Seeking the next generation

The time is ripe for hiring new faculty as retirement numbers swell

The tide is rising in our faculty pool as the average age of professors in the College continues to climb. Demographic shifts reveal a troubling trend as an oncoming wave of retirement threatens to leave a human deficit in its wake. As the College races to find new talent to fill the impending gap, it faces an unprecedented opportunity to shape the course of its future for years to come.

“The faculty body is healthy when it has a balanced age demographic,” said Judy Appleton, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in charge of academic appointments at the College. “To maintain a healthy dynamic we need to maintain continual intake. During my first year as Associate Dean in 2007 only one person retired. This year four will retire. It’s the beginning of a wave.”

A demographic swell has been building across the University since a brief hiring boom in the late 1980s. Since then the proportion of University professors aged 55 and above has doubled from 25% in 1982 to 50% in 2010. Numbers at the College climbed even more sharply, from 21% then to today’s unprecedented 57%. For the University and especially for the College, hiring strong new faculty has become more crucial than ever before.

“This is the perfect time to strengthen our faculty base,” said Appleton. “It’s a buyer’s market in the wake of the recession. Universities haven’t been hiring, there’s a backlog of post-docs searching for positions creating an extremely competitive pool. At the same time, we are competing with other universities in the same situation, vying to attract the cream of the crop.”

This year the College embarked on three new faculty searches for positions in the Department of Clinical Sciences. Each position attracted between 140 and 190 applications. According to Appleton, the applications were extraordinary, and competition with other universities grew heated as we bid for the best of the best.

“Recruitment in the sciences is extremely expensive,” said Appleton. “A new researcher needs significant startup funds to establish a lab, buy equipment, and hire students and assistants. Finding startup funds is our most significant challenge. The rest of the university is trying to hire pre-fills in anticipation of retirements. Because of high startup costs in our field, it’s all we can do to keep up with retirements as they come.”

This summer, department chairs across the College will convene to form a “five-year faculty needs forecast”.  They will determine the College’s hiring needs, set up search committees, post positions, and interview this fall. Next fall will see a new incoming class of College faculty that will shape the next generation of our academic leaders.

“This will be the most important thing we do,” said Appleton. “It is a great responsibility, and very challenging in the current financial climate. It is also a fantastic opportunity that will set the course of the veterinary college for the next 100 years.”

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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

The Francis H. Fox Scholarship

How Fox’s friends and former students gave the prankster his best surprise yet

What comes to mind when you think of Francis H. Fox? If you were one of the legions he trained, you might remember lively lectures offset by mischievous humor, or rolling up farm roads for firsthand lessons in large animal medicine. Perhaps you’ve only heard his name in the College’s legends: rumors of preternatural diagnostic powers, or elaborate pranks exchanged with students. If you’ve ever driven down Route 366 near the College, you may think of his name in white paint, infamously emblazoned on the side of an old bridge over the road and accompanied by a public birthday counter.

This symbol has become a lasting tribute to the strong bonds between one of the College’s most well-known professors and the generation of veterinary students he trained, challenged, inspired, and befriended. That close camaraderie roused a large group of Fox’s former students and fast friends to unite and establish a scholarship in his honor, gathering supporters happy to give their mentor a legacy that would continue his passion for helping veterinary students for years to come.

“When I was a student I spent a lot of extra time with Dr. Fox,” said Dr. Pete Malnati ’52, who spearheaded the project. “He would call up interested students to go out on special cases with him. He was an exceptionally committed teacher, happy to share his knowledge and experience and sense of humor. I appreciated what he did for me, and for my fellow students, and we wanted to give back.”

The Friends of Francis Fox had no trouble getting support from enthusiastic peers. More than 200 people contributed over $22,000 in the first year alone. When Fox entered the Centennial New York State Veterinary Medical Society meeting in Rochester, NY in Fall 1990, he was surprised with a formal announcement establishing the endowment in his name.

“We are honoring Dr. Fox for his contributions to veterinary medicine in the field of large animal medicine and ophthalmology, especially as a teacher, clinician, and advocate of the art of physical diagnosis,” said Malnati. “He has given many of us this basic foundation in veterinary medicine. Thus we owe him this measure of gratitude as a friend, teacher, and fellow veterinarian.”

The selection criteria reflect Fox’s interests and ideals, seeking students highly motivated to serve the large animal sector, and those showing a gift mirroring Fox’s famous talent for physical diagnosis.

“It was all done behind my back,” said Fox. “I never expected such a thing, and felt very humbled. I hope it will help students who love the profession, and feel a calling to medicine because of their love of animals and satisfaction in working with them.”

