Fourth year student Sridhar Veluvolu, V’18, entered Penn Vet wanting to be a general practitioner. He’s leaving the School with a different plan.
The son of two veterinarians—his mother, Malathy Rao, V‘97, is a Penn Vet alumna— Veluvolu always expected he’d follow in the footsteps of his parents and run a small animal private practice. Growing up in Kinnelon, New Jersey, he acquired hours of experience helping them at work. And while in college at New York University, where he studied biology and animal science, his part-time or summer jobs skewed toward primary care—he worked with a general practitioner and at a specialty practice in New York City, interned at the Bronx Zoo, and helped an equine veterinarian in South Jersey.
When it came time to apply for veterinary school, Veluvolu chose Penn Vet for its blended didactic and clinical program. “I knew Penn Vet offered the best curriculum for the way I learn and study and for my career goal,” he said. “It helped that I was familiar with the School somewhat because my mom went there, and I had visited a handful of times when I was a kid.”
During his first year in Philadelphia, Veluvolu rotated through different clinical service departments at Ryan Hospital, including emergency, neurology, and oncology. “The clinicians in all of the areas are really phenomenal,” he said. “I really clicked with the oncology team and worked as an oncology nurse the summer after my first year.”
The summer gig in oncology was educating and illuminating for Veluvolu, but not in the way he had expected it would be. “I applied for the nurse position to gain clinical experience,” he explained. “While working in oncology, I realized how much research was happening at the School and took an interest in it—which surprised me. My thoughts for the future quickly shifted from general practice to a more research oriented position at an academic institution.”
His first research pursuit at Penn Vet was with Dr. Nicola Mason, Associate Professor of Medicine, whose studies on canine immunotherapies, specifically vaccination and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, are earning national and international attention for their potential to help combat cancers in dogs and humans.
Veluvolu spent the entire summer after his second year in Mason’s translational research lab assisting with several tasks on her CAR T cell study. For this study, immune cells—or T cells—are collected from an individual patient’s blood and genetically modified to re-direct their specificity. Then, in the lab, the modified cells are expanded until there are many billions capable of recognizing and killing malignant cancer cells. The billions of genetically modified cells, known as CAR T cells, are put back into the patient’s body, where, ideally, they will engraft, recognize the cancer cells they’re trained to target, proliferate, and kill the target cells.
“Getting my feet wet in Dr. Mason’s lab made me realize how much I like research, especially translational research,” Veluvolu said about his responsibilities, which ranged from setting up basic experiments in the lab to helping administer CAR T cells in clinical trial participants. “It was great to spend time in the lab and the clinic. I thought I would hate bench research, but I don’t. I really like seeing the back and forth between the lab and patients.”
Whoever and Whenever
Since working in Mason’s lab, Veluvolu has helped with other oncology studies. He gathered data on patients for oncology resident Dr. Ashley Case’s 2017 mammary carcinoma study—Identification of prognostic collagen signatures and potential therapeutic stromal targets in canine mammary gland carcinoma. He worked with another oncology resident, Dr. Kathleen Tidd, on a retrospective study evaluating the outcomes of cats with feline large cell gastrointestinal lymphoma after surgery. And with oncology resident Dr. Martha Maloneyhuss he contributed to an evaluation of MOPP chemotherapy for feline lymphoma.
Currently, Veluvolu is writing a case series with Dr. Molly Church, Assistant Professor, Pathobiology, on a new type of tumor that’s been categorized in four dogs through Penn Vet’s pathology service. He is about to become involved with a study led by Dr. Guillermo Couto, a greyhound expert based in Ohio, that explores the efficacy of carboplatin chemotherapy for osteosarcoma in greyhounds. And, with Dr. Chand Khanna, Chief Science Officer of Ethos Veterinary Health, he submitted a grant application to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation to perform a prospective evaluation of Sorafenib, a new tyrosine kinase inhibitor, as a treatment for dogs with cancer.
“There are so many promising advances happening in cancer research, and my attitude is to help whoever and wherever I can to gain experience,” Veluvolu said. “Every new experience gets me closer to where I want to be.”
Closer to the Future
Earlier this month, Veluvolu learned he was accepted for an internship at University of Wisconsin-Madison Veterinary School, where he looks forward to additional exposure to oncology research and clinical care. He ultimately hopes to come back to Penn Vet for a residency in oncology.
“I feel really lucky to have had the experiences and mentors I’ve had at Penn Vet in both research and clinical services. There are so many people I want to thank, especially the entire Comprehensive Cancer Care team,” Veluvolu noted. “It has been a very, very good four years. I will be sad to leave Penn Vet... and look forward to someday coming back.”