Graduate student awards bestowed during Phi Zeta Research Day


Participants in the college’s second annual “Best in Show” presentation competition included Dr. Nanny Wenzlow, department of infectious diseases and pathology; Federico Cunha, department of large animal clinical sciences; Dr. William Berkowski, department of small animal clinical sciences, holding the blue first-place ribbon; and Nick Musselwhite, department of physiological sciences. (Photo by Brenda Isaac)

Several awards for excellence in research were given to UF College of Veterinary Medicine graduate students on March 25 during Phi Zeta Research Day.

In addition to the recurring categories of awards presented each year, a “Best in Show” competition showcased presentations by several graduate students. This competition allows graduate student representatives from each department to present his or her research with each presentation judged by a faculty panel.  Each representative had to compete within his or her respective departments before competing in the collegewide competion.

Winning the “Best in Show” competition was Dr. William Berkowski.

A list of the 2016 winners in the recurring award categories is below.

Charles F. Simpson Memorial Scholarship: Tao Yang
This award, which consists of $1,000 and a plaque, is given to an M.S. or Ph.D. student currently pursuing a degree or having completed his or her graduate studies in the past year. Named for Dr. Charlie Simpson, a veterinary pathologist, criteria for the award generally includes work in the area of protozoan, cardiovascular or hypertension-related problems, although other areas are considered.

Yang’s research investigates the effects of the microbiota-derived short chain fatty acid metabolite butyrate in modulation of central inflammatory and neural actions in health and hypertension. Yang has recently shown, for the first time, that butyrate has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular and autonomic nervous system in a rodent model of neurogenic hypertension, and that this may partly be mediated via a central anti-inflammatory mechanism.

Over the past year, under the mentorship of Dr. Yasenka Zubcevic, Yang has established himself as a research authority in the role of microbiota dysbiosis in hypertension, as evidenced by his latest publication in Hypertension; an invitation to present this work at the 2015 AHA Scientific Session; being honored with a New Investigator Award from the American Heart Association; receipt of the NCAR Outstanding Graduate Student Award and an upcoming presentation at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.

“Overall, this novel and exciting research may lead to paradigm-changing approaches in future treatments of resistant hypertension, perhaps involving dietary supplements with probiotics and short chain fatty acids,” said Dr. Ammon Peck, the college’s associate dean for research and graduate studies.

Excellence in Master’s Studies: Dr. Mandy Wallace
This award, which consists of $750 and a plaque, recognizes scholarship of a UFCVM graduate student either nearing completion or having completed the M.S. degree within the past year.

Wallace was recognized for her work on a novel gradual occlusion device for the closure of portosystemic shunts in small animals. This research has received high recognition, including presentation awards at the Society for Soft Tissue and the American College of Veterinary Surgeons annual meetings. She has been the recipient of three successful grant proposals, and was one of only two nationwide recipients of the annual ACVS resident-in-training grants. This grant is currently supporting her clinical trial of the device in hospital patients.

Excellence in Doctoral Studies: Dr. Amanda Ardente
This award consists of $750 and a plaque and is given in recognition of excellent scholarship of a UFCVM graduate student either nearing completion or having completed the Ph.D. degree within the past year.

Ardente was recognized for her groundbreaking work in cetacean nutrition. Her research, in collaboration with other laboratories such as Disney and the U.S. Navy, has resulted in the successful development of a new test for purines in the blood and urine of dolphins.  She has worked to develop relationships with organizations such as the National Marine Mammal Foundation, the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, Sea World, the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, Dolphin Quest, MAZURI and Animal Necessity. Ardente has just started a postdoctoral position with Disney Animal Kingdom.

Excellence in Clinical Science Research: Dr. William Berkowski
This award consists of $750 and a plaque and is given to recognize excellent scholarship of a UFCVM graduate student either nearing completion or having completed a master’s or Ph.D. degree within the past year with a program having significant clinical relevance.

Berkowski is being recognized for his research project, “Asssessment of topical therapies for improving optical clarity following stromal wounding in a novel ex vivo canine cornea model.” The study involves the modification of a previously established ex vivo canine corneal model for the testing and development of treatment strategies to decrease corneal scarring following disease and wounding. Corneal scarring, or haze, is a major cause of vision deficits and blindness globally and is a major area of research interest. Berkowski’s work has demonstrated that this model is considerably useful in the study corneal haze and has many advantages over other currently available methods of study. In addition, Berkowski has demonstrated statistically significant decreases in haze with the use of certain topical antifibrotic agents. Data he has generated has direct application to patients suffering from corneal haze.

Excellence in Basic Science Research: Dr. Renata Velloso Ramos
Ramos was recognized for her research involving “Characterization of the architectural pattern of corneal innervation in an animal model for Sjögren’s syndrome,” specifically for looking at the structural and immunohistochemical properties of the cornea in regard to its sensory innervation. This novel approach to investigate the pathogenesis of dry eye syndrome has strong translational capability to this human autoimmune disease seen mostly in women.




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