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.


Dissolving diseases

International dog disease expert eliminated ailments across species and the world

“I started at James Baker’s lab under a challenge,” said Leland ‘Skip’ Carmichael, PhD ’56. “I came in his office looking for graduate work. He told me I had six months to figure out how a dog’s immune system responds to canine hepatitis, or I was out.”

Fortunately for dogs across the world, Carmichael passed the test. Over the 40 years he spent at Baker Institute he became one of the world’s best-known international authorities on canine infectious diseases. He has characterized, developed tests and treatment plans for, and invented vaccines against most major canine infectious and reproductive diseases, including distemper, hepatitis, canine parvovirus-2, canine herpesvirus, and canine brucellosis.

“We were at a time when diseases were being recognized and their causes clarified,” said Carmichael. “We focused on research that could directly benefit animals, and always saw our problems in the field.”

From the field to the lab, Carmichael exercised an aptitude for innovation in eradicating disease. “Baker Institute was one of the first labs to use tissue culture methods to isolate viruses, look for vaccines, develop serological tests, and measure immune responses,” said Carmichael. “When a mysterious disease began causing widespread abortions in dogs across the nation, I was charged with figuring out why. By air delivery at midnight I received a paint can that contained aborted fetuses and placental tissue. I went straight to the lab and inoculated plates with tissue samples.  The next morning the plates had bloomed with bacteria I’d never seen before.”

Carmichael had found a new species of Brucella, bacteria causing a devastating venereal disease best known for killing farm animals and harming humans who consume infected raw milk.

“Brucellosis is one of the most important veterinary diseases. We were the first to recognize the canine strain and establish control. We offered a free testing service, and fielded over 10,000 phone calls in the first year. Now Cornell’s Animal Health and Diagnostic Center runs the most reliably accurate Brucellosis test I know. The disease has all but disappeared in dogs.”

Today, canine infectious diseases are much rarer than when Carmichael first stepped into Baker’s office, in part because of the work he and his colleagues at Baker Institute have done. Meanwhile, his educational legacy continues. Carmichael’s former graduate student Collin Parish now directs Baker Institute.

“Dogs are part of the human experience,” said Carmichael, “but we’ve seen a nation-wide diminution of canine research in recent years. Most funding comes from institutions that favor research modeling human disease. Baker believed that veterinary research should focus on diseases of animals, I was fortunate to work in a time when that goal garnered strong support. I hope this institute will continue conducting research that can help dogs in the future.”


‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

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.”


‘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 or (607) 253-3742.


‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Students lauded for veterinary volunteer work in Trinidad and Tobago

jIn January 2011, four veterinary students travelled to the Caribbean to help Biomedical Sciences PhD student Miguella Mark-Carew conduct field research for her Fulbright project addressing public health risks in Trinidad and Tobago. Second-year student Jasmine Bruno and third-year students Sarrah Kaye, Erin Lashnits, and Sarah Dumas spent two weeks on the islands collecting parasite samples from dogs, cattle, and water buffalo, processing samples in the lab, counting roaming dogs in the streets, and volunteering in an intensive marathon spaying and neutering event.

“I found out about the opportunity through an informal lecture by Miguella explaining her project and asking for help from the veterinary community,” said Bruno.  “The perks were learning parasitology, free housing and transportation, and island fun. It also gave us a chance to compare the veterinary setting at home with that in Trinidad, and to experience field research firsthand. ”

b Mark-Carew’s project investigates intestinal parasites in dairy cattle and dogs on the islands. These parasites can pass on to humans, posing a serious public health risk. Further risks arise from the islands’ rising population of strays and freely roaming dogs, which Mark-Carew aims to quantify.

“The stray surveillance study interested me the most,” Bruno said. “We worked in the city of Waterloo, a notorious dumping area for unwanted dogs and

puppies. Throughout the day, we were able to cover the entire city and counted over 90 roaming dogs.”

The students spent their last two days at the Tobago SPCA staffing its biannual spay and neuter clinic event. They worked side by side with students from the local veterinary school, and other volunteers both local and American. Strapped for space and low on staff, the students worked in rotations to field a rising tide of patients.

