Projects seeking applicants

Below are some of the currently available research opportunities for PhD and MS applicants. Applicants for these projects must still adhere to the standard admission process for the intended degree. 

Learn more about our programs and apply today!

Please email the listed contact person for more information.  Prospective applicants are not limited to just these projects, however, and should review our faculty web pages to examine the wide range of research activities at the College of Veterinary Medicine.  If you have an interest in a specific project or faculty advisor, indicate this in your personal statement. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact individual faculty working in a research focus area of interest to them, or contact our Office of Graduate Programs for more information on potential research opportunities.

Comparative genomics PhD

The Equine Genetics and Genomics Laboratory is seeking applicants interested in working on a research project investigating cardiac arrhythmias in racehorses, mentored by Drs. Sian Akhurst and Molly McCue. Our goal is to reduce the rate of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in equine and human athletes by developing methods to identity individuals at increased risk of SCD using the horse as a translational model. During this project we will perform ECGs before, during, and after exercise, and echocardiography on Standardbred and Thoroughbred racehorses. We will then determine if: 1) resting ECGs can be used to identify horses that develop arrhythmias at exercise; and 2) putative arrhythmia-causing variants are associated with horses that have arrhythmias and/or develop SCD.

Please review the PhD in Comparative Genomics project description (doc) for additional information.

To learn more, contact Dr. Sian Akhurst.

Comparative medicine and pathology

We are accepting applications from veterinarians seeking state-of-the-art research training in Comparative Medicine and animal models of human disease. This is an NIH comparative medicine and pathology training program that will provide sufficient broad based knowledge, quality communication skills, and advanced research training essential for a career as an independent investigator. Areas of study include cell biology, infectious disease, neurobiology, physiology, genetic diseases, molecular biology, and pharmacology. 

Requirements: Applicants must be US citizens or non citizen national with permanent residency status and graduates of an accredited veterinary school. 

To learn more: visit or contact Yorie Smart

Drug discovery for protozoan parasites

Our lab is focused on identifying new compounds effective against the protozoan parasites Cryptosporidium and Toxoplasma.  We look for new compounds in marine natural products.  Potential projects would include screening natural product libraries for new compounds, mechanism of action studies, characterization of compound's anti-parasitic activity.

To learn more, contact Dr. Rob O'Connor.

Ecology of chronic wasting disease

We seek an outstanding student to pursue a MS or PhD research project to advance the study of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the environment and in partnership with Tribal Nations. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a neurological, degenerative disease called a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that may affect deer, moose, and elk. The Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach conducts research into CWD diagnostic test development, environmental detection and surveillance, and outreach development to better equip managers, policy makers, and our communities in controlling CWD. In partnership with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, we are seeking a student for a project to explore the interplay between tribal cultural practices (e.g., brain tanning of hides) and CWD risk and/or spread.

To learn more, contact Dr. Tiffany Wolf.

Foreign animal disease epidemiology

The Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) is offering three fully-funded positions for PhD students interested in developing their thesis projects on foreign animal disease epidemiology. The project may include opportunities for international travel to collect data in Africa and / or South East Asia and to present research results at international conferences. 

Requirements: US National

To learn more, read the complete project description (pdf) and contact Dr. Andres Perez.

Hematopoietic cell transplantation

My position as a clinical-scientist is to recognize “gaps” in our understanding in both basic science and clinical arenas. I employ a “bedside to bench, back to bed” approach in my work. My work is unified by the study of the biology surrounding the hematopoietic system following hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT). Each area that I focus on has both a clinical and laboratory component: brain engraftment, graft failure after HCT, stem cell homing, the biology & biomarkers of metabolic storage disease including mucopolysaccharidosis type-IH, and Adrenoleukodystrophy. In engraftment studies, I try to understand how the microenvironment influences recruitment of hematopoietic stem cells to the marrow. In rare metabolic diseases (MPS-1H, Hunter Syndrome ALD, MLD, etc) I try to improve HCT for the treatment of these diseases. I also try to develop biomarkers associated with disease that can predict outcomes. Finally, my lab studies how oxidative stress affects the above disease conditions and specifically trying to understand how oxidative stress changes the function of the hematopoietic system. 

