UK, University of Copenhagen Team Up for Dual PhD Program

Jasmin Bagge, DVM, is a Danish dressage rider who is studying the future of stem cells and regenerative medicine to facilitate tissue repair following injury in horses through the dual degree program from UK and the University of Copenhagen.

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

The University of Kentucky (UK), in Lexington, and the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, have a long history of research collaborations.

A few years ago, the two universities extended this history by partnering to offer a dual doctoral degree program. In the summer of 2015, Jasmin Bagge, DVM, from Denmark, became the first student enrolled in the program.

James MacLeod, VMD, PhD, John S. and Elizabeth A. Knight chair and professor of veterinary science at the UK Gluck Equine Research Center, serves as Bagge’s co-mentor at UK. Across the pond, Lise Berg, DVM, PhD, associate professor in applied clinical biomedical sciences, and Denis Verwilghen, DVM, MSc, PhD, DES, Dipl. ECVS, associate professor, are Bagge’s co-mentors at the University of Copenhagen.

Bagge came to UK with a strong interest in equine orthopedic injuries. A dressage rider, she is particularly excited about the future of stem cells and regenerative medicine to facilitate the repair of tissues following injury. The University of Copenhagen is paying for Bagge’s tuition, stipend, and some research funding—a bonus of entering the dual degree program.

Bagge first heard about the program before completing her veterinary medicine degree and was excited about such a unique opportunity, especially after reading peer reviewed articles published by MacLeod and Berg.

“I just think Gluck is an absolutely unique equine research facility,” she said. “I haven’t heard about anywhere else where you have so much equine-centered research going on in one building and it’s a privilege to be in this dual degree program.”

The program is structured as four years of study split between UK and the University of Copenhagen. Bagge said the program is flexible and directly relates to the research she’s conducting when it comes to determining where she will be each semester.

Berg said the University of Copenhagen’s graduate students have always had great experiences working at the Gluck Center for shorter periods of time during informal exchange programs. This new doctoral program formalizes the collaboration and allows enrolled students to be a part of research training programs at both institutions.

“In addition, it has given us as supervisors a unique opportunity to collaborate and discuss not only research, but also how we view research training, and what we can learn from each other,” Berg said. MacLeod agreed, adding that the program should also facilitate opportunities for UK students to have research rotations in Denmark.

Bagge described being part of this program as the “best of both worlds.” Before coming to UK, she had a strong veterinary background with a lot of clinical training when working towards her veterinary medicine degree. In the PhD program, Bagge has switched gears to an education in experimental biology and learning how to become a good researcher. She said it’s a great international collaboration between the two universities.

Bagge said she hopes to complete the program in 2019. When asked about the future, she reflected on serious orthopedic injuries in horses and said she hopes to one day be able to turn what today might be a career ending problem into something that can be successfully treated using stem cells.

“I hope to contribute positively to this very promising field of regenerative medicine,” she said. “My dream is to combine academics, research, and teaching, while getting more surgical training and combining those while working at a large equine facility.”

MacLeod, Berg, and Verwilghen hope the two universities continue collaboration in the future.

“Cross-Atlantic projects like this require financial and administrative support to succeed, and we are working hard to secure the future for the program,” Berg said.

Taylor Pence, a senior marketing major at UK, is the marketing and communications intern at the UK Gluck Equine Research Center and president of the UK Dressage and Eventing Team.

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