Baker Institute for Animal Health


Bicknese Family Prize

Joanne Bicknese, '75, DVM '78, established the Bicknese Family Prize in 2005 in honor of her parents Helen and Louis Bicknese, and her aunt and uncle, Grace and Carl Bicknese. The award supports a woman scientist-in-training during a key point in her career development. 

Congratulations to the 2022 Bicknese Family Prize Winner

Hear from Yining Sun, Master of Public Health (MPH) student with a concentration in Infectious Disease Epidemiology, in the Goodman lab about her time at Cornell, and the research she is part of at the Baker Institute.

Yining Sun, Master of Public Health (MPH) student with a concentration in Infectious Disease Epidemiology, in the Goodman lab.

Q: Can you describe your area of research and a little about your time in the Goodman lab?

I have been training in Dr. Laura Goodman’s lab since last April 2022. I will continue working in Goodman lab as a trainee while doing my capstone project for the rest of my master’s degree.

My research is mainly focused on the area of pathogen discovery, including coronavirus discovery in horses and wildlife, and the detection of vector-borne pathogens.

For the coronavirus discovery projects, I used nested pan-coronavirus PCR to detect the virus from animal tissue and blood samples. Together with my lab mates, we have screened over 200-samples and detected both alphacoronavirus and betacoronavirus in mesomammals, such as bobcats, white-tailed deer and red fox. We also found Luchacovirus, a subgenus within the Alphacoronavirus genus that was usually found in rodents and rabbits, in mesocarnivores for the first time, indicating a potential spillover across species. I am currently working on the development and validation of detection methods for vector-borne pathogens. Using hybrid capture next-generation sequencing technique, we aim to develop panels capable of detecting multiple vector-borne pathogens, which can be used to detect both known and newly emerging pathogens. The panels will be useful in studying vector-borne disease epidemiology, evolution, and ecology in both human and animal populations.

Q: What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the Bicknese scholarship?

Being the recipient of the Bicknese Family Prize has motivated me to keep exploring science as a female scientist-in-training and doing my bit to promote human and animal health. This award also gave me a lot of courage and confidence to apply for graduate schools. I will use the prize to go to conferences and events related to infectious disease evolution and ecology, including this year’s annual meeting hosted by Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-borne Diseases in May.  

Q: How did you come to do your research in the Goodman lab and the Baker Institute?

I met with Dr. Goodman at her 2022 MPH seminar, and got the chance to know her research projects on coronavirus discovery and influenza virus surveillance, and other amazing projects on bacteria. I have been very interested in zoonotic diseases, especially those caused by viruses, since my undergraduate in China, where I majored in Veterinary Medicine. I reached out to her after her talk and expressed my interest in her lab as well as my intention to do a Ph.D. after graduating from the MPH program. Dr. Goodman was very nice and agreed to take me in as a research trainee.

Q: What interests you about veterinary medicine/research?

I guess it is natural for me as the only child in my family to love having animals as “siblings”. My parents are very supportive of this idea, so I am very lucky to have had dogs and cats as my family members since I was ten. I love them, and I want to know more about them other than their loveliness. Therefore, I studied veterinary medicine in college (people can study vet med during undergrad in China). I became interested in zoonotic infectious diseases when taking microbiology class in my sophomore year. In the same year, I joined a lab that studied viral diseases in birds and was amazed by the world under the microscope when I was checking my cells. My journey in science started then.

Q: What do you enjoy about being a part of the Baker Institute and Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine?

I have had robust training in molecular biology, epidemiology and disease ecology and explored my research interest under Dr. Goodman’s mentorship, who is always inspiring, encouraging, and accessible. Besides research, Goodman Lab is also a very inclusive and supportive group. I enjoy interacting with my lab mates from different cultural backgrounds and sharing all the interesting stories and life experiences with each other.

Q: Just for fun, what is something most people don’t know about you?

I can play Pipa (six years of learning experience in primary school, and I am certificated), a traditional Chinese string instrument.

Q: What pets do you have?

Currently, I have two cats and one dog, and they are all in China.

Congratulations to the 2021 Bicknese Family Prize Winner 

Arianna Bartlett, a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle is the recipient of this year's Bicknese Family Prize and the Liz Hanson Graduate Fellowship, for her innovative research on mammary cancer in cats. She is using a unique comparative approach to figure out how horses, which rarely develop the disease, bypass the formation of mammary cancer, to find potential therapies for cats.

"It was my greatest pleasure to nominate Arianna for these awards, as she is a very talented female scientist who is committed to achieving the highest level of success in her research, education and outreach," said Van de Walle, an associate professor at the Baker Institute.

Bartlett takes mammary tissue samples from cats and horses, grows their cells in the lab and exposes them to carcinogens to compare how they deal with DNA damage. Specifically, she looks at differences between the two species in microRNA expression in response to carcinogens. microRNAs are small RNA molecules that play a role in cancer by regulating which genes are turned on and off.

"Even though cells from both animals undergo DNA damage, they have different responses," Bartlett said. Damaged cat cells continue living and dividing, but horse cells die off. "We think that feline mammary cells repair their DNA damage and that might make them more prone to harboring mutations that could lead to the development of cancer. Horses escape mammary cancer development because they get rid of those damaged cells." She says the differences in microRNA expression may underlie these distinct responses.

The Bicknese Prize has enabled Bartlett to purchase data analysis software and to attend the 2022 Gordon Research Conference on Mammary Gland Biology in Italy. In 2005, Dr. Joanne Bicknese established the Bicknese Family Prize in honor of her parents, aunt and uncle, to help women at the institute take steps to advance their research careers.

The Liz Hanson Scholarship, awarded by the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, is a one-year grant that supports graduate students studying feline disease or injuries.

Ultimately, Bartlett aims to stay in academia so that she can run her own lab focusing on stem cell and disease research and continue teaching and mentoring students.

Dr. Joanne Bicknese, BS ’75, DVM ’78 Supporting the Institute from All Angles  

Dr. Joanne Bicknese, a longtime Advisory Council member, has taken an active role in supporting the Institute’s research and careers of its most promising trainees. She brings her expertise as a large animal veterinarian and more than three decades working for biomedical companies to the Council, which she chaired from 2000 to 2006.

Bicknese joined the Council in 1998 after meeting then-director Dr. Douglas Antczak. He opened her eyes to the incredible breadth of research occurring at the Institute – from immunology to genetics and parasites – and how it benefits not just pets, but horses, farm animals and people. In 2006, she received the Institute’s Founders’ Award.  Read more...