Jill Schappa receives inaugural HHMI-Burroughs Wellcome fellowship
Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute (HHMI) fellowships have long been recognized as the highest level of distinction that aspiring medical students can receive to obtain research training as an addition to their clinical education. Veterinary students who wished to extend their education with yearlong intensive research experiences were only an afterthought until this year, when HHMI partnered with the Burroughs Wellcome Foundation (BWF) to support a visionary effort to increase the number of young investigators in the field of veterinary research.
Enter Jill Schappa, a fourth-year veterinary student at the University of Minnesota. Jill is no stranger to research. She spent two summers working in laboratories at the Masonic Cancer Center supported by the CVM Summer Scholars program. She co-authored a published manuscript and presented her work at two CVM Research Days events. During the summer of 2009, Jill became aware of work on ligand-targeted toxins being done in Dr. Dan Vallera’s lab at the Masonic Cancer Center. She proposed to extend this work to animal tumors, with the idea that validation of targeting in cell culture models would be a first step to further develop this therapeutic approach in and for companion animals. She generated exciting results, which she used as a basis to apply for an HHMI fellowship.
Her project, “Development of Targeted Toxins for Cancer Therapy Using Comparative Models,” was selected for funding from a group of 274 outstanding applications, and represents the first-ever award of this type to a veterinary student.
“Jill’s academic excellence and her contributions as a citizen of the community are examples of how the demanding learning environment at the University of Minnesota fosters success,” says Jaime Modiano, director of the Animal Cancer Care and Research program, who holds the Perlman Chair in Animal Oncology.
Jill was provided the flexibility to tailor her veterinary training program to her needs. She will defer her final year of clinical training as aveterinary student while she pursues research full-time, and she will join the next veterinary school class next summer to complete the requirements for her D.V.M. degree. In the end, this experience may cement her decision to pursue an academic career in comparative oncology, and give her a leg up as she moves to the next stage of training.
“No matter what Jill decides to do, we are certain she will do exceptionally well representing the University of Minnesota, Animal Cancer Care and Research program, HHMI, and BWF proudly,” Modiano says. “This fellowship provides recognition of her achievements, as well as a stepping stone to the next level of training in her path to fulfill her potential as a scientist—where she in turn will help train the next generation of comparative oncologists.”
See the Howard Hughes Medical Institute news release