UK Graduate Student Spotlight: Melissa Siard

Siard is studying inflamm-aging in senior horses, polyphenols as anti-inflammatory treatments, and more.

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

Name: Melissa Siard
From: Knoxville, Tennessee
Degrees and institute where received: BA in Chemistry; Asbury University, Wilmore, Kentucky

Melissa Siard participated in summer research at the University of Kentucky (UK) Gluck Equine Research Center as part of her undergraduate program requirements. That experience motivated Siard to pursue her PhD at the Gluck Center under Amanda Adams, PhD, and assistant research professor at the Gluck Center. Siard’s doctoral program is in veterinary science with an emphasis in equine immunology.

“I appreciate immunology specifically because it is such a broad, multi-faceted field that is key to the health and well-being of our animals and ourselves,” Siard said.

Her doctoral research focuses on characterizing the contribution of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) to inflamm-aging of senior horses. PBMC (which consist of T cells, B cells, and monocytes) are critical to the immune system in fighting infection. Inflamm-aging is the chronic, low-grade systemic inflammation that occurs in aging horses. The research examines factors related to this occurrence including determining mechanisms of action, relationships with other health parameters, season/weather, and the impact of anti-inflammatory compounds.

Aside from looking at the “what”, “when”, and “why’s” of inflamm-aging, Siard’s research also investigates the potential of polyphenols as anti-inflammatory treatments. Polyphenols are phytonutrients, or substances found in certain plants that are believed to be beneficial to health.

“The senior horse population is large and growing, and we want to keep them healthy as long as we can,” Siard said. “If effective, polyphenols may be able to modulate the inflamm-aging response and mitigate symptoms of age-related diseases such as arthritis.”

In addition to her own research, Siard has worked on nearly a dozen other projects, most of which involved the old horse. According to Siard, this gave her comprehensive experience and knowledge on senior horse care and organization/management of studies.

In her time at UK, Siard said she learned the importance of communication and initiative, both of which she attributes to be valuable characteristics in research. In the past year, she has been able to take on more of a leadership role when developing contacts whether with companies or professors. She identifies concise and thorough communication among everyone involved as vital to the success of research. According to Siard, the resources and opportunities at UK have been valuable to her education.

“Nowhere in the world has the extensive research and farm facilities we do, giving us the opportunity to perform well-controlled studies with large numbers of horses to yield good data with statistical power,” Siard said.

She has also valued the numerous opportunities provided to present research at conferences all over the country.

After completing her degree, Siard plans to pursue a post-doctoral position to gain more research experience before ultimately finding a role as a professor where she can both teach and research.

Hannah Forte is a communication intern with the UK Ag Equine Programs and Gluck Equine Research Center and undergraduate student majoring in community and leadership development at UK.

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