“We split up between intake, surgery, and recovery,” recalled Bruno. “We were essentially our own doctors and technicians.  The first day we were there from 8 AM to about 10 PM and the second day we stayed until almost 11 PM. But we were rewarded with the satisfaction that the harder we worked, the more neuters and spays we got through, and the more animals we kept off of the streets. The hardest part was working under limitations. We had limited light once night fell, limited space to hold all of the recovering dogs, and limited experience since many of us were students.  There were only about two experienced doctors working per day, and they stayed in surgery all day.”

zOne of those doctors took special notice of the fourstudents. Dr. Lisa J. Kerwin-Lucci was volunteering at the clinic through the Humane Society International, and working with Cornell students for one day left a remarkable impression, which she shared in a letter to Dean Michael Kotlikoff in February.

“The clinic received invaluable and enthusiastic support from your students, and I was both grateful and impressed,” she wrote. “These students assisted with exams, anesthetic induction, monitoring and recovery, and participated in supervised procedures, and were critical in recognizing and rescuing a spay complication. They worked very long days, but were eager to learn all they could.

“My experience with them left me indelibly impressed and proud to have worked with such dedicated, skilled, and compassionate individuals. These women are excellent examples of the type of professionals veterinary schools should aspire to train. I commend your program on such fine students and hope their experience encourages other students to pursue similar opportunities in veterinary medicine.”


Lessons learned abroad can carry far, and Bruno, Kaye, Lashnits, and Dumas have brought their newly earned experience back to their veterinary training.  “As demanding as the work was, it taught us the endurance to work with what was available,” said Bruno. “It was a very fulfilling experience.”

To learn more about Miguella-Carow’s Fulbright project, check out her blog:


Clinical pathology resident receives grant to study blood clotting

vClinical Pathology resident Dr. Nora Springer received a $2500 research award from the American Society for Veterinary Clinical Pathology (ASVCP) in March 2011. For the past three years, ASVCP has given one “Share the Future” research award per year, based on the quality of the candidate’s written proposal and the potential of the project to expand the knowledge base in veterinary clinical pathology. The grants range from $1,000 to $2,500, and are used to support new research by clinical pathology residents and graduate students.

Springer will use her award to investigate how tiny particles shed from platelets in the blood can lead to blood clots and thrombotic diseases in horses. She hopes to develop tests that will detect developing problems and help prevent thrombosis. Every cell in the body sheds microparticles, and those derived from platelets are the most common kind in the blood. These platelet-derived microparticles encourage blood to coagulate, and if enough accumulate they can form clots in blood vessels that obstruct blood flow, leading to thrombotic diseases in both horses and humans.

“Horses are at risk for thrombosis with inflammatory diseases, some of which are quite common, such as colic. The onset of thrombosis can drastically alter the clinical course of the disease and result in longer hospitalization times or death,” said Springer. “Unfortunately, Thrombosis is difficult to prevent because current tests can’t detect when a patient is at risk. Identifying at-risk patients before symptoms emerge is essential to guide therapy and minimize these diseases. I aim to develop new testing methods using bead-based flow cytometry that will count platelet-derived microparticles in equine blood and plasma, and to determine how these microparticles influence thrombosis.”

These new tests may allow clinicians to detect and predict thrombosis in patients, and develop treatments or prevention plans to stop the onset of blood-clotting disease.


Training future leaders in diagnostics

Graduation rarely means the end of education, especially in the medical world. A veterinary degree opens doors to countless further training opportunities. The College of Veterinary Medicine and the AHDC offer residency programs that let DVMs delve into in the cellular side of disease. In the residencies for Diagnostic Sciences and Clinical Pathology, veterinarians wanting to gain more experience in diagnostics come to Cornell to practice for three years under the mentorship of seasoned specialists before testing to become board-certified specialists themselves.

Residency in Diagnostic Sciences

Wonhee Cha pioneers the nation’s first veterinary residency program in diagnostic sciences here at the AHDC. With a collection of experience in international clinical service and epidemiology research under her belt, she is honing her diagnostic tools in preparation for a future foray facing infectious diseases of the third world.

After earning her DVM from Kon-kuk University in Korea, Cha volunteered in Tanzania for two years as a public veterinarian. “The entire country has just one veterinary school and about 250 registered veterinarians,” says Cha. “Everywhere I turned, people and their animals needed help. One day I would be stitching up dogs or helping breed livestock, the next I would be educating farmers about husbandry techniques, or working on my biggest project establishing Tanzania’s first x-ray-capable veterinary center.”

