Elizabeth Lennon, a doctoral student in comparative biomedical sciences at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is the recipient of the 2014 Young Investigator Award presented by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.
This marks the third time in the last four years that a NC State student received the national AVMA/AVMF honor that recognizes the scientific advancements of a veterinary graduate student who is pursuing advanced research training through doctoral or post-doctoral programs or is in the early stages after training.
Lennon—a researcher in Adam Moeser’s gastrointestinal laboratory in the NC State Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research—based her winning Young Investigator presentation on her doctoral thesis—”The Novel Protective Role of the Mast Cell in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”
(In 2013 Debra Tokarz received the top honor for her research into the gene involved in the innate immune system in zebrafish and in 2011 Derek Foster was recognized for his gastrointestinal physiology research with piglets involving a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis.)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common causes of chronic vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats as well as people. While the disease process is not completely understood, IBD is believed to result from stimulation of immune responses against resident intestinal bacteria. A cure is not available and current lifelong treatment strategies may have significant side effects.
Mast cells have an important function in intestinal health by regulating the intestinal barrier, clearing bacteria that may breach a compromised intestinal barrier, and orchestrating immune responses through interaction with other cell types.
Using the mouse model, Lennon is studying how mast cells play a novel protective role in a spontaneous model of IBD. She found a deficiency of mast cells exacerbates the disease and further study of the anti-inflammatory role of mast cells may help develop novel therapies for IBD.
“The mast cell represents an understudied area of IBD,” says Moeser. “Dr. Lennon’s exciting research has uncovered a novel protective role of the mast cell in colitis. Her ongoing investigations could lead to novel therapeutic strategies that will improve animal and human health.”
More than 30 researchers were nominated to participate in the award process, which involved a panel of scientists reviewing each candidate’s research abstract for innovation, experimental design, potential impact of results and outcomes, and relevance to comparative biomedicine.
Five finalists were selected to attend the 25th Annual Merial—National Institutes of Health National Veterinary Scholars Symposium where presentations by the top three scholars were judged on the basis of scientific merit, overall quality of presentation, and response to questions.
All three scholars have ties to NC State University. Second place was awarded to Eason Hildreth III, a graduate of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine who is currently the C. Glenn Barber post-doctoral fellow at The Ohio State University. Third place was awarded to Katie Tolbert, currently an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee who was a former resident and doctoral student at NC State under the direction of Dr. Jody Gookin and a trainee in the Comparative Medicine and Translational Research training program.