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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Is There a Researcher in You?

Thursday, July 21 2016

Caucasian woman in lab coat holding samples

Alexis Sirois grew up in Argyle, Texas. Since the first grade she has known that she wants to be a veterinarian to help animals. A member of the class of 2019 at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, she is spending her summer honing her research skills.

“My summer research project is pulling blood from cattle and testing it to see if there is a genetic variation responsible for susceptibility to shipping fever. Shipping fever is a severe pneumonia that cattle get. The environment is the same in feedlots yet some animals get sick and some don’t. I’m trying to see if there is something with the genome that’s responsible for why these animals are getting sick,” explained Sirois.

Sirois is working in the laboratory of Dr. Jerry Ritchey, professor and department head of veterinary pathobiology at the veterinary center. She selected his laboratory because he is a pathologist.

“I’m actually interested in being a pathologist,” said Sirois. “That is where you do autopsies on animals or necropsies. It is unfortunate that the animal has passed away but it helps you figure out why the animal died and how to prevent it for the future.”

“This project that Alexis is working on has been on the lab docket for years,” said Ritchey. “Alexis has provided us with the personnel to get this project done in collaboration with my lab manager, Marie Montelongo, and Dr. Udaya Desilva, a veterinarian assigned to the animal science department. It’s a team project and Alexis is playing a key role.”

“I’ve learned how to do a lot of the different tests that are responsible for extracting RDNA out of blood,” said Sirois. “I’ve done PCR, gel electrophoresis and then sequencing. It’s really been cool to take what I’ve learned in immunology and other classes in vet school and apply it to real life situations.”

“The project that she’s working on has to do with shipping fever in cattle which is an economically important disease in cattle,” added Ritchey. “She has to be able to troubleshoot. She’s very mature, responsible and hard working. She always does what she’s asked and more. She’s very smart and intelligent and has a great sense of humor. My technical staff in the lab loves having her around.”

And Sirois is enjoying her work as well.

“The most exciting thing about this work is trying to figure out if what you’re doing is working,” she said. “This past week, we actually got a sequence. We pulled DNA from the blood, got a sequence out of it and it lined up with what we were looking for. So that was just a little happy moment that we got to celebrate. It’s just being able to know that your hard work is paying off.”

Both Sirois and Ritchey agree the 12 week Summer Research Scholars Program is an excellent way for veterinary students to get introduced to the field of research.

“I think a lot of kids don’t even have any idea what it (research) involve or how much fun it could be,” said Ritchey. “So the summer program provide a place for those kids to get exposed to the highs and lows of research. They get a good experience and certainly enough to know if that might be something they want to follow in their career path.”

For more information on research opportunities at OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, visit the Research webapge.