Summer Centered: Johanna Fowler's Dog Days of Summer
The rising junior and aspiring veterinarian is gaining career-track experience through a research position at the University of Pennsylvania.
Though Johanna Fowler ’21 is spending her summer only a few miles down the road from Haverford, she’s opened up a world of new opportunities that aren’t directly available on campus. Sponsored by the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center’s Summer Scholars program, the chemistry major is gaining valuable exposure to veterinary research at a University of Pennsylvania lab.
“I’m working for Dr. Jennifer Punt, who is the associate dean of One Health and a professor of immunology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine,” Fowler said. “We’re continuing a project from last summer investigating the role of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) on immune cells in dogs.”
Fowler’s placement in Punt’s lab is indicative of a continued relationship between the two schools through the Quaker Consortium. Last summer, Punt, who functions as the vet medicine advisor for Haverford students, worked on the same project with Trevor Esilu ’21. Since most schools don’t offer pre-veterinary studies as an undergraduate major, hands-on experience such as the kind offered by Punt provide a perfect surrogate for the classroom.
By analyzing canine blood samples, the researchers hope to pinpoint the specific effects of the hormone on the animal’s immune system. Though still in an early stage, the research has the potential to treat fatal illnesses in dogs while also informing studies on their human counterparts.
“If we can produce research that further characterizes these cells and their role in the body, that might provide a potential therapy option for cancer in dogs, though that would be pretty far in the future,” she said. “Dogs are increasingly being focused on as models for human diseases, like cancer, because they share much of our environmental exposures and are more closely related to humans evolutionarily than mice, which are commonly used in medical research. This means that any research done on dogs could have applications in human medicine too.”
Fowler’s research isn’t just aiding prospective four- and two-legged patients. The experience is also assisting her own pursuits, as her time in the lab promises to be an essential catapult into future opportunities.
“The driving force behind my participation is that I plan to go to vet school eventually,” she said. “This work is giving me a great opportunity to see what veterinarians can do besides clinical practice as well as giving me a chance to develop my research skills.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.