MSD Animal Health Connect Bursary 2016 honours awarded to Nottingham, Edinburgh and Bristol vet school students

MSD Animal Connect Connect Bursary Winners

Left to right: Sophie Milligan (University of Bristol), Laura Hubbard (University of Nottingham), Michelle Townley (MSD Animal Health) and Olivia Saunders (Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies) at the 2016 MSD Animal Health Connect Awards.

Laura Hubbard from the University of Nottingham has taken the top honours at the 2016 MSD Animal Health Connect Awards, with Olivia Saunders of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Sophie Milligan from the University of Bristol taking second and third places respectively.

Connect 2016 trophy awarded to Laura Hubbard

Laura was awarded the 2016 MSD Animal Health Connect trophy and a prize of £3,000 for her second year research project which investigated heavy metal and bacterial contamination in a range of fish species.  Olivia received a £2,000 prize for her project which analysed multiple brain morphometric features in dogs to isolate key driving factors for syringomyelia, while Sophie was awarded £1,000 for her final year project which evaluated veterinary surgeon perspectives of the clinical manifestations of leptospira infection in dogs.

Connect Bursary background

The MSD Animal Health Connect Bursaries are designed to give veterinary students the opportunity to undertake their own research projects and to provide a better understanding of the work carried out by MSD’s research and development facilities in the UK.  Six £1,000 bursaries were awarded to students from the UK’s veterinary schools, with the recipients presenting their research findings to a panel of judges at MSD’s UK headquarters in Milton Keynes.

“We were stunned by the breadth of projects covered by this year’s bursary recipients and by the level of detail to which each student completed their respective research projects,” explained Michelle Townley, Veterinary Advisor for MSD Animal Health.  “The knowledge and enthusiasm shown by all six of this year’s Connect students made it difficult to select the top three candidates, but the Connect judges felt that Laura, Olivia and Sophie were all worthy winners.”

Connect Awards’ Research Conclusions

Laura Hubbard’s project, which is still ongoing, indicated that imported fish being sold in the UK often exceed the legal limit of mercury contamination, however farmed species appeared to have a lower mercury content in comparison. This information cast doubts over how well imported fish are monitored for heavy metal contamination.

Olivia Saunder’s study set out to test whether any MRI-derived morphometric features of the brain might explain the predisposition of dogs to syringomyelia – a chronic, progressive and painful condition that has a significant impact on canine welfare.  Taking an innovative approach using network analysis, she found a correlation between brain ventricle morphometry and skull conformation, and that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel clustered independently from all other breeds for a combination of brain morphometric features.  Further analysis of her data is ongoing to identify features that might drive the clustering of dogs with syringomyelia irrespective of breed, in order to further understand the pathogenesis of this disorder.

Sophie Milligan’s project aimed to determine the extent to which vets in the UK associated signs of canine leptospirosis with the disease in practice.  By surveying a sample of veterinary practitioners, she found that whilst vets appear to be fairly accurate at identifying typical clinical signs of leptospirosis in dogs, they are less aware of the uncommon presentations of the disease.  Sophie’s initial findings suggest that there is the potential for true cases of the disease to pass under the radar of protection: her project is still ongoing and she hopes to be able to determine if practitioner perceptions of the disease have an influence on vaccination habits.