Cha’s commitment to international veterinary fieldwork blossomed during her tenure in Tanzania. “When I visited villages to vaccinate chickens against New Castle Virus, I began to see just how vital their animals’ health was to their livelihood. People relied on their chickens for eggs, meat, and trade. Any infectious outbreak could be devastating.”

When the service period ended, Cha went on to pursue her burgeoning interest in epidemiology at the laboratory of infectious diseases and molecular biology at Ohio State University, where she earned her master’s degree.

“I was studying ways of detecting and differentiating types of the Avian Influenza virus,” says Cha, “and I began to realize how important it is to have good diagnostic tools. Without accurate diagnostics, you can never hope to study any epidemic. I wanted to learn these tools in a clinical setting.”

So Cha came to the College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 to learn the diagnostic tools she needed, and to apply them to hands-on disease research at the College’s integrated hospital and diagnostic lab. As the solitary inaugural resident in the country’s first diagnostic sciences residency program, Cha is paving the way for the future of the field.

“We need more people who can do veterinary diagnostic work,” says Dr. Craig Altier, microbiologist at the AHDC and supervisor of the innovative position. “Most of us got our experience on the job. We were starting to worry about what will happen as we grow older. There are very few diagnostics training programs and it’s hard for a young person to get involved. So we worked to develop this new kind of residency.”

While other diagnostic residencies focus on a single area from the start, residents in this program spend the first year rotating through each of the AHDC’s thirteen sections, gaining an understanding of each diagnostic area and a comprehensive look at the field as a whole. In her first year Cha spent time in each section, including anatomical pathology, avian disease, bacteriology, clinical pathology, comparative coagulation, serology and immunology, endocrinology, molecular diagnostics, parasitology, quality milk production services, toxicology, virology, and veterinary support services.

“This is the only program that gives such an expansive overview, and that allows veterinarians to choose between different diagnostic specialties,” says Altier. “We want to train students who will become leaders in the field, with a broad enough scope that they could one day actually run a diagnostic laboratory.”

Following a year of rotations, Cha settled into the section of bacteriology, where she does a combination of fieldwork and research studying bacteria in dairy cattle of the New York State watershed. “Everyone is my teacher,” says Cha. “I’m surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and experience, from the technicians to the faculty, everyone has so much to teach. I feel humbler every day.”

In her third and final year, Cha continues her work in bacteriology, hoping to finish her PhD before setting out to pursue her dream of addressing infectious diseases of animals in developing countries.

Residency Program in Clinical Pathology

Sometimes you can look at an animal and know what’s wrong, but many mysteries of disease lurk far beneath the surface, in the cells themselves.

Clinical pathology residents Drs. Nora Springer and Erika Gruber ’06 are scientific sleuths who traded magnifying glasses for microscopes, investigating samples on the biochemical and cellular levels to study and diagnose disease.

“We deal with swabs, smears, and samples from almost any fluid or part of the body,” says Springer, who spent several years testing samples as a licensed veterinary technician before earning her DVM at Kansas State in 2008 followed by a small-animal internship at Louisiana State University. “This includes blood, urine, bone marrow, tumor cells, anything that could give cellular or chemical clues.”

Clues can come from all kinds of cells, and part of a clinical pathologist’s job is to recognize what is normal and what is not from each sort of sample. When a sample comes in, the clinical pathology residents provide the front line of investigation. After inspecting, describing, and forming a diagnosis, they consult with the lab’s board-certified pathologists, Drs. Tracy Stokol, Heather Priest, and Deanna Schaefer, who look over the report and discuss it with the residents.

Unlike most pathology programs, the discussion doesn’t stop there. Cornell’s program encourages collaboration, and all five staff dedicated to clinical pathology pool their perspectives three times a week.

“I chose Cornell because of the program’s strong structure and unique team-oriented approach,” says Springer, who is in her second year of the three-year residency. “This is the only program I’ve found where residents and clinical pathologists regularly meet to discuss cases as a group. Most programs have each resident meet with one mentor. At Cornell two residents and three clinical pathologists all meet together to review cases, investigate archived slides, or practice describing and diagnosing ‘mystery slides’ with interesting quirks we can learn from. It gives us a very well-rounded experience.”

“You gain a lot by hearing different opinions from people trained in different environments,” says Stokol, one of the three clinical pathologists who supervise the program. “Our residents must do a rotation in anatomic pathology, and can also choose to rotate through other specialties, including oncology, toxicology, and large or small animal medicine. That’s been very helpful for them.”Clinical pathology residents divide time between clinical service and research, exposing them to both sides of the field.

