UK Graduate Student Spotlight: Laurel Mastro

UK Graduate Student Spotlight: Laurel Mastro

Laurel Mastro

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Name: Laurel Mastro
From: Concord, N.C.
Degrees and institute where received: Bachelor of Science, Animal Science, from North Carolina State University

After moving to Lexington, Ky., for the Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) program, Laurel Mastro began her master’s degree in January 2012. As an undergraduate, Mastro’s research focused primarily on swine; however, her personal interest in horses led her to consider focusing on them for her graduate research. When she found the opportunity to work with Kristine Urschel, PhD, assistant professor within the University of Kentucky’s Animal and Food Sciences Department, she said she jumped at the chance.

“I was really excited about the research Dr. Urschel was doing, and I knew I wanted to work with her," she said. "Her research utilizes some new techniques in the horse that only she has used.”

Mastro’s research focused primarily on pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), also known as equine Cushing’s disease.

“PPID is believed to affect around 20% of our aged horses," she explained. "With such a large population affected, it has becoming increasingly important to find out more about this disease through research."

Specifically, she investigated two clinical signs associated with PPID: insulin resistance and muscle atrophy. Mastro’s looked at protein metabolism and insulin sensitivity in horses with PPID compared to the healthy, aged horse using euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp and isotope infusion techniques. Her research focused on the insulin-mediated signaling pathways that lead to protein synthesis and breakdown in the equine skeletal muscle.

“It was exciting to look at some of the factors associated with protein breakdown that had never been studied in the equine skeletal muscle,” Mastro said. “The projects were interesting in that we didn’t find the distinct differences between our two groups or horses as we previously expected. Our research highlights the variable and multifaceted nature of PPID, as it can affect each horse in a different way.”

Mastro said she believes her research created additional questions about aging in horses that she hopes will lead to better management of aged horses in the future.

Mastro recently graduated and is currently pursuing a position that utilizes her knowledge of equine nutrition and physiology as well as her communication skills.

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