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UC Davis veterinary pathologist honored with Casey Award

November 25, 2013

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Steve Kubiski received the prestigious Harold W. Casey Scholarship Award from the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.

It helps to have an iron stomach when hanging out with Steve Kubiski and his colleagues—or to be a fellow veterinary pathologist. Performing necropsies and looking at strange lesions under a microscope are all in a day’s work for this UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine pathology graduate student. Kubiski’s passion for his work and natural curiosity were recently acknowledged with the Harold W. Casey Scholarship Award, presented to him at the annual meeting of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists in Montreal

Kubiski obtained his DVM from the University of Georgia in 2009 and focused on population health. Always interested in wildlife and pathology, he completed an externship in South Africa with a conservation group, worked with sea turtles and sea birds on the Georgia coast for six weeks, and traveled to Vietnam to focus on public health issues—all during his DVM studies.

After spending one year as a diagnostician with the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study—a large diagnostic lab and research facility at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine —Kubiski came to UC Davis for a three-year pathology residency.

“UC Davis has the best reputation in the country for its pathology residency and it was only one of three that offered a subspecialty in zoo and wildlife, so it was my ultimate goal,” Kubiski said.

It was during his second year of residency that an unusual case caught his eye. A dog had presented to the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital with severe vomiting and diarrhea with hematochezia (rectal bleeding). Despite supportive therapy, the dog’s condition grew worse and he needed to be euthanized. During a routine necropsy performed at the Anatomic Pathology Service, clinical and postmortem workups for infectious causes of intestinal disease—such as parvovirus, coronavirus, Salmonella, distemper, etc.—came up negative. 

They recalled thinking, “There’s something else going on here.” 

His colleagues, including mentor Patricia Pesavento, agreed. They sent liver tissue samples to UCSF for metagenomic testing and were surprised with the results—a novel canine circovirus. Before the discovery in 2012, the only circoviruses reported to infect mammals were two closely related porcine circoviruses. The study was published in April 2013 in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal

“Steve is exceptional in his grasp of medicine and has a gift of seeing the essential lessons through sometimes complicated clinical presentations,” Pesavento said. “This is especially important when you are dealing with natural disease.”

Kubiski had the opportunity to spend his third year of residency at the San Diego Zoo—the only pathology resident among four pathologists and one fellow. His duties were to rotate through rounds with them and do post-mortem examinations on any animal on zoo or safari park grounds found deceased. 

“We examined exotic ungulates, big cats, rodents, non-human primates, reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds—lots of birds,” he recalled. 

In September of 2013, Kubiski passed his board certification for the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.  He also started his PhD research in Pesavento’s lab, looking back at a familiar disease—canine circovirus. This time, he and research colleagues are undergoing a prospective project to determine the disease’s prevalence and pathogenesis —if and how it causes lesions in sick dogs. He’s also working on a novel bovine astrovirus, which was also discovered by Dr. Pesavento’s lab.

“Obtaining a PhD has always been part of the plan and I was lucky enough to get into a program with someone I already know and like,” Kubiski said. “I enjoy teaching and I enjoy research. A PhD will open doors to do both.”

As for being recognized with the prestigious Casey Award, Kubiski said any one of his fellow residents could have qualified for it. He credits the cohesive nature of the pathology group with being a good environment for training.

“We all work hard in residency. Just being nominated for this award was a huge honor,” he said. “To get this kind of recognition and support from my training coordinator and other faculty is humbling—now I have to live up to it!” 

Kubiski’s graduate research is being supported in part by the Ted Vandling Estate, for the study of canine viral diseases.