The Baker Institute has a long history of leadership in advancing research to improve veterinary medicine, and that spirit is alive and well in the most recent additions to the faculty. Despite a competitive funding environment, the newest members of the Institute are wasting no time in earning funds and pursuing exciting and innovative directions in veterinary research.
Gerlinde R. Van de Walle DVM, Ph.D.
Harry M. Zweig Assistant Professor in Equine Health
In the few years since Gerlinde Van de Walle joined the faculty of the Baker Institute in 2013, she has grown a research program with projects focused on understanding diseases that affect both humans and companion animals.
Van de Walle is interested in a group of viruses, the alphaherpesviruses, which defy vaccination and hide out within the body for decades, only to start sudden outbreaks that take the form of shingles, genital warts, or serious eye disease. Van de Walle has received funding from the Cornell Feline Health Center to investigate eye infections caused by one of these herpesviruses, and also by other infectious agents, in cats. In collaboration with Rockefeller University, and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Van de Walle is focused on two other viruses which cause liver disease in horses and are related to the hepatitis B and C viruses that affect people. She is also interested in other diseases of companion animals. The American Quarter Horse Association has awarded Van de Walle a grant to study equine mesenchymal stem cells, which can be collected from the blood and used to treat wounds and joint injuries. She is also interested in the differences in breast stem cells of species that are prone or resistant to breast cancer.
This year, Van de Walle was named the Harry M. Zweig Assistant Professor in Equine Health, a three-year endowed position given to a junior faculty member with potential to make significant contributions to equine research. She also received the Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence in 2016 and an Excellence in Teaching Award from Cornell, recognizing outstanding teaching in veterinary medicine. Van de Walle is excited to continue her cross-species research in the unique environment created by the Baker Institute.
Charles G. Danko Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences
Charles Danko began working at the Baker Institute in 2014 and wasted no time in applying his background in bioinformatics to develop a vibrant research program. He is interested in the regions of the genome involved in the regulation of the expression of proteins, regions which are responsible for turning genes on and off at the right time. His group is sorting out how these regulatory regions control the patterns of gene expression in animals and humans, and how those patterns contribute to evolution, development, and disease.
As a recognition of the quality of his work, Danko recently earned a highly competitive RO1 grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute, an impressive achievement so early in his career. With this support, he is constructing a set of computational tools for mapping gene expression and identifying regulatory regions in clinical specimens. He has begun applying those tools to investigate gene regulation in human breast cancer and canine hemangiosarcoma. He has also received funding from the College of Veterinary Medicine Research Grants Program in Animal Health for genetic mapping of Canine Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy. This disease causes an irregular heartbeat and the replacement of normal heart cells by abnormal tissue. It is a leading cause of death in the boxer breed and researchers have struggled to pinpoint a genetic cause. Danko is instead focusing on so called “epigenetic” causes.
Danko has also developed several software programs for analyzing genomic data, programs which are freely available and of great use to many researchers. Going forward, he intends to borrow tools from the fields of statistics and machine learning to advance his research on health and the development of disease in animals and humans.
Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology
The Institute’s newest addition, Elia Tait Wojno, has impressively secured major National Institutes of Health funding for her lab in less than three years. These grants support work on the immune system during parasite infection and allergic disease. She aims to learn how specific cells in the immune system and in the lining of the intestines work together to protect animals against parasitic worms. Tait Wojno is also analyzing how the regulation of these cells becomes impaired to cause inflammation and allergy.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases awarded Tait Wojno a Career Development grant for her research on inflammation, and a highly competitive RO1 award to study how rare immune cells called basophils regulate the response to parasitic worms. Excitingly, her second RO1 application just received a very positive review and will likely be funded next year. Tait Wojno has also received funding from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Research in Animal Health Grants Program to study allergic inflammation in dogs, from the President’s Council of Cornell Women, and from the Cornell Stem Cell Program Seed Grant.
In a short time, Tait Wojno has assembled a strong research team. She is looking forward to seeing her team grow in the coming years and to continue learning how the immune system in dogs, mice, and humans works during health and disease.