The Francis H. Fox Scholarship fund has grown substantially since its inception in 1990, with continual support from hundreds of contributors. It aids two to four students in need a year, and has supported a total of 29 to date. Should you have interest in contributing to the Francis H. Fox Scholarship, please contact Amy Robinson in the Alumni Affairs and Development Office at amy.robinson@cornell.edu or (607) 253-3742.


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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Common parasite uncovers key cause of Crohn’s disease

A single human lymphocyte, a white blood cell that acts as part of the immune system. Intraepithelial lymphocytes, which specialize in patrolling intestinal walls, can cause human Crohn's disease.

Immune systems have their sinister side, especially when they have not learned how hard to fight. Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases inflict more than a million Americans with debilitating pain and digestive unrest because of uncontrolled immune responses in the gut.

How this happens remained a mystery until immunologists at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine caught a key culprit in Crohn’s disease: a cell from our own immune forces. With unconventional help from a common parasite, Eric Denkers, professor of immunology, and research associate Charlotte Egan identified a renegade cell responsible for this largely arcane and increasingly prevalent illness.

“Auto-immune diseases are on the rise in this country but their causes have remained largely unknown,” said Denkers. “It’s possible that these diseases are more common in the West because we’re too clean. Exposure to germs trains immune systems how to respond to threats. Early protection from germs may contribute to the increasing prevalence of immune system overreactions in our population, leading to auto-immune problems like allergies and inflammatory bowel disease.”

Similar symptoms arise when some hosts first face the prevalent protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. Denkers’ lab studies this parasite’s arsenal of host-manipulating powers, but recently they have steered Toxoplasma research in an entirely new direction.

Intestinal wall after Toxoplasma infection and inflammation, compared to undamaged intestinal wall.

“We noticed that the initial intestinal inflammation these parasites can cause looks very similar to what happens during Crohn’s disease,” said Denkers, one of the first to study this connection. “Our lab has started using Toxoplasma to model Crohn’s disease in humans and help us find the pivotal perpetrator, which has turned out to be a cell from our own immune forces.”

Specialized immune cells called intraepithelial lymphocytes patrol intestinal walls. Upon encountering invaders, they release messenger proteins that call more immune cells to the battleground. “Too many messenger proteins recruit too many immune cells, causing inflammation that can devastate the host’s own tissue,” Denkers explained. “Bad balance between good bacteria, bad bacteria, and immune interactions like inflammation cause Crohn’s disease.”

“For the first time we’ve discovered how infection can turn these immune cells pathogenic, stimulating them to cause disease, inflammation and necrosis in the small intestine,” said Denkers. “This marks a major leap toward understanding human Crohn’s disease. Unveiling this kind of immunological interplay may lead to improved prevention and care in an array of auto-immune diseases.”

Denkers and colleagues published their discovery in Mucosal Immunology, followed by a review article discussing Toxoplasma infection as a model for Crohn’s disease in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology in 2010.

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Cornell Chronicle, February 22, 2011
http://www.news.cornell.edu/…

Scientific Computing, February 23, 2011
http://www.scientificcomputing.com/…

PhysOrg
http://www.physorg.com/…

R&D Magazine
http://www.rdmag.com/…

myScience
http://www.myscience.us/…

Press Connects
http://www.pressconnects.com/

The Ithaca Journal
http://www.theithacajournal.com/

Learning genes to label germs

Genetic comparison can identify mystery pathogens

Organisms from all corners of the animal world arrive at the doors of the New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC). Foreign or familiar, prevalent or peculiar, pathogens must reveal their true identities before veterinarians can begin to make sense of samples, diagnose diseases, and develop treatment plans.

How do you identify a microscopic organism? The traditional method has guided doctors and scientists through the past 100 years. Smear a sample on an agar plate, a petri dish covered with gelatin made from seaweed, and study the culture as it grows. What shape does it take? Does it move or stay still? What is its biochemical profile? What food does it prefer? Scientists use these kinds of questions to match mystery organisms to those successfully identified in the past.

But sometimes matching lists of characteristics isn’t enough.

“We deal with some oddball organisms,” says Dr. Craig Altier, a microbiologist with big aspirations for the future of identifying small life-forms.  While traditional methods of identification can reliably distinguish common or easily differentiated organisms, they shed less light on outliers, including newly mutated species, rare breeds of bacteria, and fraudulent fungi.

“Fungi look very similar under a microscope, and often biochemical differences between species prove undetectable,” says Altier. “We really needed a better way to tell such species apart. So when physical characteristics failed, we turned to genetics.”

