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Summer Program Fosters Research Careers

July 9, 2012

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Professor Frank Verstraete, Jenna Winer, veterinary student, and Shannon Liong, a neurobiology, physiology, and behavior major, look over the dental structure of a skull during the documentation of Southern sea otter skulls at the California Academy of Sciences on Friday July 13, 2012 in San Francisco. Photo by Gregory Urquiaga

July 3, 2012

The Students Training in Advanced Research Program, STAR, encourages veterinary students to experience veterinary and biomedical research during the summer months. The program offers funding opportunities on a competitive basis to students who develop clinical or laboratory projects in cooperation with faculty mentors. The projects range from biomedical studies to clinical research and encompass the health of wildlife, humans/comparative medicine, pets and livestock.


Most veterinarians work in private practice treating small animals. However, there is a need for research scientists with advanced veterinary expertise, and the school is committed to growing world leaders in veterinary medicine as well as excellent veterinary faculty who will contribute to veterinary education.

The objective of the STAR Program is to identify, nurture, and support interest in academic and/or research careers, a sector in which veterinarians are in demand. Participants are guided through their work with faculty members who introduce the students to all aspects of biomedical research, including:

  • Scientific dialogue and communication
  • Library and literature search and research
  • Laboratory conduct and professionalism
  • Research ethics and bioethics
  • Mentorship
  • Grantsmanship
  • Self-education and motivation
  • Critical review and assessment

STAR Program funding comes from the school and extramural sources. 

By providing a supportive environment to explore and experience research in an established laboratory along with seminars and discussion groups on careers in science, students will gain new skills and informed insights into research careers that will serve society by improving animal, human and environmental health.

First, second, and third year veterinary students from any accredited veterinary school may participate.

The STAR Program emphasizes in-depth understanding of the scientific method. STAR participants learn to formulate a scientifically sound and testable hypothesis, identify specific objectives, design and conduct methodical experiments, and develop technical expertise. Mentors train students in specific laboratory skills related to their projects. In the process, the students also develop the skills required for to communicate their results and conclusions.


A quick look at project titles indicates the range of species, health challenges and basic research that this year's students are investigating. In companion animals, for example, students are studying cancer in cats and diagnosing lung problems in dogs. An equine project explores how stem cell injections from an animal affects the immune response.

On the "hard science" side, STAR investigators are looking at liver function in mice as a model for human disease and the effects of ozone on lung development. Several projects concern wildlife or other aspects of environmental health. The work takes place in a variety of settings.

Wildlife and environmental projects are also in the mix. One student is based at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where she is studying the teeth of 1,200 sea otters in specimens collected over time and archived at the academy. Her day-to-day analysis of sea otter teeth and jaws can be seen by museum visitors through a viewing window. Another is working with a conservation organization to improve reproduction in rare tortoises. 

While the program fosters research careers, veterinary students who enter private practice also benefit from exposure to the research environment because they learn how research discoveries influence the practice of veterinary medicine -- and future patients.


Being able to communicate their results is as important as the projects themselves, say program leaders. Several "chalk talks" and oral presentations during the program allow participants to describe their projects, and a poster session in the fall provides an opportunity for every student to share his or her experiment and conclusions. Several of the STAR students have been invited by Merial, a program sponsor, to make presentations to a national group of veterinary professors and students in similar programs at veterinary schools around the country.  

Congratulations to the following students for being selected for the program:

Student's Name Class
Mentor's Name Project Title
Amirshahi, Sam 2015 Baumgarth, Nicole
Novel B cell differentiation pathways induced by CD86-stimulation
Barrett, Laura
2015 Sparger, Ellen; Rebhun, R.; Skorupski, K.
EGFR Amplification and Expression in Feline Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Brown, Emily 
2015 Bannasch, Danika
Genome-Wide Association Analysis of Dog Erythrocyte Antigen 1.1 using Mixed Breed Samples
Case, Jamie 
2014 Lloyd, Kent; West, David Characterization of Hepatic Dysfunction and Systemic Biological Effects in an Fbxo44 Null Mouse Mutant
Chad, Elise 
2014 Mellema, Matt Enterocyte Microparticles and Hepatocellular (liver) Injury
Davidson, Marion
  Shapiro, Karen Studies of the transport and the fate of pathogens in the nearshore environment
De Oliveira,  Katherine
2015 Lisa Miller Effects of ozone and particulate matter effects on the immune system during childhood development
Dijkstra, Bas
  Paul-Murphy, Joanne Assessment of two endogenous renal markers to evaluate effects of meloxicam (a pain reliever) in Hispaniolan Amazon parrots
Engler, Whitney 2015 
Bain, Melissa The effect of different types of classical music at a veterinary hospital on the behavior of pets and owner satisfaction
Findlaytor, Andrew 
Lloyd, Kent; West, David
Fluorescent Imaging to Identify Stem Cell-Derived Seminiferous Tubule Segments in KOMP2 Chimeric Mice to Accelerate Germ line Transmission
Freycon, Pauline

