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James Law Professor of Anatomy Appointed

Dr. FarnumDr. Cornelia Farnum has been named a James Law Professor of Anatomy, an appointment that recognizes the totality of her career, including her commitment to teaching, to research, and to service. It is particularly meaningful to her, she says, because two of her most influential mentors Drs. Alexander de Lahunta and John Cummings also held this professorship.

“Nelly is one of the College’s true inspirations,” said Dr. Judy Appleton, associate dean for academic affairs. “She is a role model for people who want to make a difference, who want to help transform their world, and who want to help others develop personally and professionally.”

Dr. Farnum joined the Cornell community in 1986 as an assistant professor, attracted to the University because of its world-renowned reputation for the strength of its anatomy program and commitment to teaching. Now a full professor, she teaches the Animal Body course every fall. This is a 12 credit, multidisciplinary course that integrates aspects of gross anatomy, microscopical anatomy, developmental anatomy, physical examination, radiology, and surgical anatomy. In the spring, she offers a variety of lectures in support of medical genetics and biomedical engineering courses.

Dr. Farnum has several NIH-supported research projects underway that study various aspects of bone elongation, a condition associated with dwarfism and limb deformities. More specifically, Dr. Farnum wants to understand the fundamental control mechanisms at different levels of skeletal integration – from the molecular to the cellular to that of the whole animal – that are responsible for coordinated long bone growth.

She became hooked on basic science soon after graduating from Stanford University and while working as a research technician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the tutelage of a husband and wife, Drs. James and Elizabeth Miller, who made fundamental research exciting.

“They told me once you’re hooked on basic science, there’s no going back,” said Dr. Farnum. “They were right.”

She is currently in the fifth year of a collaborative, interdisciplinary project that has resulted in the development of a multiphoton imaging system to study vascular access routes to growth areas of bones. The interdisciplinary research group also hopes to develop a fluorescent oxygen sensor to allow researchers to probe in real time and in vivo oxygen levels in tissues, particularly skeletal tissues.

She also is engaged in experimental research that, she says, brings her research career full-circle. As a veterinary student, she studied primary cilia, which was at the time a little known organelle that wasn’t considered particularly important. Today, it is known to be a major sensory organelle that is involved with the organization of certain tissues and is linked to kidney disease, eye issues, skeletal abnormalities, and mental deficiencies. Dr. Farnum is collaborating with other researchers across the country to develop a rapid method using pre-embedment immunocytochemistry and imaging with multiphoton microscopy to analyze the presence, incidence, and three-dimensional orientation of primary cilia on cells of multiple kinds of connective tissues.

In addition, Dr. Farnum is a co-principal investigator with a surgeon from SUNY Upstate who is studying on an anatomical basis effects of radiation on bone elongation in children.

She is frequently invited to present at national and international teaching and research conferences and is a member of several professional societies, including the Orthopaedic Research Society, the American Association of Anatomists, the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists, the American Society for Matrix Biology, and the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research. She is a referee for journals and grants and also volunteers as an external reviewer for academic and research teaching programs. She has served as a faculty marshal since 2001 and has been invited to participate on several University-wide and College-specific committees, including Cornell’s faculty governance committee and the minority education committee and the committee that established the College’s current curriculum.

“I have enjoyed the extension into the wider university context,” said Dr. Farnum. “I have tried to take advantage of every opportunity I could to participate on multiple levels and have learned from every experience. I look for meaning in every aspect of my academic life – teaching, research, and service – and seek multiple levels to find excitement, energy, and enthusiasm.”

Dr. Farnum also finds inspiration in traveling. She has visited more than two dozen countries, and explains that the best part of travelling is what she has learned about herself and about various cultures.