Student receives grant for research project

Student Lauren Brown and Dr. Waltzek

Lauren Brown and Dr. Tom Waltzek, one of her research mentors. (Photo by Patrick Thompson)

University of Florida veterinary student Lauren Brown, a member of the Class of 2017, has received a Morris Animal Foundation grant to pursue her research project, which involves a devastating disease that has significantly affected mid-Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

Brown’s project was one of several selected for the funding, which is through the foundation’s Veterinary Student Scholars Program. The program encourages veterinary students to pursue research careers. It provides selected students with summer stipends so they can focus entirely on a project of their own design, while working with a mentor at their respective veterinary colleges.

“I was first interested in aquatic animals in grade school when I did a research project on the West Indian manatee, and I continue to be captivated by manatees, cetaceans, pinnipeds, fish, and other aquatic animals today,” Brown said. “Having always intended to become a veterinarian, it made sense to move from Missouri to Florida for vet school where I would be able to get the most advanced aquatic animal health training in the world. As soon as I began my first year of vet school I asked my current mentors, Dr. Thomas Waltzek and Dr. James Wellehan, if they would be interested in training me to conduct research in veterinary medicine, and they agreed.”

Currently, Brown is conducting her research in the Wildlife and Aquatic Veterinary Disease Laboratory at UF. The lab specializes in discovering the source, transmission, and evolution of emerging pathogens in wildlife and aquatic animals.

Her research project has dealt with the 2013 bottlenose dolphin morbillivirus die-off along the Atlantic coastline. The die-off  was so significant that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared it an unusual mortality event.

“Morbillivirus is the pathogen that causes measles in humans and canine distemper in dogs, among other things,” Brown said. “Last year, hundreds of dolphins stranded throughout the Atlantic coast. We are working to understand where the virus outbreak originated, how it progressed down the Atlantic coast, and how to prevent such a massive die-off from morbillivirus in the future.”

Since its creation in 2005, the foundation has awarded 385 highly competitive grants, totaling more than $1.4 million, to veterinary students from more than 50 different colleges and universities in 15 countries.

Many former veterinary student scholars continue research careers and go on to receive funding through other grant programs from Morris Animal Foundation or other organizations and entities. Even when participating students decide not to pursue research as a career, they walk away with a profound understanding of why animal health research is important to advancing veterinary medicine, according to a news release from the organization announcing the recent student winners.


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