NIH, Cornell Cultivate Future Leaders in Science
By Pam Dressell and Ann Cochran
Some of the world's most outstanding veterinary students came to NIH recently for a day of presentations in a number of programs and disciplines. They learned, among other things, that grapefruit can wreak havoc with certain medications, that a 15-year-old who asked a researcher a question about mice influenced the course of a sophisticated research project, and that there are many places in this country and in the world where telephones are not on every street corner and cell phones are not the norm.
The Cornell University Veterinary Student Leadership Program brought NIH a select group of 24 fellows who listened and spoke to several key NIH administrators and top biomedical researchers in an intimate, classroom-size setting. The students represented 17 veterinary colleges in the United States, as well as Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. For the past 6 years, NIH and Cornell have collaborated to make the visit part of the 10-week summer program for these students who have been recognized for their ability and motivation to become future leaders of the veterinary profession or animal agriculture.
The day is traditionally packed with scientific presentations that give NIH research a face for the students. Potential career paths come to life as passionate researchers describe their work and its effect on human and animal health.
This year, the Office of Research Services joined the Office of Education to offer the students a morning of exposure to the work of a variety of intramural scientists and an afternoon session at the National Library of Medicine.
Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research, addressed the group, calling veterinarians "utterly indispensable" to medical research, and suggested that if they left NIH with only one message, it was that "veterinarians are going to play a pivotal role in the revolution that is taking place in biomedical research today." Almost no clinical investigations can proceed without animal models to test new treatments, and the acceleration in the discovery of genes and entire genomes will make animals increasingly important in medical research, he said.
Dr. Douglas McGregor, associate dean of Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, called the NIH research program "the gold standard for excellence" -- one that other institutions should emulate, and for whose quality these students should aspire. Approximately 65 percent of the students in this program subsequently enroll in Ph.D. programs as preparation for academic careers or research positions in government and industry.
All the presentations engaged the students. One session on drug toxicity had everyone paying close attention for personal as well as scientific reasons. Adverse drug reactions are more common than the average person might guess -- they are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. It is common knowledge that drugs can affect other drugs adversely, but there is not widespread awareness of the effect of natural substances. It was pointed out that grapefruit juice, for example, can be dangerous because it dramatically reduces the effectiveness and/or absorption of certain medications. How do animals fit into this subject? It's unclear how drug toxicities cause diseases or undesirable conditions; scientists hope animal research can be used to show how interactions occur.
By the end of the day, the veterinary students had been exposed to many fields of biomedical research. It was clear they could envision themselves in the researchers' lab coats -- or jeans and sneakers in some cases -- in a few years.
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