train veterinarians in advanced research techniques while aggressively moving them toward roles as independent investigators. Smith won through a combination of prior publications, a multidisciplinary mentorship committee, and a research proposal relevant to both animal and human health.

“While many researchers use mouse gene lines to study how human diseases develop in individuals, animal herds can model how diseases spread across human populations,” said Smith. “I study mycobacterial diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, and Johne’s Disease, which can devastate animals and humans alike. They’re hard to manage and diagnose because symptoms usually arise long after infection begins. But if we can successfully diagnose some cases, we can look back and say when infection probably began, how infectious individuals are likely to be now, and how much a herd is at risk.”

With data from dairy herds across the world that suffered outbreaks of bovine tuberculosis and Johne’s disease, Smith will apply advanced statistical techniques in new ways to develop a mathematical model. This framework will estimate transmission rates, measure infection pressure, and evaluate control efforts. It will then generate cost-benefit analyses that will help health organizations decide how to most cost-effectively manage disease.

“A third of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis, according to estimates from the World Health Organization,” said Smith. “Meanwhile, leprosy is almost gone. In an ideal world we might eradicate all diseases entirely, but when economics come into play that’s not always the best option. We must live with a certain level of disease. This model will help us determine how much.”

Smith will work under the mentorship of Dr. Yrjo Grohn, chair of the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, and Dr. Ynte Schukken, director of the Quality Milk Production Service and Professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences.  A committee from across Cornell will provide further mentorship, including Dr. Robert Strawderman, professor of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology; Dr. Loren Tauer, chair of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; and Dr. David Russell, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Smith teaches the graduate-level course “Introduction to Epidemiology” while pursuing her current research and outreach work.

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/Epidemiology.cfm

Students to run volunteer veterinary clinic at Bronx YMCA Oct. 8

Dwight Bowman William Hornbuckle

On Oct. 8, Cornell veterinary students and clinical faculty will join volunteer alumni and offer their first daylong animal wellness clinic in the Bronx at its YMCA. The clinic, at 2 Castle Hill Ave., will see cats from 8 a.m. to noon and dogs from 2-6 p.m. Pet owners are asked to enter the building through the side entrance fence. Pet visits will cost owners a modest fee, and all proceeds will go to the YMCA.

The program is modeled after a veterinary program that’s been running at Ithaca’s Southside Community Center since 1996. Organized by Cornell parasitologist Dwight Bowman and veterinarians Daniel Fletcher and William Hornbuckle, groups of first- and second-year veterinary students run low-cost clinics twice a month for pets in downtown Ithaca for owners who may not otherwise have access to well visit care.

In the spring, organizers plan to hold the clinic in another New York City borough and hope it will become a regular event.

With a passion for student-community engagement, Bowman, professor of parasitology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, won for his efforts a Kaplan Family Distinguished Faculty Fellowship in Service Learning award in May. The annual award honors two Cornell faculty members for making a significant impact on Cornell education by involving students in service learning. Bowman and Fletcher, assistant professor of clinical sciences, will use the $5,000 award to fund the clinic in the Bronx.

“Students come to veterinary school to touch animals,” said Bowman. “We wanted to give them that opportunity as soon as possible, so we developed a community practice training program that immediately allows students to make a difference. They handle everything from interacting with clients to examining patients. As supervisors we watch and assist only when needed, while older students mentor the younger students and manage the clinic. Bringing them to New York City will give us a chance to work and network with our many alumni in the area, begin interacting with New York City communities where need is great, and gain greater exposure.”

Bowman and his colleagues are working to turn the service program into an official course in the veterinary curriculum’s Community Practice Service rotation, offering credit to its student leaders. He hopes the clinic’s expanding exposure and scope will help attract the funding needed to endow the program and ensure its future.

“My overarching goal is to develop the clinic’s structure to a point where it will continue as a center of service learning,” said Bowman.  “We have a new crop of clinical staff devoting time to the project, and I am working to get them more involved with the Faculty Fellows in Service and the Public Service Center.  Students continue to show phenomenal interest and participation, and their clientele is expanding. I hope to develop an infrastructure that allows these invaluable interactions to grow.”

“This remarkable Ithaca-Cornell collaboration teaches students the value of volunteer service, augments their curriculum through practical, hands-on training and engages students, faculty, community leaders and local veterinarians in an effort that enriches the lives of the most needy individuals in our community,” said Michael Kotlikoff, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “Not only does Dr. Bowman volunteer endless hours to the organization of the clinic, he tirelessly raises funds, negotiates voluntary drug and vaccine donations form pharmaceutical companies, and obtains equipment and supplies for the program.  His efforts exemplify the spirit of Cornell and have established a unique learning model in veterinary medicine.”

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/bronx.cfm

Grayson Storm Cat Award to study stem cell therapy

Catherine Hackett, DVM, Ph.D., has been selected as the winner of the 2010 Storm Cat Career Development Award. The $15,000 award is presented to an early-stage scientist with an interest in a career in equine research.

Selected from numerous competitors, Hackett’s research will focus on equine stem cells in a project entitled “Temporal Analysis of Mesechymal Progenator Cells.” The research will be overseen by Dr. Lisa Fortier, a distinguished researcher, recipient of multiple Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation grants, and frequent recipient of Zweig funding.

“My project investigates characteristic cell surface traits of cell populations in bone marrow, particularly the cells that can form tissues such as cartilage, bone, and muscle,” said Hackett. “I look at the surface of different cell types to determine what type of mature cells they will become, such as blood or bone cells. I also study how these surface properties change over time in culture as the cells grow and respond to culture conditions.”

For patients waiting for stem cell therapy, it can take time (e.g. four to eight weeks) for cultured stem cells to divide enough times to reach clinically useful numbers. Hackett hopes to find ways to both decrease the time needed in culture before cells are ready to be implanted and to improve the ability of cells to form the correct tissue

“Stem cells from bone marrow have been used in horses to help heal injuries to tendons, cartilage, and joints, improving repair and changing the patient’s immune response to transplantation of cells or tissues from a different donor,” said Hackett. “The same applications are being investigated in humans to treat similar types of injuries as those seen in the horse. The properties of mesenchymal stem cells are still poorly understood, and we hope our research into their characteristics and behavior can help find ways to improve their clinical utility and function.”

The award is named for the Thoroughbred stallion Storm Cat, which stood at Overbrook Farm in Kentucky. Overbrook is owned by the family of Lucy Young Hamilton, a Foundation board of directors member who personally underwrites the Career Development Award.

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Ph.D student lands three fellowships in three months to combat nerve disorders

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In his effort to address the needs of underserved communities in health and education, Christopher Blackwood, a doctoral student in the area of pharmacology, has landed three major fellowship awards in three months to support his research into how the brain creates new neurons.

Blackwood hopes his work will contribute to new therapies for such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, that disproportionately affect minority communities.

This year Blackwood was one of only 20 students across the nation to receive the prestigious Ford Dissertation Fellowship for 2011, which not only provides a stipend and travel expenses, but also opportunities to confer with former Ford fellows.

“Meeting the other current and former Ford fellows is an incredible opportunity to learn from my peers, exchange ideas and forge future partnerships,” said Blackwood.

Blackwood also has received the Cornell Provost’s Diversity Fellowship for 2011 and a Kirschstein research award to promote diversity in health-related research from the National Institutes of Health.

A first-generation minority college student, Blackwood was one of four children raised by a single mother in the Bronx, where economic and educational disparities regularly affected his life. After graduating from Clark Atlanta University, he came to Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Sciences in 2007 to study neurogenesis.

