PennVet | Frontier Explorers: Penn Vet Scientists on the Cutting Edge
New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA

Frontier Explorers: Penn Vet Scientists on the Cutting Edge

By: Sacha Adorno Published: Apr 16, 2024
Graphic depiction of cells

From trailblazing targeted cancer therapies to racing pigeons, understanding dementia to singing arias, five of Penn Vet’s newest faculty share their personal passions and what ignites their pursuit of “what’s next” in the profession.

Since its inception in 1884, Penn Vet has been a steadfast hub of innovation. For generations, the School’s faculty and clinicians have pioneered new scientific frontiers, transforming possibilities in both animal and human medicine.

Building on this enduring commitment to reimagining the boundaries of veterinary science, the School recently welcomed 20 faculty members who are pursuing new areas of multidisciplinary research and next-generation clinical care. A second wave of young scientific investigators is set to be onboarded in 2024.

Bellwether caught up with five of these promising game-changers to delve into their transformative research. Enjoy a glimpse into the novel work that is not only driving veterinary medicine forward, but also addressing some of the most significant global and public health challenges of our time.

Yet, it’s not all lab coats and microscopes. We wanted to get to know the personalities propelling the profession’s future and invited them to tell us about the frontiers they seek to advance and their personal passions—from hobbies to favorite quotes, and recommendations for movies, TV shows, podcasts, and books.

Dr. Michael HoganMichael J. Hogan, PhD

Assistant Professor, Pathobiology

RESEARCH: I seek to understand how our immune system protects us from viral infections and then translate these lessons into new and improved mRNA vaccines.

MENTOR: My mentors in grad school at Penn were Drew Weissman (now Nobel laureate), who taught me to be adventurous in my science; Jim Hoxie, who taught me to be methodical in my science; and, for my postdoc, Ike Eisenlohr, who taught me to question scientific dogma.

FRONTIERS: I hope to clarify how viral infections activate our immune cells and how they seek and destroy infected cells. I also hope to expand the types of technologies used to make mRNA vaccines and to apply these vaccines to veterinary and agricultural diseases.

Photo of a snowy owlHOBBIES: My passions are learning languages (mainly Italian, some French and Korean) and singing opera—my favorite aria right now is “The Flower Song” from Carmen. I also love bird watching. My most exciting sighting was a snowy owl in 2018 at the Philadelphia International Airport, of all places.

READ, LISTEN, OR WATCH RECOMMENDATIONS: Remembrance of Earth’s Past: The Three-Body Problem trilogy, by Cixin Liu. It’s a sci-fi series with a scope as big as the universe.

FAVORITE QUOTE: "The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—but the illusion of knowledge." —Daniel J. Boorstin


Dr. Daniela LuethyDaniela Luethy, MPH, DVM, DACVIM

Assistant Professor, Large Animal Medicine

RESEARCH: I diagnose and treat complex medical diseases in horses and farm animals, teach veterinary students and residents, and perform research to improve our ability to diagnose and treat our patients. Some of my previous and current work has looked at blood transfusions, large animal oncology, and critical care medicine of small ruminants like sheep and goats.

MENTOR: The Penn Vet faculty who mentored me during my residency are tremendous role models and sources of inspiration for me: Drs. Ray Sweeney, Amy Johnson, Rose Nolen-Walston, and Jon Palmer, to name a few!

FRONTIERS: I hope to advance intensive small ruminant internal medicine and earlier diagnosis and treatment of cancer in large animals. I am also interested in working to improve the well-being of the veterinary profession. I’ve been researching the relationship between physical activity and mental health and evaluating factors that might influence a veterinarian’s career decisions.

HOBBIES: I enjoy reading, running, and hiking (especially up mountains). My favorite hikes include the Fimmvörðuháls trail in Iceland and the Via Alpina trails in Switzerland.

READ, LISTEN, OR WATCH RECOMMENDATIONS: Do I have to pick just one?! Some books I recommend to everyone are Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and The Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn.

FAVORITE QUOTE: "Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday." —Dale Carnegie


Dr. Louise MonclaLouise Moncla, PhD

Assistant Professor, Pathobiology

RESEARCH: My lab studies how viruses evolve to infect new species and how factors like ecology, geography, and contact patterns impact virus transmission in human and animal populations.

MENTOR: My PhD and postdoc advisors—Tom Friedrich at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Trevor Bedford at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, respectively—were amazing mentors who inspired and supported me in different and complementary ways. At every stage of my career, a vast network of peer support and unofficial mentors has also helped me get to where I am today. I wouldn’t be here without this support.

FRONTIERS: Our field has many big, open questions: Which factors allow viruses to infect new species and spread efficiently? How do factors like health care access and contact networks impact infection risk? How can we design better public health interventions to prevent new outbreaks? If we can make a dent in any of these big-picture questions, I would love that.

Photo of an anthurium plantHOBBIES: I love tending to my houseplants. My favorites are a massive anthurium that I’ve had for more than five years and a palm tree that I got as a cutting from a friend of mine. They’re both huge now but started as tiny little plants during my time in Seattle. I moved them here across the country in our car. I spend much of my free time outdoors: running, biking, hiking, gardening, and reading. I also love eating good food and have enjoyed trying Philly’s restaurants. I particularly love finding a good, tasty neighborhood dive but also enjoy trying high-end cuisine. Really, I’ll eat anything.

READ, LISTEN, OR WATCH RECOMMENDATIONS: I really love the new Godzilla movie, Godzilla Minus One; it has something for everyone: action, romance, a solid plot, and great characters. Go see it!


