Kansas State University veterinary student has a 'Plum' of an internship experience
Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014
MANHATTAN — An island vacation is a dream for many college students, but it doesn't usually require permission from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That's exactly what happened for Rachael Gortowski, Rockford, Illinois, a third-year student in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University.
Gortowski spent the summer working at the department's Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York as a visiting intern.
"Getting to go to Plum Island for the summer is an amazing and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Gortowski said. "I am very thankful for the time I get to spend there."
The Plum Island facility is a biosafety level-3 agriculture research center managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that does work on foreign animal diseases that affect livestock. It is considered to be America's first line of defense against foreign animal diseases that could be accidentally or deliberately introduced domestically.
Gortowski's internship was made possible after working for Bob Rowland, a renowned swine disease researcher and professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at Kansas State University, whose collaborations allow him to send students to the federal research center for the summer. Gortowski had worked in Rowland's lab for a year prior to visiting Plum Island and was trained at K-State's Biosecurity Research Institute, a BSL-3 ag biocontainment facility, in preparation for her trip.
"I have been working on an African swine fever project while at Plum Island," Gortowski said. "This is an infectious viral swine disease that can also cause hemorrhaging and has a very high mortality rate. Currently, no vaccine has been developed that can prevent the disease. I'm working to produce antibodies to the virus using cell culture. The antibodies will then be used for additional research, such as vaccine development and diagnostic characterization of the disease."
Gortowski said working at Plum Island has been an invaluable experience.
"After learning about some of these animal diseases in class, seeing the clinical course of the diseases in real life instead of just as pictures in a book has enhanced my understanding of each disease."
Research work at Plum Island will eventually be transferred to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a biosafety level-4 biocontainment facility that is under construction in Manhattan. The new facility will replace the facility at Plum Island. Kansas State University has developed several partnerships with Plum Island in anticipation of the center's transfer to Manhattan.