2013 Symposium Largest Ever!
In August, Michigan State University hosted the Merial-National Institutes of Health Veterinary Scholars Symposium, the culminating event of an annual Merial-sponsored program that introduces first- and second-year veterinary students to biomedical research in a laboratory and clinical setting. This year’s program and symposium were the largest in the program’s 24-year history, involving 226 Merial-sponsored students from 38 participating veterinary colleges in North America and Europe. Altogether the symposium included 456 students and had a total attendance of 600.
Partnering with the veterinary colleges, Merial provides funding that enables first- and second-year veterinary students with an interest in research to participate in an 8- to 12-week summer program at their own school or in an existing research program of their choice. “Since its foundation, this program has been critical in providing an opportunity for some of the brightest veterinary students to experience the research process and to understand potential pathways for establishing a research career,” said Roberto Alva, Head of Clinical R&D, Americas East, Merial and executive director of the program. “It’s truly the only program of this size and scope.”
In addition to sharing their own research, students had the opportunity to meet and learn from their peers and also from more advanced researchers ranging from doctoral candidates and post-doctoral fellows to established researchers in academia, public health and industry. Throughout the Symposium, and in keeping with the goals of the program, speakers also were asked to provide insight into their own career paths and research.
Gary Nabel, Sanofi’s Chief Scientific Officer, was the keynote speaker at the symposium. In his address, he discussed the challenges of developing highly effective vaccines and shared his experiences as director of the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He described how an improved understanding of the immune system and pathogenesis, together with new technologies—and even a new approach—could lead to future development of an effective HIV vaccine or a more effective influenza vaccine. He advised students not to be afraid to ask challenging questions and to develop and use new tools to solve them.
“It’s wonderful for Merial to be involved in a program like this one,” said Ellen de Brabander, Head of Global R&D, Merial. “The future of biomedical research has rarely looked as exciting and full of opportunity as it does today. These veterinary students and young researchers have a unique set of talents, skills and interests that will make them highly valuable in fields like comparative medicine and animal models of human disease.”
This year’s program also had a more international flavor. For several years, Merial has provided an opportunity for a small group of international veterinary students to participate in the scholars’ program at a North American school. This year, for the first time, selected US students had the opportunity to conduct their research abroad. “In 2013, we funded five students to travel to veterinary schools in France and the Netherlands to participate in a summer research program there,” said Alva. “It was a nice addition to the program. In the future, Merial hopes to expand the program further afield, making it truly global.”
Read about the 2013 award winners