Every individual has a unique DNA fingerprint, and so does every species. Evolution shakes the genetic dice many times over, but all species have certain genes that survive unchanged for generations.

“These highly conserved genes usually code for essential functional elements that would not work if they were changed, such as proteins required for basic cellular function,” says Altier. “They don’t vary much between individuals, but they do vary across species. We can use these genes to accurately identify organisms.”

Researchers have already been looking at conserved genes to map out relationships between species, and now Altier and his colleagues are adapting these techniques for veterinary medicine.

“We have finally reached a point where we can use these tools quickly and efficiently enough to diagnose disease,” says Altier. “Human medicine will benefit as well, but the technique is most valuable in veterinary medicine because there are so many different species of host animals and pathogens.”

The new approach uses PCR techniques to amplify DNA from selected conserved genes. Cornell’s on-campus DNA Sequencing Center decodes samples into a string of about 500 bases of A, T, C, or G, then compares them to samples in the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s genetic database to look for similarities.

The technique is already revolutionizing diagnostics, revealing relationships that could never have been found before. “One day we received a swab from the flipper of a sick sea lion,” says Altier. “We had no idea what kind of organisms might live there, but we found the answer quickly through DNA sequencing and a quick genetic comparison. We couldn’t have done that without this database.”

Genetic comparison tools raise the bar for diagnostic accuracy. “With the old methods we frequently got stuck saying one organism is ‘like’ another,” says Altier. “Now we can usually hone in on a more exact label. We match sequences down to the letter to find efficient, accurate diagnoses.”

Comparative genetics can also expand our knowledge of a given disease.

“We may find the same kinds of pathogens in different animals we never knew could host them, or on the same host species but at a different body site,” says Altier. “These techniques have already shed new light on how organisms evolve and how different species are related. We may soon begin discovering new important pathogens previously left unnoticed.”

Even unidentified organisms could prove priceless down the road. Many currently unidentified sequences float nameless through the database waiting to be compared. “When enough of these orphans begin to match,” says Altier, “we will begin to discover new disease-causing agents.”

Lifetime achievement award for contributions to poultry health

SchatTwin passions for veterinary research and international development work propelled Dr. Karel “Ton” Schat through a far-reaching career in avian virology and immunology. This past October, friends and colleagues surprised Schat with a unique award at the 5th International Workshop on the Molecular Pathogenesis of Marek’s Disease Virus in Athens, Georgia.

The plaque reads: “in recognition of outstanding research and contributions to poultry health,” commemorating contributions that have spanned flocks and nations around the world and summarizing the adventures and discoveries that have shaped Schat’s career.

“This award is a fitting capstone to Ton’s scientific career,” said Dr. Avery August, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology to which Schat belongs after 32 years of teaching and research at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “I believe that it illustrates the esteem with which his colleagues view him and his work in avian health research, particular his work on Marek’s disease. The department is very proud to have someone of this caliber amongst our faculty.”

A dual degree professor, Schat earned his DVM from the State University in Utrecht, Holland, in 1972, and spent several years exercising his enthusiasm for health research and international development work before earning his PHD from Cornell in 1978. “I knew I wanted to do projects in international development before going on to graduate school,” Schat said, “so during my final year in veterinary school I got a fellowship to spend five months in northern Nigeria researching bacteriological causes of infertility in Fulani cattle. I really enjoyed the work and interacting with the people.”

The experience fueled his international interests, which brought him to Mexico where he met the man who would launch the rest of his career. “The Dutch government hired me to help set up a laboratory in Mexico, researching Marek’s disease,” recalled Schat. “I took six weeks of Spanish and spent a few months learning how to culture cells and grow viruses. Then off I went.”

awardSchat helped get a new laboratory off the ground, trained Mexican counterparts in basic research skills, and conducted his own research on Marek’s disease in chickens. While working in Mexico, Schat met his future mentor, Dr. Bruce Calnek, an eminent poultry professor at Cornell studying Marek’s disease. “He invited me to join his lab at Cornell as a graduate student. When my job in Mexico ended, I came here and I’ve been based here every since,” said Schat.

Early in his graduate career, Schat met Dr. Randy Cole, who had a flock of 28-week-old chickens in full production and free of Marek’s disease on Game Farm Road near campus. Schat took blood samples from the birds and discovered within them a new type of Marek’s disease virus. He used this to develop the SB-1 vaccine for Marek’s disease, dubbed by Schat himself. The widespread vaccine continues to prevent disease in countless chickens, ensuring the health of poultry and its consumers.