Foley, Janet
Anthropogenic habitat, change, physiologic stress, and behavioral response in the American pika
Gillette, Jessica 2015
Borjesson, Dori
Immunodulatory effects following sequential intravenous injections of allogeneic BM-MSC and AT-MSC in horses
Gonzalez, Denise 2015
Barry, Peter; Sparger, Ellen
Induction of Humoral Immunity by an attenuated RhCMVΔIL-10 Vector
Hougen, Lori 2014
Wisner, Erik Lung density profile characterization of canine diffuse pulmonary disorders using quantitative CT analysis
Kaplan, Joanna 2015 Lyons, Leslie Identification of PDK2 in feline autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease and its contribution to the severity and progression of the disease
Kehoe, Spencer
 2015 Chomel, Bruno Prevalence and potential spread of Bartonella infection between vampire bats and cattle in Mexico
Liu, James 2015 Scott, Cheryl
A One Health approach to sustainable captive propagation of the Burmese Black Mountain Tortoise *See James' project highlighted August 1 by the Turtle Conservancy, 
Micheletti, Christopher 2015 Ernest, Holly  Reconstructing 130 years of genetic diversity in CA pumas:  Historic DNA from museums for conservation genetics
Miller, Breanna

Pesavento, Patty; Clark, D

Development of a recombinant virus-like particle (VLP) - based ELISA to determine the seroprevalence of a newly discovered polyomavirus in raccoons and sympatric species
Newbold, Georgina 2014 Maggs, David; Outerbridge, C. 
Association Between Blepharitis, Topical Oil-based Ophthalmic Medication and Presence of Malassezia in Periocular Skin of Dogs
Ohlendorf, Alex 2015 
Ripplinger, Crystal
Imaging of sarcoplasmic reticulum calcium dynamics during adrenergic stimulation in the intact heart
Sanborn, Michelle 
MacLachlan, N.J.
Host selection preference of Culicoides sonorensistrapped on individual dairy farms from different ecological regions of California
Savage, Hannah 2014
Pinkerton, Kent
Influence of Allergens and Environmental Triggers on the Respiratory System in a Novel Mouse Model for Allergic Asthma
Stevens, Carlynn 2015 Bannasch, Danika Positional candidate gene evaluation for hoof wall separation syndrome in Connemara ponies
Tusler, Charlotte 2014
Koehler, Kathryn Characterization of the Caprine Sclera using Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Computed Tomography, Histology, and Gross Description
Ullal, Tarini 2015 Marks, Stanley
Assessment of the Feasibility of High Resolution Manometry (HRM) in Healthy Awake Dogs and Comparison of the Effects of Cisapride and Metoclopramide on Gastroesophageal Sphincter Pressure
Wachtel, Hanna 2015
Kapatkin, Amy Reliability of Marker Placement in Kinematic Analysis of Canine Pelvic Limbs
Wilson, Sabrina 2015 Yellowley, Clare Influence of Hyperbaric Oxygen on Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Expression in Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Osteoblasts
Winer, Jenna 2014 Verstraete, Frank The dental pathology of Southern sea otters
Wood, Meghan 2014 Byrne, Barbara Genotypic Characterization of Isolates of Streptococcus phocae from Sea Otters with Infective Endocarditis
Zude, Brian 2014 Hyde, Dallas Ex-vivo Cytokine Response to Flagellin Stimulation of Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells in Rhesus Macaques with Idiopathic Chronic Diarrhea