Interdisciplinary research in School of Veterinary Medicine

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) is the only veterinary school in the UC system and is one of only two veterinary schools in California. Due in part to this unique status, the SVM incorporates a very large scope of diversity in its educational, research and animal and public health-related programs.

One of the SVM’s programs is the Wildlife Health Center, which is located on South Campus. The center’s activities reach all the way up and down the West Coast, from tracking mountain lions in Southern California, to rescuing and treating marine wildlife affected by oil spills in California, to conducting research in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin area in Washington State.

“We’re the umbrella under which dozens of faculty who have a research interest in non-domestic animal health, whether that’s clinical medicine or disease in free-ranging populations or wildlife conservation [work],” explained Kristen Gilardi, an SVM adjunct professor and senior staff member at the center.

Wildlife Health Center personnel are also involved, as part of the Gorilla Doctors project, in protecting mountain gorillas that live on the sides of volcanoes that span the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

There are only 786 mountain gorillas left in the world, but that number is increasing in part due to their guarded park preserve and sometimes the care provided by wildlife veterinarians.

“We don’t go and anesthetize animals anytime we want to,” Gilardi explained. “The only time we dart gorillas with an anesthetic drug is when they need to be treated because they were badly injured by entanglement in a snare, or they are suffering from a disease outbreak that may or may not be related to the fact that they’re in close contact with people.”

The Wildlife Health Center is an extensive project, involving personnel all over California and in Africa, but the SVM also does basic research on human health using animal models on the UC Davis campus.

Fern Tablin is a professor in the department of anatomy, physiology and cell biology in the SVM. Her research work uses techniques from the fields of biochemistry, physiology and cell biology to discover how and to what extent particulates in polluted air contribute to systemic inflammation in humans living in certain areas, using animals to model human health.

“There are real concerns that people who live near areas of high traffic and high air pollution areas are more likely to have cardiovascular disease,” Tablin said.

Particulates in the air could come from automobile exhaust, from agricultural burning or sometimes even forest fires.

“There’s data that shows that these particles can translocate into the blood vessel. [It] could be air pollution particles, whatever you’re breathing,” Tablin said.

In addition to her research, Tablin is the director of the dual-degree (DVM/Ph.D.) program in SVM, which currently has 21 students enrolled. Students going through the program earn both the doctor of veterinary medicine and Ph.D. degrees.

“The aim of the program is to develop students who study both veterinary medicine and basic science with the long-term goal of becoming basic science faculty in veterinary schools,” Tablin said. “When you teach you can focus on veterinary health, because you bring that background to your teaching.”

Esmeralda Cano, a junior animal science major and pre-vet student, recently found a mentor who is in the dual-degree program after getting involved in a mentorship program through the Student Recruitment and Retention Center (SRRC).

“I think [it] is beneficial because vet students can integrate both research and vet medicine into one,” Cano said.

Cano has been involved in setting up a new club for pre-vet undergraduate students called Pre-Vet Students Supporting Diversity (PSSD).

“It is important to enhance the communication between vet students and pre-vet students in order to increase the number of underrepresented populations in vet school [and] provide networking opportunities and guidance through their path to vet school,” Cano said.

BRIAN RILEY can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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