“Cornell has a rich history and philosophy regarding research,” says Stokol. “We expect our residents to complete a research project. We want to invest in them the intellectual curiosity of asking ‘why is this happening’ and ‘how can I test that?’ Residents challenging you is part of the fun. It makes you think about what you know. Is it based on true evidence or is it just something your teacher told you? It’s good to challenge the status quo, that’s how you learn new things.”

“This program drew me because it’s so well-rounded, emphasizing the diagnostic aspects of both research and clinical work,” says Gruber, a first-year resident and Cornell alum who returned after a small-animal internship at Colorado State followed by three years of veterinary relief work. “Residents also take an active teaching role, which I particularly enjoy. We help with labs in blocks, give special lectures, and guide students through their pathology rotations.”

At the end of their three years of service, Gruber and Springer will apply their knowledge in a three-day examination for board certification in clinical pathology. Several career paths branch out for a newly ordained clinical pathologist.  Some go on in academia, pursuing PhDs and becoming tenure-track research professors or joining a clinical track emphasizing teaching and service. Others go into diagnostic practice in labs like the AHDC, or into private industry, particularly in the field of pharmaceuticals. The government offers further jobs for trained clinical pathologists.

“We need people who can spread their knowledge and educate the next generation,” says Stokol. “We need future professionals who can encourage young people like Nora and Erika to go on in clinical pathology. The ultimate goal of academics is training our replacements. This is a challenging and rewarding field, and it’s a pleasure to work with people who share your passion.”

Fund established for Expanding Horizons

Grants give students veterinary experience in developing nations

“Working abroad can change your life,” says Dr. Ton Schat, an avian pathology professor whose veterinary adventures abroad helped forge a fruitful career. “That kind of eye-opening experience affects all the people and animals you help as a veterinarian and shapes the kind of person you become.”

He hails from Holland, battled bacteria in Nigeria, launched labs against Marek’s disease in Mexico, and recently returned from an Australian excursion studying one of the more dangerous strains of Avian Influenza. With Cornell as his home-base since 1975, he has continued collaborations with researchers around the world. Best known for his industry-changing work improving poultry health for which he recently received a lifetime achievement award, Schat attributes the inspiration and success of his career to his early experiences abroad.

“I knew early on that I wanted to pursue international development,” says Schat, who earned his DVM degree from the State University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. “During my final and practical year of my studies in Utrecht  I went to Northern Nigeria on a fellowship to study causes of infertility in Fulani cattle. I really enjoyed my months there, from the hands-on work to interacting with the Nigerian students.”

Schat returned from Nigeria determined to pursue international work before going to graduate school. “I landed a job through the Dutch government to work on Marek’s disease in Mexico. I arrived in 1971 and worked there for four years, setting up a lab, training Mexican researchers, and working towards a vaccine.”

In Mexico, Schat met Dr. Bruce Calnek, an avian pathology professor from Cornell who shared Schat’s growing interest in Marek’s disease. Calnek invited Schat to work in his lab as a graduate student, and Schat has worked at Cornell ever since. While pursuing his PhD, Schat isolated the SB-1 strain of Marek’s disease in chickens and used it to develop a vital vaccine still used on the market today. The vaccine generated significant royalties for the College, and continues to generate income.

Most of that money went back to the former Department of Avian and Aquatic Animal Medicine, pooling with other departmental money to support grad students and research expenses. When the department later merged into the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the flock of avian medicine students pursuing PhDs thinned, the money lay dormant for many years.

“Dr. Calnek was in charge of the former department’s funds. When he retired in 1996 I was charged with overseeing their use,” Schat explains. The Expanding Horizons program seemed like the perfect choice for Schat, who shares its core philosophy: that working in developing nations empowers students to improve themselves and their world.

Expanding Horizons provides Cornell veterinary students with grants to spend 6-10 weeks in a developing nation engaged in a hands-on veterinary experience or research project. Projects span the veterinary spectrum, from rehabilitating wildlife or teaching farmers vaccination techniques, to researching rhino parasites or promoting habitat conservation. Students have traveled to all corners of the world, including Kenya, Madagascar, Honduras, Bolivia, Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, and many more.

