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Student Excellence: Lab Learning


Laborador dogs

When University of Missouri students teamed up to study canine swallowing disorders, they helped dogs—and themselves.

Because human diseases such as Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease cause difficulty swallowing (known as dysphagia), scientists are eager to discover whether new treatments for dogs with dysphagia could also work on humans. However, observing how the dogs with dysphagia swallow is problematic. Traditionally during a swallow study on a dog, veterinarians had to position the patient in a posture that was not natural for eating and drinking.  This method made it difficult to observe and interpret the swallowing ability in dogs and cats.

For students in one of The Mizzou Advantage funded Undergraduate Research Teams (URT), this problem presented an opportunity. URTs consist of undergraduate students from multiple disciplines, mentored by faculty in two or more departments. To lead the swallowing project, Dr. Teresa Lever, assistant professor in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, teamed up with professor Dr. Joan Coates from Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. Over three semesters, students from speech pathology, pre-medicine and pre-veterinary medicine worked side by side with Lever and Coates. They engineered a method in which dogs could be monitored while eating voluntarily—including a new observation kennel that earned the team a patent. The method is currently being used at the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

The project gave students the opportunity to present at conferences and co-author papers for several publications. Premedical student Mitchell Allen might have described the student experience best, “True understanding of science happens in the lab, not the classroom.”

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Related Initiative(s):
One Health/One Medicine