After years of research in industry with swine, I have now transitioned to research with pigs as a large animal biomedical model at Iowa State University. Currently, I am working with a mini pig model that genetically expresses the condition Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD). A large animal model for BMD is not only critical in order to facilitate disease-specific research but also because some therapeutic approaches for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a related and generally more severe disease, transforms them into BMD or BMD-like patients, meaning the population of BMD patients will rise. In order to phenotypically characterize these BMD pigs, I have worked with and trained mini pigs to preform various tasks such as walking and trotting on a mat with embedded force transducers designed to objectively measure gait. Our intent is to determine the extent to which dystrophin insufficiency alters walking or trotting parameters over time. I also trained mini pigs to wear respiratory bands to identify respiratory dysfunction. Finally, in conjunction with our collaborators in veterinary cardiology, we also perform measures of cardiac function and electrocardiography.
I also spearhead efforts to determine the extent to which heat stress (HS) promotes proteolysis in skeletal muscle. In the U.S. dairy industry, HS results in economic loss due to decreased feed intake, milk quality, and milk yield. Previous work has demonstrated increased plasma and milk urea nitrogen in heat stressed dairy cattle, which is thought to originate from increased skeletal muscle proteolysis, however this has not been empirically established. Similar experiments are also being conducted in muscle from heat stressed pigs.