The University of Delaware’s Bridget Aylward was recently awarded first place for a presentation concerning her research on immunology in bovines in a regional graduate student competition sponsored by the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS). Aylward, a master’s degree student in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS) in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), received the award at the ADSA/ASAS Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) in Orlando, Florida. Working with Robert Dyer, associate professor of animal and food sciences, and Amanda Barnard, a doctoral student in the college, Aylward said that their research is focused on immune cells from fat tissues and lymph nodes in dairy cows. “We extract the cells and stain them with fluorescent antibodies to look for certain surface markers that are only expressed on immune cells,” said Aylward. The idea for the project came from studies of humans in which researchers have been able to identify significant populations of immune cells in the fat. In cases of nutrient overburdening and increased diet-related obesity, scientists have been able to show that those immune cells assume a more inflammatory phenotype. “They start to release inflammatory cytokines and these have a direct impact on the development and progression of metabolic diseases in humans, such as fatty liver disease and insulin resistance – all the health problems that we associate with obesity in humans,” said Aylward. There is limited literature on the phenomenon in the bovine model, and the researchers wanted to see if those same cells might be present. “Ultimately, we want to see what they’re doing in there, but the scope of this project was just to see if they are present,” said Aylward. “It was pretty exciting to find that they are and we have been able to identify several types of immune cells, specifically the cells that make up the two components of an immune response. What that tells us is that there is the potential to mount an immune response in the tissue. Now, what triggers this immune response, and what it looks like when it’s activated, we have to find that out, and that’s what we’re working on now.” Joining Aylward at the conference were Dyer, Barnard, Tanya Gressley, associate professor of animal and food sciences, and Jenna Wilson and Nicole Collins, both seniors in CANR. Aylward said her favorite part of the conference was hearing about the wide range of research being conducted. “What’s great about these conferences is that you get to hear something different than what you’ve been working on,” she said. “You listen to other people present their work, and they’re working on different aspects of dairy cow health, so you can learn about a subject that maybe you’re not as familiar with,” said Aylward. As for how it felt to win the award, Aylward said that she was just happy that her presentation was well received. “It was surprising but winning the award was really vindicating for us and our work,” Aylward said. “Immediately after my talk, a number of judges came up to me and said how this work is really important and we really need to start addressing this, and so for our project it was definitely a nice surprise.” Article by Adam Thomas This article can also be viewed on UDaily.