Nov. 4, 2019

UCalgary hosts the first Emerging Canadian Veterinary Scholars Summit

Students in veterinary research from across Canada discuss cats in pain, stressed horses, bees and pesticides, and much more

Antimicrobial resistance on Alberta ranches. Honey bees and pesticides. Cats in pain and stressed horses: Undergraduate and graduate students from veterinary schools across Canada gathered in Calgary last week to present their research at the first Emerging Canadian Veterinary Scholars Summit.

The two-day event, the first of its kind in Canada, was conceived of and hosted by the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). With funding from Merck Animal Health and Alberta Innovates, UCVM invited researchers from the country’s four other veterinary schools. “These are among the top students from their respective institutions,” says neuroscientist Dr. Tuan Trang, PhD, associate professor in comparative biology and experimental medicine at UCVM, who helped organize the summit. “I have been blown away: Excellent presentations, great science and an outstanding group of students. The future is bright for Canadian veterinary research.”

Along with as presentations on 18 different research projects, the students heard a panel on leadership and career development and a talk about science and policy. With an awards dinner at the Calgary Zoo and a panda talk by Dr. Doug Whiteside, a zoo veterinarian and associate professor of conservation medicine at UCVM, as well as other social functions on the program, the students had plenty of opportunity to get to know each other on both the personal and professional level.  

“It’s really interesting to be part of this community and be able to share what I’ve done and learn from students from other veterinary schools,” says Kaleigh Eichel, a second-year student at UCVM, who presented the results of her summer research project at WA Ranches looking at antimicrobial resistance in cow-calf environments. “We learned about cancer research, parasites, behaviour, neuroscience, vaccine development, and translating research between human and veterinary medicine. It’s very inspiring.”

Jocelyne Chalifour, a second-year student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatoon, gave her first full presentation about research into certain pesticides’ potential effect on honeybee larvae immunity. “Every single presentation has been so different,” she says. “I found I’ve just gained a whole new respect for how many projects there are out there, and all the diversity.”

Dr. Thomas Parmentier, DVM, found much value in the discussion after his presentation. “It gives you another  perspective through questions on how great a job you did explaining your work, but also you get insights you didn’t think about,” says Parmentier, who is doing his  PhD on gene expression in canine epilepsy at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.  “I’m running into trouble validating antibodies with the dog cells and someone suggested an alternative technique.”

“I was a little bit stressed in the beginning, but it was fine. I love to talk about cats,” says Marina Evangelista, a graduate student at University of Montreal’s Faculté de médecine vétérinaire. She’s developed The Feline Grimace Scale, a pain measurement tool for cats. “We rate each of the features in the face, ears, eyes, muzzle, whiskers and the head position in relation to the shoulders and that gives us a score that tells us if the cat is in pain or not.”

Anam Hamza, a graduate student at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, is developing a scale to measure stress in horses that are in a hospital setting. “I had an opportunity to talk to a student from another school and we were comparing cortisol research. One of her colleagues is studying cortisol in birds and is taking cortisol from their feathers. I didn’t know that was a possibility. It’s really cool to find out stuff like that,” she says.  “And it’s exciting that it’s the very first summit. I am happy to be part of it.”

A panel of judges listened to all 18 presentations.  In the graduate student category, Flavie Payette, from the University of Montreal, earned a first place, and Thomas Parmentier from OVC, was awarded second place. In the DVM student category, Jocelyne Chalifour, from WCVM, was award first place and UCVM’s Diana Powell earned second place.