Category Archives: Field Research

Mongolia Adventures in Research

Contributed by Devin von Stade, Class of 2017

group_Serguleng photo

Members of the research team from left to right: Gar Waterman, Devin von Stade, Samantha Lawton, Emily Iacobucci, Douglas Lally and Devin Byrne. (Photo: Soyolbolod Serguleng)

This summer I realized a dream I had left on the back burner for over a decade: exploring Mongolia with one of my best friends. Inspired by old National Geographic articles and pieces of historical fiction and non-fiction alike, we had declared it the ultimate personal adventure. Having grown up (a little) since then, I briefly considered that my excitement at the prospect was perhaps misplaced, that now as a scientist my idea of adventure no longer applied, but I was so very wrong.

An adventure for me is an unusual experience where I face natural and cultural challenges, where I encounter new animals while camping under a foreign sky—an experience where preconceptions are broken down and questions have to be answered from scratch. This idea is as much entwined with the fantasy of youth as it is with a scientific approach. I went to Mongolia to test a field microscope as part of my summer STAR research project where I was assessing the capabilities of a low-cost digital microscope for veterinary tele-medical applications and preconceptions would only hold me back. Continue reading

Making a Difference in Chile

Contributed by Marlene Belmar, Class of 2018

Photos courtesy of Dr. Gerardo Acosta

Marlene Belmar in Chile

Marlene Belmar in Chile

My life long career goal within veterinary medicine is to specialize in epidemiology and apply my knowledge and skills towards a better understanding of zoonotic diseases. This past summer, I had a wonderful opportunity to go to Chile to participate in a research project entitled “Control and Prevention of Hydatidosis/Echinococcosis in the communes of Punitaqui, Monte Patria and Combarbalá within the province of Limarí in the region of Coquimbo,” under the mentorship of Dr. Gerardo Acosta-Jamett.

Hydatidosis is a zoonotic disease of high public health concern within Chile, where dogs are the intermediate host and herbivores and humans are the definitive host. Studies evaluating risk factors associated with the presence of E. granulosus in dog feces have only been initiated recently. Having the opportunity to participate in a project that is striving to improve the lives of people and animals in underserved areas of Chile sparked all of my interests. Continue reading

Learning Compassion and Research in Uganda

Contributed by Cody Blumenshine, Class of 2018

Cody Blumenshine surrounded by village kids in Uganda.

Cody Blumenshine surrounded by village kids in Uganda.

My interest coming into veterinary school has been to pursue a career in zoonotic disease research. With my interest in zoonotic diseases, the idea of One Health resonates with my perspective on life. I was fortunate to find a research project with Dr. Beatriz Martinez Lopez that allowed me to incorporate a One Health approach. With aid from the Office for Global Programs and Students Training in Advanced Research, I was able to spend six weeks in Nwoya District, Northern Uganda, performing research on African Swine Fever (ASF). ASF is not a zoonotic disease, but because of the disease dynamics in how the hosts, people, and the environment interact, it embodies One Health.

At the beginning of my stay I was very fortunate to have a friend and colleague, Dr. Esther Kukielka, aid me. She helped me prepare for my research, but she also helped me transition into the lifestyle and expectations that were associated with staying in Uganda. The latter was more important to me, because this was my first international travel experience. Esther introduced me to locals, team members, and she made sure I was well situated with the accommodations of our mud-hut in the village of Lutuk. Prior to leaving, Esther allowed me to help facilitate a participatory epidemiology exercise for her study. The exercise consisted of using group activities with local pig farmers to gain a deeper understanding of their collective knowledge of ASF. Continue reading

Thinking Outside-the-box Proves Valuable to Fieldwork

Roxann with lambFormer VSTP Pfizer Fellow Roxann Brooks Motroni on thinking outside-the-box for career options and appreciating California’s cattle ranchers

Roxann Brooks Motroni – a Veterinary Scientist Training Program (VSTP) Pfizer Fellow – holds a PhD in Comparative Pathology (2012) and a DVM (2013) from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She was an important part of the team working on developing a vaccine to prevent foothill abortion in cattle under Professor Jeff Stott.  She sat down with us by phone recently to share her experiences at the school during a pivotal time for the foothill abortion vaccine and what she is doing now as an AAAS Fellow for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington DC.

Tell me a little about your background. What got you interested in veterinary medicine?Like every other veterinary student, I wanted to be a vet since I was three and never thought of anything else. I’m originally from Virginia. At 16, the state of Virginia offered a ‘Governor’s School of Agriculture’ at Virginia Tech that gave me the opportunity to work in a research lab. Through participating in this program I realized I really liked research. It was my first time thinking outside-the-box about my career choices and I pursued every research experience I could. I ended up with a full scholarship to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where I studied biology. This was the time when West Nile Virus entered the U.S., and it got me thinking about infectious diseases and the wildlife-livestock interface. For example, how wildlife management protects livestock and how cattle can graze without effecting wildlife.  Continue reading

Trekking for Tortoises in the Galapagos Islands

Written by Julie Sheldon, Class of 2016


Members of the tortoise tracking team from left to right: Freddy Villamar, Dr. Sharon Deem, Fredy Cabrera, Walter Ernest, and Julie Sheldon. Deem is the director of the Institute for Conservation Medicine at the Saint Louis Zoo and served as PI for the project.

Carefully lumbering over sharp, broken lava underneath my stressed boot soles and anxious ankles, I was disheartened to have obtained blood samples from only two female Galapagos tortoises after hiking for five exhausting hours. The bleeding thorn scratches on my calves craved more data than this! Suddenly, my legs stiffened and my ears perked up before I could register what I had heard.  “Sexo…tortugas, allí!” I whispered in my Tarzan-style Spanish to our local tortoise tracker and machete master, Freddy Villamar. I just barely picked up the classic giant tortoise grunt-of-pleasure coming from deep in the trees to my left. If I did the logic, there will be a female, or hembra, with our vocal male, or macho. After maneuvering through cacti, thorns, and wasp nests, intermittently stopping to listen for the next grunt to guide us further, we confronted our romantic couple about 100 yards into the brush. Yeah, more tortoise blood for our research project.

Freddy Villamar tries to locate a tortoise in the thick brush.

Freddy Villamar tries to locate a tortoise in the thick brush.

Due to hungry pirates sailing in the Pacific ocean off the coast of Ecuador through the 16-18th centuries, Galapagos giant tortoises were almost hunted to extinction—if you call piling slow, car-sized reptiles into hulls of ships by the hundreds to be stored as food, “hunting”. The Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme, in conjunction with the Galapagos National Park, the Charles Darwin Foundation, and the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine, is studying the biology, reproduction, migration, and health of these dinosaurs in order to assist with their conservation. The efforts put forth by these organizations has led to population increases from only about 3,000 in the 1970s to approximately 20,000 today! Continue reading