After making his mark on Marek’s disease, Schat has continued avian virology research to this day as faculty in the College of Veterinary Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology and unit director for avian facilities and research. He has maintained a focus in avian virology, and more recently in chicken infectious anemia virus. In 2006 Schat began making annual pilgrimages to Australia to study the pathogenesis of avian influenza virus in a specialized high-containment disease center. There he works with a mutated strain of the virus taken from an infected human, in research that could have a direct impact on human health.

Schat has attended every one of the eight Marek’s disease symposia that have occurred since they began in 1978 and played important roles in orchestrating several of them. He has attended each of the five workshops for the molecular pathogenesis of Marek’s disease since they began in 2005, and the last such workshop gave him a surprise. “They asked me to present a paper for this meeting, so I arranged to fly down for the fifth time, expecting to give a talk. The award presentation came as a complete surprise. I have worked with and befriended many of the people who come to these meetings and work on these issues, and it was an honor to be recognized by them.”
Schat
The lifetime achievement award joins four other awards given to Schat for his work in poultry health. He and fellow College faculty Dr. Doug Antczak won the first-ever Beecham Award for Research Excellence in 1986, a prestigious award for young investigators in their first six years after post-doc work. That year proved particularly fruitful for Schat, who also won the Upjohn Achievement Award for distinguished contributions in avian medicine.

The year after, Schat received another, particularly meaningful award, the Bart Rispens Research Award in recognition of an outstanding research contribution in the field of avian pathology, from the World Veterinary Poultry Association. It was named after Dr. Bart Rispens, who first taught Schat about Marek’s disease and how to culture viruses. Schat became chair of the award committee the following year.

He later received the Pfizer Award for Excellence in Poultry Research at the 136th Annual Convention of the AVMA in New Orleans, July 1999, and the Merck Award for Achievement in Poultry Science at the 98th Annual meeting of the Poultry Science Association in Auburn, August 2005. The fifth and latest in this series of awards “in recognition of outstanding research and contributions to poultry health” honors Schat’s legacy of accomplishments in his field.


http://www.worldpoultry.net/…
World Poultry News, January 18, 2011

http://poultryproductionnews.blogspot.com/…
Poultry Production News, January 21, 2011

Newly promoted Senior Lecturer continues contributions to wildlife

PenguinAfter thirteen years of service at Cornell University, wildlife specialist Dr. Noha Abou-Madi has been promoted to Senior Lecturer. As a member of Section of Zoological Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences, she has seen the wildlife specialty within the College grow over the years. Services offered by this section have expanded since its inception, and now include teaching, research, clinical service, and consultations involving all aspects of conservation medicine.

Abou-Madi earned her DVM in 1984 and her MSc in Veterinary Clinical Sciences in 1986 from the University of Montreal, and completed residencies in Veterinary Anesthesiology and Zoological and Wildlife Medicine at the University of Florida from 1986-1991. She joined Cornell in 1997 after working at the Busch Gardens Inc. in Tampa, Florida for five years and became a Diplomate of the American College of Zoological Medicine in 2004.

Along with her colleagues, Abou-Madi is teaching one of the most extensive curricula in zoological medicine in North America, offering courses ranging from Conservation Medicine to Amphibian and Reptile Medicine and Surgery. She shares clinical duties at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center and at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo with Dr. George V. Kollias, Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife. These ties provide unique opportunities to teach the practice of conservation medicine for free-ranging and captive animals.

At the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, graduate and undergraduate students, residents, and interns provide state-of-the-art veterinary care to injured native wild animals, under the direction of the clinicians. Students and residents benefit from the rare opportunity to participate in the care of endangered and threatened animals housed at the zoo, including programs for red pandas, Asian elephants, snow leopards, and Humboldt penguins.

Ties to the zoo have fostered Abou-Madi’s own continued work in conservation medicine. After the loss of one of the zoo’s baby elephant to the Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, one of the leading causes of juvenile mortality in Asian elephants, Abou-Madi began an intensive research effort studying the disease that may one day lead to a greater understanding of the virus and the possible development of a vaccine.

“Conservation medicine is an essential aspect of veterinary medicine”, says Abou-Madi. “We are developing several new programs to help train the growing number of students interested in this field. Our team is involved in programs in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, focused on teaching students and children about the conservation of animals and the importance of sustainable ecosystems.”

From teaching and clinical work to specialized zoological training and outreach, Abou-Madi will continue expanding the College’s contributions to wildlife and conservation in her new role as Senior Lecturer.

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/Abou-madi.cfm