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Oklahoma State University

Pandemic Presents Challenges to New Faculty

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Emily Nunan, (from left) Dr. Joshua Butcher and Yemi Semola in Dr. Butcher’s lab.

Joshua Butcher, Ph.D., joined the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine in August 2019. A year later, Butcher’s workplace looks much different than he anticipated.  

“My first year has gone extraordinarily well despite the unique challenges COVID-19 has brought not just for me but for society as a whole,” said Butcher, assistant professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences. “OSU has given me the ability to do the research that I’m very passionate about and also teach physiology to veterinary students. So this is really the perfect fit for me.

“From a technical aspect, trying to build a lab during a pandemic has been a bit frustrating. Processes are a little bit slow and basic tasks take longer to do, but those are pretty trivial compared to what some people face. The science and the research I do is very much team based, which has been a bit of a challenge with social distancing. We Zoom a lot and we text. Overall, I think that the CVM family is whole and intact and I think it is the intent of our leadership to keep it that way. While there’s no doubt that COVID-19 sucks, the CVM is still a very uplifting and reassuring place to work.”

Butcher’s research focuses on obesity and the cardio-metabolic dysfunction that occurs with obesity such as high blood pressure, diabetes, vascular dysfunction and renal damage. While a frontline intervention for obesity is exercise, many people cannot exercise at a level that conveys cardio-metabolic benefit due to limitations such as time, space or financial constraints, a pandemic, or underlying diseases like obesity.

“My work looks at how the benefits of exercise can affect an obese individual,” said Butcher. “Ultimately we are trying to create an exercise mimetic so that the benefits of exercise can be conveyed to an individual without actually having to exercise. So within my research paradigm, my students work on different aspects of obesity, exercise, and skeletal muscle function.

Yemi Semola, my graduate student, works on vascular health, exercise and obesity. Emily Nunan, my veterinary student, works on skeletal muscle function in obesity and how obesity affects skeletal muscle function in males versus females. Carson Wright, my undergraduate, looks at how we can protect the kidney from obesity derived cardio-metabolic dysfunction. We’re trying to find a novel mechanism by which we can protect the renal vasculature from hypertension, from diabetes, and specifically from the damage that might occur from the excess salt in our diet.”

Recently Dr. Butcher received a K01 grant. This mentored career development award is designed to allow individuals to train in a new field.

“Oklahoma has a wealth of expertise in the field of aging,” said Butcher. “So in my case, I was able to build a team of mentors from Oklahoma State University, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and the University of Oklahoma that will allow me to extensively train in the field of aging over the next five years. Ultimately, I hope that my work will lay the foundation for the aging population in the U.S. and worldwide to live longer, healthier lives and we can uncouple obesity from its consequences and thus allow the population to age free from illness and disease.”

As the fall semester begins, Butcher has very clear goals.

“Survive – that’s number one,” he said. “Outside of that, I would love to see some of the preliminary data that we have round out and go into publication over the next year or two. The other thing I would really love to do is recruit another graduate student. There is a lot of work still to be done.”

To stay updated, please visit Dr. Butcher’s laboratory on Facebook or Instagram.

If you are interested in supporting the future of veterinary medicine at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, please contact Ashley Hesser, assistant director of development with the OSU Foundation, at ahesser@osugiving.com or (405) 385-0715.

CONTACT: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 | derinda@okstate.edu

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