NCRR Research Training Program Research Areas

The Cummings School is making concerted efforts to strengthen its research and educational base. One mechanism that will contribute to the school's growing research and educational capabilities is a training program in biomedical research for its veterinary students. The school currently has more than 20 research laboratories that is actively investigating animal and human-related health issues in the fields of infectious diseases, reproductive biology, biotechnology, hepatic function, neuroscience, nutrition, oncology and respiratory physiology. Descriptions of these research areas with the faculty involved in the specific projects are provided below:

Biotechnology
Dr. Sarkar
Biotechnology projects combine molecular biological and genetic technology in basic and applied areas to investigate the control of aquatic animal health (shrimp) and the genetic engineering of various species, including horses, shrimp, and endangered species. Specific studies examine:
  • genetic diversity in wild Penaeus monodon shrimp,
  • the regulation of mitochondrial DNA and genetic polymorphism in horses, and
  • the regulation of gene expression in muscle cells.
Digestive Diseases
Dr. Anwer and Dr. Webster
The overall emphasis of the digestive disease projects is to gain further insight into cellular and molecular mechanisms of hepatic and gastrointestinal diseases. Current studies include:
  • cellular mechanisms of programmed cell death in hepatocytes and in hormonal regulation of hepatic bile formation,
  • the regulation of hepatic bile acid transport by second messengers and protein kinases, and
  • the role of pH and calcium in bile acid-induced hepatotoxicity.
Infectious Diseases
Dr. Donohue-Rolfe, Dr. Mukherjee, Dr. Tzipori and Dr. Widmer
The infectious disease projects support two major multidisciplinary research initiatives, amongst other projects:
  • Cryptosporidium parvum, one of the important opportunistic infections that complicates AIDS, and
  • E. Coli 0157:H7, a pathogen responsible for outbreaks of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in children and hemorrhagic colitis in children and adults.
The C. parvum program includes studies on the molecular basis for attachment and invasion, cellular mechanism of disease including newborn calves, and immunological and host risk factors contributing to persistence of infection in the immunodeficient host. This research also involves the development of strategies for control of the disease in patients with AIDS, genetic finger-printing, and genetic methods of detection of C. parvum oocytes in waterborne outbreak of disease.
Investigations on E. Coli include study of the molecular mechanism and pathogenesis of the disease, development of attenuated candidate vaccines for prevention of meat contamination, and pursuit of therapeutic reagents for prophylaxis for children. Other projects examine the transmission and biological basis of lyme disease.
Neuroscience and Behavior
Dr. Bridges, Dr. Byrnes and Dr. Mann
The major emphasis of the neuroscience and behavior projects is to understand the role of neurotransmitters, hormones and opiate peptides in maternal behavior, the secretion of pituitary hormones, and behavioral problems in animals.
Research in Dr. Bridges laboratory focuses upon the physiological events underlying pregnancy and lactation that impact both behavioral as well as endocrine and neurochemical responses and functions in adulthood. In one project, studies are ongoing using the rat as an animal model to delineate the role of the neural prolactin-like system in both the onset of maternal behavior and in maternal memory. A long-term goal of this collaboration is to determine underlying biological processes associated with reproductive-related illnesses, such as postpartum depression and neglect.
Dr. Mann's project examines the specific involvement of one area of the brain, the ventromedial hypothalamus, that is key to the establishment of maternal behavior. This project will help define neural pathways that underlie the regulation of maternal behavior.
A third project (Drs. Bridges and Byrnes) examines developmental aspects of neuroendocrine functions in females. Using a combination of endocrine, neurochemical, and behavioral approaches, the effects of single and multiple pregnancies on brain dopamine functions are being investigated. The implications of these studies include both psychiatric, endocrine, and other health disorders.
The final project (Dr. Byrnes) explores the effects of pubertal opiate addiction on subsequent endocrine and reproductive functions in female mammals.
Nutrition
Dr. Freeman
Dr. Freeman is a clinical researcher interested in the effects of nutrition on cardiac function and animal health (dogs and cats). Dr. Freeman has both a PhD in nutrition and a DVM from Tufts. Her studies focus upon nutritional modulation of cardiovascular diseases and nutritional support in critical care.
Reproductive Biology
Drs. Ayres and Dr. Bridges
The reproductive biology projects combine developmental and molecular biological technology in basic and applied areas to investigate the physiological control of mammalian reproduction. Specific studies in this program include:
  • the process of maturation of immature oocytes transferred to the pre-ovulatory follicle of the mare and the subsequent ability of these oocytes to be ovulates, fertilized and to develop into blastocysts,
  • mechanisms of early embryonic development in domestic (pig, cow) and laboratory animal (mouse, rabbit) models,
  • the production of transgenic laboratory and domesticated (such as caprine and porcine) species, to generate desired physical attributes, cell surface epitopes, secretory (milk) peptide production, and increased gonadotrophin production,
  • the role of hormones in maternal behavior, and
  • the effects of reproductive experience on neuroendocrine functions in female mammals (see Neuroscience area for greater description of these latter two projects).
Other research in this group focuses on both fundamental studies of preimplantation stage embryos of domestic (goats, cattle, pigs) and laboratory animals (rodents), and applied studies regarding the reproductive efficiency in these species. With respect to the former, studies are ongoing on cell and molecular mechanisms that regulate early embryo development in pigs, cows, goats and rodents, including production of transgenic and cloned animals.
Current research is directed at understanding cell cycle synchrony in cloned embryos produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer (NT) and in activation-induced interactions between nuclear and cytoplasmic factors associated with developmental competence of bovine, caprine and murine cloned embryos. Research efforts in reproductive biology are supported by grants from NIH, USDA, biotechnology companies and private foundations.
Respiratory Physiology
Dr. Hoffman
Dr. Hoffman is a DVM with research interests in respiratory physiology. Using the horse as an animal model, his research has focused upon animal models for asthma as well as normal respiratory function in the horse.