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Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Yvonne Drechsler and Brandi Sparling

CVM Researcher Receives Cobb-Vantress Endowed Graduate Poultry Research Fellowship Award

June 2021 – Western University of Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine researcher, Brandi Sparling, is the recent recipient of the Cobb-Vantress Endowed Graduate Poultry Research Fellowship Award. This opportunity supports her for her graduate degree, and allows her to improve an area of poultry science. Supporting PI, WesternU CVM Associate Professor Dr. Yvonne Drechsler, PhD, was glad to have supported Brandi in her effort to pursue this award.

Brandi was driven to apply after having learned that the Cobb-Vantress Fellowship aligned with her research interests in genetics, molecular work, and immunology.

“I am thrilled, and incredibly honored,” Brandi stated when asked how she felt about being the recipient of this award. “It could not have come at a better time as I start my West Virginia University doctoral research at WesternU. It gives us an extra incentive to not only perform our goals, but to reach beyond them.”

The funds from this award will be partly used to cover a line of MHC-I genotyped leghorn type strain of chicken that is crucial for the research Brandi and Dr. Drechsler are preforming—these chickens are being housed at another university for their research use. One of Brandi’s personal goals will also be to lower her educational expenses, which the funding assists in. In applying to this opportunity, she admitted that she did not meet any specific challenges, but has had her fair share of difficulty finding a laboratory that fits with mentorship that would provide her with support for personal and professional growth along her journey through graduate school.

“Conducting work in Dr. Drechsler’s lab has been all I could ask for, and could not be happier with my position to conduct doctoral research” she admitted.

Primarily, Brandi is focusing on an immunoglobulin-like receptor project, which was proposed under the award. Her goal is to unravel the role of specific proteins called immunoglobulin-like receptors in immune response in the chicken. This includes understanding its putative role with the major histocompatibility complex class I molecule. After understanding the immunoglobulin-like receptors role in infectious disease, they hope to incorporate that knowledge into current selective breeding programs to increase the immune competence of poultry. Dr. Drechsler explains, “Immunoglobulin receptors have not been well investigated in the chicken, so short term would be establishing them as a factor in the immune response, particularly in viral infection. Long-term I would like to expand this into a model in coronavirus infection.”

Brandi also plays smaller roles in other projects: atopic dermatitis in dogs alongside WesternU CVM Associate Professor Dr. Gagandeep Kaur DVM, PhD, and infectious bronchitis infection on renal-pulmonary gene expression regulation. Simultaneously, Dr. Drechsler has been working on exploring single-cell sequencing and epigenetics in the context of innate immune responses—which ties in with previous work on chicken haplotypes and their current work.

When asked what impact this will have on the community—particularly the poultry community—Dr. Drechsler made it clear that disease resistance is an important topic, but they have only scratched the surface to understand the underlying mechanisms. “There are probably conserved epigenetic mechanisms involved in this response involving the receptors and I would like to look at comparative genetics”, she explained. Brandi agreed, noting that “Avian coronavirus and avian infectious bronchitis virus outbreaks cause a significant stock loss and reduction in performance efficiency such as growing and egg production. Pinpointing genetic markers that contribute to disease resistance in infections like these can help mitigate production issues and contribute to bird well-being”.

Brandi Sparling would like to thank Dr. Yvonne Drechsler, her major professor for making this opportunity to pursue her doctoral work in her lab. “Her dedication to and review of students’ work is exemplary,” she notes. “Dr. Robert J. Taylor Jr., my co-advisor from West Virginia, who has provided encouragement and continues to be eager to help me advance the doctoral research project. My husband, Dr. Theros Ng, who has helped with clarifying my research ideas. He remains committed to seeing me finish the project, and I am thankful for his support. Ms. Lisa Griggs for helpful research direction and project-related discussions. Dr. Trinidad Cisneros for helping me settle down at WesternU and handling all logistical issues from big to small. Dr. Elton Vasconcelos for whom I am excited to work with on Next-Generation Sequencing data analysis. Also, family, friends, and colleagues for their support and guidance throughout the process.”

Dr. Yvonne Drechsler would like to thank “Cobb-Vantress and the Poultry Science Association for offering this scholarship. Opportunities for funding young talent in agricultural sciences are few. I would also like to thank our wonderful collaborator Dr. Robert J. Taylor Jr at West Virginia University. Finally I want to thank Brandi for contributing significantly to the research in my laboratory and her outstanding dedication.”