Fighting Parasites

Beginning at age 14 James Tipton worked with corn.

From detasseling and pollenating corn in middle school and high school to working in a laboratory specializing in corn genetics as a Iowa State University biology major, every summer corn dominated his life.

But corn didn’t seem to be a long-term career path for James.

“I didn’t really find plants all that interesting,” said the second year veterinary medicine student in Iowa State University’ College of Veterinary Medicine. “Besides corn fields can get really hot.”

This summer James traded in the hot corn fields for a cool research lab as he began studying a

parasite called Oesophagostomum dentatum.

“Honestly I had never heard of it before this summer, but it’s a run of the mill parasite,” James said.

Oesophagostomum may be run of the mill, but it is a significant parasite. It is common among livestock, particularly in pigs and is found worldwide. The parasite resides in mucosa of the cecum and colon leading to mucosal irritation and the formation of nodules. In more severe cases diarrhea and weight loss can occur.

Monepantel is a member of the novel class of anthelmintics, the amino-acetonitrile derivatives (AADs). In the light of so many parasitic species exhibiting drug resistances to the old classes of anthelminitics, monepantel has become invaluable in the treatment of parasitic infections of livestock. However, while monepantel’s efficiency at killing parasites has been well studied, its mode of action has yet to be fully elucidated.

Enter a research team in the College of Veterinary Medicine directed by Dr. Alan Robertson, research associate professor of biomedical sciences. James is a part of Dr. Robertson’s research team and a participant in the college’s annual Summer Scholars Research Program. The program introduces veterinary medicine students to research in a wide variety of areas including clinical medicine, animal science, public health, neuroscience and immunology.

The Summer Scholars program has opened James’ eyes up to a possible new career path.

“This is the first time I have had my very own set research project,” he said. “I’m learning a lot but it’s definitely been a roller coaster ride. When you’re not getting results, it’s really frustrating. Then there are much happier days when the results start rolling in.

“Since I started my veterinary studies I see so much more that I thought I could do after graduating,” James continued. “After this experience research could be a viable career path for me.”