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Innovative Student Research Earns Hitchings Investigator Awards

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Four NC State College of Veterinary Medicine students are winners of a 2019 George H. Hitchings New Investigator Award in Health Research, receiving funding for projects ranging from fighting antimicrobial resistance in swine production to protecting the critically endangered American red wolf.

Dual DVM/Ph.D. students Ankita Gupta and Annie Wang were each awarded $10,000. Anne White and Mallory Brown, both of the Class of 2021, received $5,000 each.

Wang’s project explores the eco-evolutionary dynamics of antimicrobial resistance within the bacterial species Campylobacter coli in production swine. Antimicrobial resistance has emerged as a dangerous threat to worldwide human and animal health. Wang’s co-mentors for the project are Cristina Lanzas, associate professor of infectious disease, and Sid Thakur, director of global health at the CVM.

Gupta will work with Duncan Lascelles, professor of small animal surgery and pain management, to investigate the underlying mechanisms of inflammatory pain in dogs with osteoarthritis, the most common chronic pain condition in canines. By studying tissue from dogs with naturally occurring osteoarthritis, the project aims to help fuel the development of effective disease therapies.

Mallory Brown speaks at the 2019 Scholarship Dinner. Brown’s project will look into what different types of animals can teach us about Alzheimer’s disease.

Brown’s project will look into what different types of animals can teach us about Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease affecting more than 5.7 million Americans. Brown will work with the Duke Lemur Center, using non-invasive cognitive behavioral testing and other techniques to pinpoint the potential of various animals to serve as models for research into Alzheimer’s, which is estimated to affect as many 13.8 million Americans by 2050. Brown’s CVM mentor is Sam Jones, a professor of equine medicine who directors the school’s combined DVM/Ph.D. program.

White’s work is genetically characterizing hereditary chorioretinopathy, a disease leading to blindness in the red wolf. The species has a population of less than 300, and about 40 live in the wild, all in North Carolina. White’s project is to develop a genetic screening test for the condition, which includes identifying the disease’s genetic markers.

She will use whole genome sequencing to compare the affected red wolf genome to a population of unaffected wolves, leading to a list of mutations the co-occur with the loss of sight, hopefully helping to eliminate inherited blindness in the species. For her research, White will join the lab of Freya Mowat, assistant professor of ophthalmology.

A fund of the Triangle Community Foundation, the Hitchings New Investigator Award has supported the work of veterinary students with a strong interest in a career in veterinary and biomedical research since 1998. Hitchings, the founder of the Triangle Community Foundation, shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1988 for his work on chemotherapy. He died in 1998.

Hitchings was a former president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which gave $500,000 to the TCF to launch the annual award.

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine