PULLMAN, Wash. – Tessa LeCuyer
is a fourth-year student in Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), but that doesn’t mean she can’t make valuable contributions to human health. In August she began work at the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership as a Fulbright-Fogarty fellow.
“I think a lot of times medical research forgets about veterinary medicine,” LeCuyer said, “but veterinary scientists are trained to look for differences and similarities across species and can often add another perspective. I think that broader perspective can be very helpful when you are doing research.”
While at the partnership, LeCuyer will join a research team working to refine existing protocols for assessing the incidence of new HIV infections in Botswana.
According to LeCuyer, when a disease causes persistent infection, it is difficult to determine the rate of new infections across a large population. But knowing the rate of new HIV infections is vital for public health intervention and planning, she said.
Select group of fellows
Fulbright students are a select group, and Fulbright-Fogarty fellows are a tiny subset of that. Of the four Fulbright-Fogarty scholars chosen this year, two are medical students and one is a physician who also holds a master’s of public health. LeCuyer is the only student of veterinary medicine.
The program is co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health to encourage research in public health in sub-Saharan Africa. LeCuyer said she was encouraged that the program description said the fellowship was “open” to veterinary students, even though the primary targets were students in human health.
“One health” approach
Bryan Slinker, CVM dean, said selection as a Fulbright-Fogarty fellow reflects well on LeCuyer’s accomplishments and also on the caliber of students in the college. This particular achievement fits well with CVM’s emphasis on international education and outreach and the mission of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, he said.
“What Tessa is doing, and what we are working to encourage more of, are collaborations between veterinary scientists and human health scientists that create a ‘one health’ approach,” he said.
The One Health Initiative, endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Medical Association, was put forward in 2007 to forge closer collaborations between physicians, veterinarians and other scientific health and environmental professionals. It is based on the understanding that the health of people, animals and the environment are inextricably linked.
Internships probe human health
LeCuyer already has completed two summer research internships related to human health as part of the CVM research scholars program.
In 2009, she studied illness-related hormonal changes and the immune response in horses at the University of Georgia. In 2010, she was selected for a research internship at Stanford Medical School where she studied how the immune systems of mice respond to radiation.
LeCuyer, who earned her undergraduate degree at Tufts University, completed a summer research internship at Harvard Medical School. She also studied the immune systems of mice and how they respond to different diseases before she entered the WSU veterinary medicine program.
College works with opportunities
When LeCuyer returns to WSU she will begin fourth-year clinical rotations and take her doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) licensing exam. After that, she said, continuing her studies to earn a doctorate in veterinary science is a definite possibility.
Her mentor at Harvard held both a DVM and a Ph.D., she said, and the dual degrees enhanced his research while also influencing the way animals were treated in his lab.
Doug Jasmer, associate dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine, worked with LeCuyer to clear the way for her to take a leave of absence and resume her clinical rotation when she returns to WSU next fall. WSU’s DVM curriculum is both rigorous and highly structured, Jasmer said, but the college always works with students who need flexibility to pursue outstanding opportunities.
“These are the things we like to encourage,” he said.
Hope Belli Tinney, WSU News, 509-335-8741, firstname.lastname@example.org