“More students are growing a keen interest in reaching out to the world around them,” says Schat, who teaches a biannual course in international veterinary medicine that has grown to an average class size of 60 students. “For most students who have gotten the chance to go abroad, it has opened their eyes and broadened their perspectives. My own time abroad was crucial to my personal development. I feel it is extremely important for our students to be able to have the same kind of experience that was for me so life-changing.”

“Since the program began in 1985, we have been able to support five to ten students a year,” says Jai Sweet, Director of student Services and multicultural Affairs who oversees the program. “This new fund sets the foundation for a steady, stable stream of support that will ensure more students can continue to pursue these extraordinary international opportunities.”

Should you have an interest in contributing to this fund, please contact Amy Robinson in the Alumni Affairs and Development Office at or 607.253.3742.

Looking through the window

Clinical pathology bridges animals and answers

 “Blood is the window to the body,” says Dr. Tracy Stokol, a professor with a passion for pathology puzzles. Microscopic magnification opens that window, revealing a cellular world which veterinarians explore in the quest to analyze disease. Clinical pathologists like Stokol navigate that world as diagnostic detectives, using cellular samples from body tissue and fluids to piece together a patient’s story.

If an animal has a bodily bump, how do you tell if it’s a bruise or inflammation, a fatty tumor or malignant cancer? Veterinarians use needles to take samples for examination. Clinical pathologists use these cellular clues to solve medical mysteries.

“It’s critical for veterinarians to know clinical pathology because they use it every single day,” says Stokol. “Sick animals can’t tell you what’s wrong. Samples speak for the animals and clinical pathology translates. It’s a bridge between the animal and the answer.”

Body fluids can reveal much of what goes on inside an animal’s body. “Blood can tell you why a joint is swelling, expose cancer cells, or show abnormalities that indicate underlying liver disease,” illustrates Stokol. “We also work with bone marrow aspirates, samples from lymph nodes, cerebrospinal fluids, anything you can put a needle into and take a sample of could give an important clue.”

Stokol has taught the visual language of cellular samples at the College of Veterinary Medicine since 1993, and is now an associate professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences. A skilled specialist, Stokol attributes her passion for clinical pathology to the fun of solving a mystery.

“I like a challenge,” says Stokol with steady eyes that have faced plenty of challenge in the microscopic realm. “I’m always intrigued by difficult cases and love figuring things out. Clinical pathology is a very visual field. You’re seeing interesting changes that are visually fascinating. It’s fun to look at things, but it’s also about putting pieces of information together to make a story.”

Stokol’s story started in Melbourne, Australia, where she earned her veterinary degree in 1987, worked for two years as an assistant veterinarian, and earned a PhD before coming to Cornell. She belongs to several societies for clinical pathology, chemistry, and diagnostics, and has published several book chapters and over 50 papers in peer-reviewed journals, reflecting her dedication to furthering research in her field.

“Research stimulates a kind of intellectualism you don’t get from puzzling out a case. It’s an entirely different way of thinking,” explains Stokol. “A lot of what we do in clinical work is memorizing facts and recognizing patterns. Research lets you ask more kinds of questions, it makes you think ahead and plan, and learn to deal with things that don’t work out the first time.”

That’s why Stokol and her colleagues require that the College’s clinical pathology residents complete a research project.

“Working in an academic environment, we need to advance the knowledge of our field. We have to continue to grow and understand more about the diseases we’re working with and the only way to do that is through research.”

As an academic clinician, Stokol furthers her passion through her teaching. Together with fellow clinical pathologists Dr. Heather Priest and Dr. Diana Schaefer, Stokol supervises the College’s residency program in clinical pathology.

“We need academic clinical pathologists to keep advancing the field and to keep it alive. Fewer people go into clinical pathology because there are fewer residencies available. We’re graduating fewer people, so fewer people are trained.”

Specialists in this field need thorough training to learn to successfully sort out the secrets cells can tell. But for Stokol and her peers, the challenge is worth it.

“One of the job’s biggest appeals is the instant gratification, knowing that you’re making a difference,” Stokol says. “Clinical pathology gets rapid results that help animals and their owners almost immediately. You’re giving vital information that a veterinarian can use to decide how to manage or treat a patient, or helping an owner make a decision about whether to continue a treatment. We can make a diagnosis and know we’re having a real effect.”

“I like that I can do everything with clinical pathology at Cornell,” says Stokol. “Service helps patients in real-time, research expands our knowledge, teaching ensures the future. It’s the best of all worlds.”



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.