Dr. Wojciech PanekWojciech K. Panek, DVM, DACVIM

Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurosurgery

RESEARCH: I conduct translational research to understand what signals immune system mobilization or exhaustion in canine patients with glioma and cognitive dysfunction.

I conduct translational research to understand the regulatory signals governing immune system mobilization or exhaustion in canine patients with glioma and cognitive dysfunction. I collaborate on glioma-related projects with Nduka Amankulor, a neurosurgeon at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

In my clinical practice, I care for small animal patients with neurological issues, including benign or malignant brain tumors, seizures, spinal cord injury from intervertebral disc herniation or trauma, neurovascular events, and more. Part of my practice is devoted to caring for patients suffering from canine dementia.

MENTORS: Several mentors have fueled my passion for veterinary medicine and science: Maciej S. Lesniak MD internationally recognized leader and physician -scientist in Neuro-Oncology at Northwestern University; Andrzej Dubiel at the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences; Dariusz Niedzielski, a veterinary surgeon in Wrocław; and Natasha Olby at North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine. Beverly Sturges, Pete Dickinson, Karen Vernau, Maggi Knipe, Chai-Fei Li, and Christine Toedebusch mentored me at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

FRONTIERS: I am passionate about advancing the care of canine patients with glioma, a type of devastating primary brain cancer with a grave prognosis that affects both canine and human patients at similar rates. My research focuses on uncovering pathways in the pathogenesis of these tumors to ultimately design rational therapies based on hypothesis-driven research. Part of my research is dedicated to patients with canine cognitive dysfunction, the analog of Alzheimer's disease in humans. Here, I specifically focus on the discovery of novel translational biomarkers for early detection of dementia, which may lead to effective therapeutic interventions or new therapies.

Photo of a pigeonHOBBIES: I started racing pigeons as a child—and only just stopped in 2015 when I moved to the U.S. The furthest distance my pigeons traveled was roughly 550 miles, starting in Germany around 5 a.m. and returning to my city in Poland around 9 p.m. I don’t have pigeons right now, but I know a few breeders and visit them in my free time or share advice on pigeon health. I also play piano and love beach volleyball.

I have raised and owned pigeons since I was eight years old. I started with “fancy feather type of pigeons,” specifically fantails and Polish owls. My parents were very worried about my education and grades at school, given how much time I spent with pigeons. We made a deal that if my grades declined, I’d stop with pigeons to focus on school.

Almost everyone bred and raced pigeons in the neighborhood where I grew up. I started racing the birds when I was 12 and stopped in 2015 when I moved to the U.S. The furthest distance my pigeons traveled was roughly 550 miles, starting in Germany around 5 a.m. and returning to my city in Poland around 9 p.m. I don’t have pigeons right now, but I know a few breeders to visit in my free time or share advice when they struggle with pigeon health issues.

I became a vet because of pigeon racing. There were few vets in Poland who managed racing pigeon health. My mentor, Andrzej Dubiel, wrote the only book available in Poland about pigeon diseases. I had read the book many times and decided to go to the school where he was faculty. I became a part of his student scientific association, where I worked on pigeon-related scientific projects. This is how my scientific interests and skills grew. During vet school, I discovered a passion for neurosurgery and, thanks to my many mentors, ended up as a veterinary neurosurgeon and researcher (with a strong passion for pigeons).

Aside from a love of pigeons, I have played piano for six years. I play all types of pieces, including classical and pop hits. My dream is to dive more into jazz. I’m currently working on "Autumn Leaves" and "Fly Me to the Moon."

FAVORITE QUOTE: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." —Ralph Waldo Emerson


Dr. Antonella RotoloAntonella Rotolo, MD, PhD

Research Assistant Professor of Immunology

RESEARCH: My research focuses on invariant natural killer T (iNKT)-based adoptive cell therapy, an approach to immunotherapy. I genetically modify specific blood cells to improve their ability to recognize and fight cancers. These same cells could also be used to treat and find cures for infectious diseases like severe COVID-19 infections, as well as blood stem cell transplantation complications and severe autoimmune disorders.

MENTOR: Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi-Montalcini is a tenacious clinician-scientist I met during my medical studies. As a Jew in fascist Italy, she conducted her early research secretly in her bedroom. In the U.S., her studies led to the discovery of nerve growth factor, the first identified cell-growth factor and a potential target for cancer therapy. She will always be my inspiration as a woman and scientist.

FRONTIERS: Penn is a world leader in cellular immunotherapies. I hope to establish a universal iNKT-based cellular therapy that will be generated easily in the laboratory in large quantities ahead of time, stocked like an “off-the-shelf” drug, and given to any patient without restrictions (hence “universal”) to treat life- threatening cancers, infections, and other potentially fatal diseases.

HOBBIES: Back home in Italy, my horse Nana and I have explored the mountains of the Val di Susa in Turin and beaches along the Adriatic coast. I love playing the piano. My favorite pieces are the Chopin “Waltz Op.64 No.2,” which I have won a few competitions with, and the “Nocturne Op.9 No.2,” which is close to my heart as I played it during my grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary celebration. In my free time, I also have a passion for ballet and contemporary dances, which I have been practicing since I was four.

READ, LISTEN, OR WATCH RECOMMENDATIONS: “My Stroke of Insight” TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor. It’s an inspiring message of willpower, resiliency, strength, and solidarity.