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Dr. Sarah Hamer Wins Third Place at National Symposium

Posted October 22, 2012

COLLEGE STATION, TX- Out of 57 applicants, Dr. Sarah Hamer, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), placed third in the Young Investigator Competition at the Merial NIH National Veterinary Scholars Symposium for her research on infectious zoonotic pathogens.

To compete for the award, which was sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Veterinary Medical Foundation, the applicant must be a veterinarian and fairly new into their research career.  Hamer won third place based on her research on the various roles wild birds play in carrying and moving ticks and pathogens of importance for human and animal health, including the Lyme disease pathogen.

"We found that many species of wild birds not only serve as reservoirs for these pathogens, but they actually move the tick around.  Some of these birds are neotropical migrants.  They picked up ticks and pathogens in South America and within a few days they arrived in the Midwest," Hamer said.

She said she hoped this research would show the important roles birds play in the ecology of zoonotic diseases.

"I study these pathogens as they are maintained in wildlife populations. I hope to understand what the important key players are in disease cycles before they bridge over to humans," Hamer said.

The abstract she presented for this competition, The Complex Interface Among Wild Bird Populations, Tick Borne Pathogens, and Human Health, was comprised of previous data she has gathered in the Midwest and new ideas she has now.  Hamer said some of the information she presented is based off the data in her new paper appearing in October in Emerging Infectious Diseases. She added that she is still continuing research on the topic and recently started collecting data from wild birds in Texas.

Twelve of the 57 applicants were invited to the symposium, with the top five presenting their abstract, and three people placing in the competition.

Dr. Bhanu Chowdhary, professor and associate dean for Graduate and Research Studies, attended Hamer's presentation and said she deserves the award.

"I congratulate her for this extraordinary achievement because she competed nationally and was in the top three," Chowdhary said.  "It is a major recognition and the college as a whole is proud of her."

Hamer said her line of research was unique at the conference.

"The biomedical research I presented began with a field-based approach starting with wildlife populations in their natural habitat," she said.  "I was really pleased that it was well received by the audience."

The twelve applicants also attended a Becoming Faculty Workshop held by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in conjunction with the symposium.

Hamer said the workshop was geared toward giving new faculty members advice on how to succeed in academia.  She will teach her first class, an undergraduate VIBS epidemiology course, at the CVM in the Spring 2013 semester.  Hamer is also working on developing a new course in wildlife disease ecology and epidemiology.

This symposium also invited summer research programs from over 30 veterinary medicine colleges in the United States, Canada, the NIH, and medical schools.  From the CVM, Dr. Bhanu Chowdhary, professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies; Dr. C. Jane Welsh, assistant dean for research and graduate studies; Dr. Roger Smith, professor; and Dr. Ann Kier, professor, took their 14 students from the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program (VMSRTP) to the symposium.  Smith said these students presented posters describing the results of a research project they spent working on the whole summer.  The students also got a chance to attend scientific sessions and presentations such as those from the Young Investigator award.


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Angela G. Clendenin
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