“Producing new neurons is critical to the function and development of the brain. I study how signaling pathways regulate this process,” said Blackwood. “This has important implications for neurodegenerative diseases, in which neurons are progressively lost. For example, by the year 2050, an estimated 150 million people will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. If we could learn how to increase the production of neurons to compensate for dying brain cells, we may be able to provide new therapies. I hope my research can address health disparities such as neurodegenerative diseases that disproportionately affect marginalized communities.”

Committed to serving underrepresented communities in education as well as science, Blackwood has worked with Cornell’s Office of Minority Educational Affairs to hire undergraduate minority students in his lab. He has recruited several budding scientists, some of whom are already engaged in independent research.

f“The best science comes from diverse minds,” said Blackwood. “In the future I hope to apply my expertise to develop mentorship, recruitment and retention programs for underrepresented minority students. I feel blessed to pursue a Ph.D. at Cornell, to have the credentials to achieve these goals, to speak up about the factors that are detrimental to success and to use my research and teaching to potentially remedy destructive diseases.”

Blackwood’s latest award, from the University of California-San Francisco, will send him to their two-day “Postdoc Bootcamp” in June to learn how to navigate the next tier of a typical research career. The selective workshop for faculty-nominated Ph.D. students in the life sciences will cover strategies for finding postdoctoral positions and keeping a career on track.

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Cornell Chronicle
http://www.news.cornell.edu/

R&D Magazine
http://www.rdmag.com/

ECN Magazine
http://www.ecnmag.com/

Scientific Computing
http://www.scimag.com/

Educator’s award for teaching excellence

fDr. Linda A. Mizer of the Department of Biomedical Sciences received the 2011 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) National Teaching Excellence Award for achievements as an educator and inspiration to her students. The annual award draws from student nominations, aiming to recognize excellence, innovation, and enthusiasm in the field of clinical veterinary science and education. Mizer was selected from a pool of several faculty members from other veterinary schools across the country. Students Melessa Andritz ’14 and Joy Tseng ’14 co-wrote a glowing nomination, peppered with illustrative examples of Mizer’s effective teaching style.

“During our very last anatomy lecture, Dr. Mizer delivered a talk on the equine stay apparatus,” wrote Tseng. “Knowing that not every student was familiar with the general equine anatomy, she had prepared a fresh specimen of an equine pelvic limb. She was dressed in scrubs and stood on top of the first row of lecture table with a pelvic limb in her arm, nearly as tall as her.

“Aside from the levity that ensued, her use of this teaching aid had a tremendous impact on how my colleagues and I have learned the equine stay apparatus. We could all remember Dr. Mizer holding the limb, simulating the scenario of a horse during some basic slow gaits while physically manipulating the joints. Seeing is believing, and on that day we all believed that the stay apparatus actually does work in the horse. We learned this material while having fun.”

Mizer joined the faculty in 1991, and has been active in educational activities ranging from teaching to editing cases for study, arranging anatomy laboratories, and helping design the curriculum for Foundation Course I: The Animal Body. In recent years she has taught VTMED 5100 – The Animal Body, VTMED 6102 – Anatomy of the Ruminant, and BIOAP 4130 – Histology: The Biology of Tissues. Mizer received prior Teaching Excellence Awards from Cornell’s Student Chapter of the AVMA in 1993, 1994, 2003, and 2004

“Part of Dr. Mizer’s success as an instructor and mentor is her wonderful personality,” wrote Tseng. “As a first-year student, I was extremely relieved to have such an approachable and personable faculty member to encourage me along the way. She always welcomes questions and is always willing to meet with students outside of classrooms in order to clarify any confusion.”

As the winner, Mizer has been invited to attend the 2011 AVMA convention in St. Louis Missouri for a reception. She will receive a complimentary registration along with all travel and lodging expenses, as well as an engraved glass plaque awarded at the reception. A smaller internal reception at Cornell commemorated Mizer’s award on Monday, May 2 in the Veterinary Education Center Atrium.

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/mizer.cfm