Student tests efficacy of Lyme disease vaccine

Sabrina De Baat

Sabrina de Baat, a second-year veterinary student at the WCVM. Photo: Robyn Thrasher.

While living in Burnaby, B.C., Sabrina de Baat had the chance to explore a variety of volunteer opportunities related to animal care. Not only did de Baat work at several veterinary clinics and the local humane society, but she also volunteered at the internationally-known Vancouver Aquarium.

“I gave interpretive talks and demonstrations to visitors to raise awareness about aquatic life and the public’s role in maintaining this diverse ecosystem,” explains de Baat. She also participated in a marine mammal rehabilitation program helping abandoned or injured seal pups.

Backed by this experience, it’s no surprise that de Baat was accepted by the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). “When I received my acceptance letter, I immediately called my referees and the clinics where I volunteered to thank them for believing in me and sharing their experience and advice,” says de Baat, who begins her second year of veterinary medicine in August 2011.

But before de Baat starts another year of school, she’s spending her summer working on a research project with Dr. John Ellis, a WCVM professor in veterinary microbiology.

“I’m trying to determine if the antibodies that are produced in response to a canine vaccine against Lyme disease are effective killers of the Lyme disease-causing bacteria, Borrelia,” describes de Baat.

As she explains, it’s important to verify the efficacy of a vaccine — ensuring that its administration is truly inducing a protective immune response.

Having worked as a research technician on an animal nutrition project in the past, de Baat was unsure if she’d continue to pursue research. However, the chance to work on a vaccine project was just too good to pass up.

“I’ve always had a very strong interest in vaccine research,” says de Baat. “The immune system is Mother Nature’s defense system and vaccination is a way to ensure a patient is primed and ready to protect itself against invaders.”
Aside from her research project, de Baat enjoys horseback riding. This summer, she’s spending her spare time training a gelding for a Saskatoon couple.

An avid equestrian since the age of five, she’s owned Bandit – her 32-year-old Appaloosa gelding — for 18 years. “We’ve grown together over the years and he’s taught me a lot about being a leader, living life and being strong,” says de Baat.

With three more years to go before graduation, de Baat is unsure of her future career path. “I need to get my feet wet in several areas before deciding,” says de Baat. Thanks to her summer project, she’s considering research as a possible career interest and recommends all veterinary students get involved in a research project for at least one summer.

“Once you find a research area that interests you and a professor that you mesh well with, then you’ll have a great summer experience.”

Robyn Thrasher of Edmonton, Alta., is a second-year veterinary student at the WCVM. Robyn is producing stories about the veterinary college’s clinical services, research program and its researchers as part of her summer job in research communications.


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