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Dual DVM/Ph.D. Student Earns Award for Groundbreaking Canine Osteoarthritis Research

Sled dogs
Sled dogs are prone to osteoarthritis pain.

Ankita Gupta, a dual DVM/Ph.D. student in comparative biomedical sciences at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, is the recipient of the Doc Lombard Student Research Award from the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA).

Gupta’s winning research project explores whether serum artemin, which helps guide neuron function, can be used as a biomarker for osteoarthritis pain in highly athletic sled dogs. 

At the CVM, Gupta is part of the Translational Research in Pain (TRiP) program led by Duncan Lascelles, professor of translational pain research and management. 

“The scholarship provides me with the opportunity to learn about the pain associated with joint disease and how veterinary researchers can improve the quality of life for animals and humans,” says Gupta. “I get to follow my passion for translational pain research. I am very excited and honored to receive this award.”

Lascelles and his research team were the first to identify a role of artemin and in osteoarthritis pain. Building on this work, Gupta’s project will measure artemin in sled dogs before and after a race and relate the findings to detailed orthopedic evaluations and race performance. 

Ankita Gupta
Ankita Gupta

For the project, Gupta plans to travel to Alaska in early February and spend about two weeks with sled dog teams participating in the 300-mile Yukon Quest race, which begins Feb. 13. The Doc Lombard award provides funding through January 2022, and Gupta will present her research findings at the next ISDVMA International Symposium.

It is the first study investigating diagnostic markers of osteoarthritis-associated pain in endurance and marathon sled dogs, who have an increased risk of musculoskeletal damage, including shoulder and pelvic injuries. 

Gupta’s research will help pave the way for developing an effective tool for early detection of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis research in companion and sporting dogs is highly translatable to people, helping to guide understanding and treatment of the human form of the disease.

For the project, Gupta and the TRiP team are collaborating with professors Joseph Wakshlag of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Aitor Gallastegui Menoyo of the University of Florida and Cristina Hansen, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Lascelles’ TRiP program is one of a few in the world dedicated to both understanding and controlling pain in companion animals, as well as conducting research that can lead to the development of more effective pain management in humans.

With Lascelles’ guidance, Gupta received the 2019 George H. Hitchings New Investigator Award in Public Health, supporting investigations into the underlying mechanisms of osteoarthritis.

“Dr. Lascelles is a fantastic mentor, and he embodies the many characteristics that I hope to have in my career,” says Gupta. “He is a visionary. He leads by example, challenges me daily and inspires me to be the best clinician-scientist possible.”

When Gupta completes the DVM/Ph.D. program at the CVM, she plans to complete a small animal rotating internship and a surgical residency as she pursues a career in academia as a small animal surgeon and researcher.

“Over the past three years, the NC State CVM has helped me get closer to accomplishing my professional goals,” says Gupta. “I have grown as a veterinary student and as a researcher. NC State has a phenomenal training environment and I feel supported by all the members of this community.

“I am thankful to the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association for this exciting opportunity and the NC State CVM community for helping me get to where I am today.”

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine