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NC State Veterinary Medicine Faculty Named to Goodnight Early Career Innovators Class

2021 Goodnight Early Innovators Class
Left to right: Goodnight Early Career Innovators Tobias Kaeser, Benjamin Callahan and Liara Gonzalez.

Three NC State College of Veterinary Medicine professors are among the university’s inaugural class of Goodnight Early Career Innovators, honoring extraordinary STEM faculty.

The CVM faculty chosen for the class are Benjamin Callahan, assistant professor of microbiomes and complex microbial communities; Liara Gonzalez, assistant professor of gastroenterology and equine surgery; and Tobias Kaeser, assistant professor of swine immunology.

Callahan and Kaeser are in the CVM’s Department of Population Health and Pathobiology, and Gonzalez is a member of the Department of Clinical Sciences.

The 24 NC State-wide faculty members selected for the program receive $22,000 for each of the next three years to support their scholarship and research. Tenure-track assistant professors whose scholarship clearly and substantively contributes to innovations in STEM and STEM education were eligible for the honor.

A clinician specializing in large animal medicine, Gonzalez’s Intestinal Regenerative Medicine lab uses large animal models to translate laboratory findings into clinical treatments for both humans and animals. Her lab was the first to develop a large animal pig model to study intestinal stem cells, the first to identify these cells in horses and the first to grow and expand intestinal stem cells into 3D structures derived from pigs and horses.

Such stem cells are integral to Gonzalez’s work to create new therapies for intestinal diseases. Gonzalez, who earned a Ph.D. in comparative biomedical sciences from NC State, also chairs the CVM’s diversity committee, which focuses on elevating equity and inclusion on campus and within veterinary medicine.

“I strive to better understand stem cell biology and the role of intestinal epithelial stem cells in mucosal repair after ischemic injury as I actively represent, inspire and support students of underrepresented backgrounds by providing mentorship to future scientists,” says Gonazlez. “The financial assistance provided by the Goodnight Early Career Innovator Award will contribute significantly to these endeavors.”

Callahan joined NC State in 2017 as a Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program cluster hire and is a member of the Bioinformatics Research Center. Callahan’s research focuses on microbiomes, complex microbial communities that inhabit almost every part of the world around us.

Callahan develops statistical methods to characterize microbial communities and study how they impact our lives, for example, the relationship between the maternal microbiome and preterm birth and how the gut microbiome may relate to canine epilepsy. At the CVM, he heads the Microbiome Methods in Health and Disease lab.

Kaeser’s biomedical research focuses on using the swine model to develop and test treatments for transmittable and non-transmittable human and animal diseases.

He regularly collaborates with the Research Triangle research community to study and limit porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), one of the most impactful diseases in pigs. Kaeser’s lab studies the porcine adaptive immune response to PRRSV strains to evaluate vaccines.

“The funds provided with this award can be used very flexibly, and that flexibility allows me to not only generate preliminary data for future grant applications of new research endeavors but also to distribute research from my lab,” says Kaeser. ”These funds will highly benefit my funding acquisition and promoting my career as a STEM researcher.”

Honorees were nominated by their colleges and selected by senior leaders in the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost and the Office for Research and Innovation. The Goodnight Early Career Innovators program is made possible by a generous gift from Jim and Ann Goodnight, longtime NC State supporters and alumni who co-chair the Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign.

“NC State has been responding to needs, solving problems and changing lives for more than a century. We are rooted in tradition — and in innovation,” Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement. “The Goodnights’ investment in our faculty helps us recruit and retain innovative minds, and ensures they have the resources they need to address our world’s grand challenges.”

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine