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Clinical and Translational Science Center

Clinical and Translational Science Center

F E A T U R E D   S C H O L A R

Samantha McDonnel exemplifies translational science

Samantha McDonnel,
Former CTSC T32 scholar

CURIOSITY MAY HAVE KILLED THE CAT, but former CTSC T32 scholar Samantha McDonnel’s insatiable curiosity may very well save the lives of countless felines as well as human beings.

“Curiosity will always get the best of me, but in science that’s a good thing,”
quips McDonnel, a veterinary medicine and doctoral student in the Comparative Pathology Graduate Group at UC Davis who has always been interested in virology, especially in the use of retroviruses as vectors for gene therapy.

McDonnel is immersed in the study of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), an important animal model of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Working with mentor Brian Murphy, a veterinary pathologist at the School of Veterinary Medicine, McDonnel hopes to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of retroviral latency and potential ways to disarm the infection in cats.

“FIV and latency is a very cool problem to work on,” McDonnel said. “It is a valuable model for HIV persistence – an extremely important challenge in human health. Information we gain from animal research could be fast-tracked to better understand the disease in humans. We hope that research using the feline AIDS model will benefit humans and cats alike.”

With regard to the training she received through the CTSC, McDonnel adds, “The T32 training program allowed me to visualize how research like mine might really move forward one day to benefit the lives of people and animals. That has always been the goal, of course, but now it seems much more tangible, like ‘translational science’ is more than just a thought exercise.”

McDonnel also credits the training program for helping her connect with colleagues in human medicine, especially those involved in clinical trials. McDonnel has attracted the attention of at least one notable colleague in human medicine, Nicholas Kenyon, director of the T32 Predoctoral Training Program. Kenyon believes that McDonnel is particularly skilled at describing her work and its potential translational relevance. “Samantha’s research presentations locally and at our national CTSC T32 meeting at the Mayo Clinic were simply outstanding,” Kenyon said.

Visit to view a video about Samantha McDonnel’s research and scholar experience.