UK Graduate Student Spotlight: Ashley Steuer, DVM

UK Graduate Student Spotlight: Ashley Steuer, DVM

Steuer is conducting in vitro research on cultivating certain equine parasites.

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

Name: Ashley Steuer, DVM
From: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Degrees and institutions where received: Michigan State University Lyman Briggs College, BS, Animal Science with a minor in Spanish
University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, DVM

Ashley Steuer’s path to the University of Kentucky (UK) wasn’t necessarily the most straightforward one. Back in 2012, she wanted to pursue equine and large animal practice (mainly dairy) after completing veterinary school. However, that plan shifted once she discovered parasitology.

“My passion for it began in my first-year parasitology class, taught by Dr. Patton and Dr. Gerhold,” Steuer said. “I was immediately hooked.”

To pursue her new dream of becoming a veterinary parasitologist in an academic setting, Steuer knew she’d need to obtain both a PhD and a residency. She began researching options, and during her clinical year, she used her externships to visit Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, and East Tennessee Clinical Research, Inc. (ETCR), in Knoxville.

“It was at these two locations where it became evident that there is a need for large animal and equine focused veterinary parasitologists and that Dr. Martin Nielsen (DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVM, Dipl. EVPC) would be the person to contact and may be looking for another graduate student,” Steuer said. “Nielsen and I met while I was on externship at ETCR, and the rest is history.”

Steuer is now a graduate student in the UK veterinary science department under Nielsen’s direction, as well as the Zoetis resident in veterinary parasitology through the National Center for Veterinary Parasitology, which developed and started the residency program. The program focuses on fulfilling the resident’s PhD requirements and research. However, additional program requirements include training in both teaching and clinical veterinary parasitology diagnostics. The curriculum is set up to prepare individuals for not only the American College of Veterinary Microbiologist parasitology board examination, but for a career in veterinary parasitology. Residents are selected based on a good foundation in their undergraduate or graduate studies, their veterinary school performance, letters of recommendation, and, most importantly, that their PhD program must meet the criteria for giving a well-rounded experience in research, teaching, and diagnostics.

Steuer is conducting in vitro (in the laboratory) research on cultivating certain equine parasites. Currently, she and colleagues are developing a culture system for cyathostomins (a ubiquitous parasite of horses, also known as small strongyles). These parasites are the most targeted via deworming programs in adult horses in the United States, and they can cause a rare, but severe, clinical disease called larval cyathostominosis. While these parasites have been cultured with some success before, Steuer and the parasitology team are hoping to develop a culturing technique that can be used for different stages of the parasite.

“This in vitro culture system could have several implications for use in research including, but not limited to, studying drug resistance, transcriptomics/genomics of these parasites, testing of novel anthelmintics, and to help further our understanding of the horse parasite interaction,” Steuer said.

The other parasite Steuer is attempting to culture the larval (immature stages) stages of is Parascaris spp, a pervasive parasite in foals.

“In rare cases, it can cause verminous impaction and lead to death,” she said. “Another graduate student in our lab, Jessica Scare, is working on culturing the adults in vitro.”

When asked what her most valuable take away from the program was, Steuer said, “While there is a lot that we know, there is so much left to learn, and so much research we may have lost.

“We are currently just scratching the surface for research in parasitology and need to continue to push the boundaries of what we know into what we don’t know and continue to look retrospectively to not lose what we’ve learned.”

Steuer plans to graduate in 2020-21 and looks forward to sitting for the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists board examination, and then potentially pursuing a career in academia.

Alexandra Harper, MBA, is the operations and communications coordinator for the UK Ag Equine Programs.


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