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Lindsay Gabbert

Animal disease research opportunity proves to be rewarding assignment for graduate student

Lindsay Gabbert

Lindsay Gabbert performs research at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, where she is helping to improve the vaccination for foot-and-mouth disease. Prior to Plum Island, she completed a fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she concentrated on human diseases.

For Lindsay Gabbert, her current position as a research participant is a different animal.

As a research participant in the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) Research Participation Program, Gabbert is studying foot-and-mouth disease virus and ways to address this potential biological threat. The PIADC Research Participation Program, which is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education and supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, accepts scientists at all levels and provides them with laboratory experience and hands-on training. Gabbert’s previous fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concentrated on human disease.

“Previously, I was focused on dengue hemorrhagic fever—a potentially life-threatening mosquito-borne tropical disease which affects humans,” said Gabbert, who has earned bachelor degrees in both biology and environmental science from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. “This time, I wanted to broaden my experience by focusing on important emerging diseases of animals as well.”

Gabbert’s research is for the Department of Homeland Security’s Targeted Advanced Development Group. A core responsibility of the group at PIADC is to research and develop vaccines and biological countermeasures to combat the intentional or unintentional introduction of foot-and-mouth disease virus in animals, which is considered a potential biological threat to the U.S. 

Foot-and-mouth disease is an infectious and sometimes fatal disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals. The primary route of transmission is animal-to-animal contact; zoonotic transmission between animals and humans is rare. Outbreaks of this disease have caused epidemics worldwide, resulting in the slaughter of millions of animals, and the loss of billions of dollars in the agriculture industry.

“I am investigating potential biomarkers of protection, which are biological indicators that help us determine the risk or progression of a disease or the susceptibility of the disease to a given treatment. We use this information to monitor immunogenic qualities of experimental vaccines for FMD,” Gabbert explained. “The goal is to identify an early immune-system marker that could serve as a diagnostic tool and help us measure the effectiveness of an administered vaccine or other treatment.”

The stint at Plum Island has been an eye-opener for Gabbert.

“Before working at Plum Island, I knew very little about the extensive work that goes into protecting the U.S. from foreign animal diseases,” she said. “I also learned about the extensive collaboration between DHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Gabbert has found the opportunity invaluable.

“I like the breadth of experiences I am exposed to in the program,” she said. “Not only do I get training on tasks such as vaccine study design and sample processing—the group’s core activities—but I also get the opportunity to have my own applied research project, where I can gain knowledge in hard laboratory science and procedures.”

“This experience has strengthened my overall laboratory skills as well as my ability to communicate and network with other scientists conducting research in similar fields,” she added.

After she completes the program, Gabbert will return to school to pursue a graduate degree in microbiology and public health. Eventually, she hopes to work for a governmental or international public health agency.

Gabbert has other interests outside the scientific realm. She enjoys outdoor photography, rock hunting, vegetarian cooking and surfing.