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Penn Vet Scientists Receive Two of Six Penn Center for Innovation Annual Commercialization Awards

By Martin Hackett Published: Dec 9, 2019
Drs. William Beltran, Susan Volk, and Gustavo Aguirre were recognized for research on suppressing breast cancer recurrence and therapies for the treatment of inherited retinal disorders.
Drs. William Beltran, Susan Volk, and Gustavo Aguirre were recognized for research on suppressing breast cancer recurrence and
therapies for the treatment of inherited retinal disorders.

[December 9, 2019; PHILADELPHIA, PA – Three researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Vet) are among the recipients of the annual Innovation awards from the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), which recognizes the six most significant scientific discoveries or partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania during the preceding twelve months. Award recipients were recognized at a reception and ceremony at the University’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts on December 3rd in Philadelphia, PA. Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Mr. Andrei Iancu, delivered opening remarks.

The Penn Vet awardees are Susan Volk, VMD, PhD, associate professor of Small Animal Surgery, and recipient of the Emerging Inventor of the Year Award for her novel method of suppressing breast cancer recurrence; William A. Beltran, DVM, MSc, PhD, professor of Ophthalmology and Gustavo D. Aguirre, VMD, PhD, professor of Medical Genetics and Ophthalmology, are joint recipients of the Inventors of the Year Award for their unparalleled approach to developing novel therapies for the treatment of inherited retinal disorders. PCI’s mission, as the University of Pennsylvania’s commercialization organization, is to help translate discoveries and ideas made at the University into new products and businesses for the benefit of Penn innovators and broader society.

“Dr. Volk, Dr. Beltran, and Dr. Aguirre espouse the highest standards of collegiality and world-class research excellence in their respective fields,” said Oliver A. Garden, Henry and Corinne R. Bower Professor of Medicine and chairman of the Department of Clinical Sciences and Advanced Medicine. “They each have amazing scientific and academic careers. Their caliber is impressive and they are critical to fulfilling Penn Vet’s mission as a leader in both animal and human health.”

Volk’s research program focuses on the reciprocal, dynamic interactions of stem and progenitor cells with the extracellular matrix, and the role progenitor and reparative cells have in regulating normal and pathological healing as part of the triad of wound healing, fibrosis, and cancer. She has identified the mechanisms by which type III collagen (Col3) promotes a regenerative response following cutaneous injury, as well as her discovery that Col3 directs stromal organization and limits metastasis in a murine model of breast cancer. Volk has also recently identified predictive collagen signatures and potential therapeutic targets in canine mammary tumors. A clinician-scientist, Volk earned her BA, VMD, and PhD in Pathology and completed her veterinary surgical training, all from the University of Pennsylvania. She obtained board-certification from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2004. In 2007, Volk was appointed assistant professor of Small Animal Surgery, and in 2018 was named associate professor. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Wound Healing Society and the North American Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Association, Volk has been actively involved in a number of other professional and scientific societies.

Beltran joined Penn Vet in 2006 as assistant professor of Ophthalmology. He was appointed associate professor of Ophthalmology in 2012, named director of the Division of Experimental Retinal Therapies in 2017, and appointed professor of Ophthalmology in 2018. His research focuses on inherited retinal degeneration, a major cause of blindness in dogs and humans worldwide. Specifically, he has investigated the signaling pathways affected by X-linked retinitis pigmentosa and autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa, two of the most common forms of inherited retinal degeneration in man. Working in canines, who suffer from forms of retinal degeneration that closely mimic the human diseases, he has helped develop effective gene therapies with promising results for treating both early- and late-stage disease. Beltran, who is a board-certified Diplomate of the European College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, earned his veterinary degree at the University of Paris and Veterinary School of Maisons-Alfort, France, his MSc in biological and medical sciences at the University of Paris, and his PhD in comparative biomedical sciences from Cornell University.

Aguirre’s internationally renowned research, generated over the course of 40+ years, has investigated the genetic basis of a variety of inherited vision disorders, including Leber’s congenital amaurosis, Best disease, achromatopsia and retinitis pigmentosa. His work on novel gene therapy approaches to treatment, which deliver to the eye a functional copy of a gene that is otherwise lacking, has restored vision in animal models of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa and Leber’s congential amaurosis. The Leber congenital amaurosis therapy is now commercialized after successful completion of human clinical trials. Aguirre is the 2017 recipient of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s Proctor Medal for his unique canine models of retinal degeneration which provide basic information about their counterpart human diseases. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Louis Braille Award for innovative research and treatment of inherited blinding diseases. Aguirre, a board-certified Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, earned his VMD and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

About Research at Penn Vet

From large to small, from molecular to systemic, research at Penn Vet continues to push the limits of basic, translational, and clinical research to develop novel therapies for animals and inform human health. Through our core areas of research, we advance solutions that address complex issues of both local and global importance.

About Penn Vet

Ranked among the top ten veterinary schools worldwide, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is a global leader in veterinary education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the first veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling more than 34,600 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles more than 6,200 patient visits a year, while our Field Services have gone out on more than 5,500 farm service calls, treating some 18,700 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

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