To learn more, contact Dr. Troy Lund

HIV immunopathogenesis

We are looking for individuals to join us in our efforts to cure HIV. We are focused on understanding HIV immunopathogenesis and developing a cure. We found that HIV-specific cytotoxic lymphocytes, whose job it is to track down and kill virally infected cells, are largely excluded from lymphoid B cell follicles where HIV producing cells are most concentrated.  This suggests that B cell follicles are somewhat of an immune privileged site that allows ongoing viral replication. We are working now to develop a cellular immunotherapy to target HIV-specific CTL to B cell follicles to allow an HIV infected individual's own immune system to control HIV replication in the absence of antiretroviral drugs.  

To learn more, contact Dr. Pamela Skinner.

Immunity at the fetal-maternal interface

Inflammation is a common driver of fetal loss and premature delivery during pregnancy. Although some pathogens may directly cause damage to the fetus, many studies have suggested that excessive inflammation associated with infection of the placenta can be damaging in itself. Natural killer T cells (NKT) are a special class of lymphocytes that recognize lipid antigens as opposed to peptide antigens that conventional T cells recognize. Preliminary data in mice suggests they are involved in protecting the developing placenta from damage during microbial infection. We seek to understand what pathogen(s) is involved, and how NKT cells achieve protection. This research will aid in understanding what causes miscarriage, growth restriction, and pre-term birth. 

To learn more, contact: Dr. Kristin Hogquist

Infectious agent epidemiology

High impact pathogens of livestock threaten animal health and food security.  We seek a graduate student with an interest in the epidemiology of foreign animal diseases, such as Foot and Mouth Disease, African Swine Fever, or Classical Swine Fever.

Preferred: US nationals with a DVM degree as international travel for meetings and research will be expected. Learn more about the research (doc). 

To learn more, contact: Dr. Andres Perez

The interface between animal-based medical research and animal well-being

The Preclinical Research Center uses an integrated interdisciplinary approach to address issues in human and animal health and well-being. The lab has a unique focus on developing methods to understand immunometabolism towards innovative therapies for diseases with high public health impact (e.g. diabetes, obesity, and infectious disease), and providing solutions to improve the efficacy and well-being of animal models.  Current projects include 1) the impacts of behavioral management on coping, physiology and well-being of primates, and 2) development of predictive biomarkers and regenerative medicine in primates-to reverse metabolic disease, induce immune tolerance, and replace damaged cells through xenotransplantation.  

Interested students should apply to MS or PhD program and review admission criteria. Encouraged to indicate interest in the project in personal statement.

Additional questions, contact the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Office of Graduate Programs

NIH training grant in neuroimmune pharmacology

This training grant supports students studying aspects of behavior, neurobiology, and immunology, particularly as it relates to infection and drug addiction. 

Requirements: US citizenship or permanent residency. 

Please visit the PharmacoNeuroImmunology Program website for more information.

To learn more, contact Yorie Smart.

Pediatric cancers: osteosarcomas and neuroblastomas

The Largaespada lab is seeking graduate students interested in the molecular drivers of osteosarcoma metastasis and chemoresistance in the lung metastatic niche, the role of hyaluronic acid in cancer drug responses, and the role of a novel oncogene called FOXR2 in pediatric neuroblastoma.  

To learn more, contact Dr. David Largaespada

Veterinary public health scientist training

The Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) is the veterinary public health (VPH) service unit of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. We are seeking a candidate for a combined PhD/VPH residency program. The focus of research for the PhD will be a problem of VPH importance.  After completing the preliminary PhD examination and while working on the final chapters of the dissertation, the student would initiate a 2-year VPH residency program that will help them gain field experience and leadership skills in Public Health. Candidates for this position are required to hold DVM and MPH degrees.  

To learn more, contact Dr. Andres Perez

Viral infection and placental function

Infection is a leading cause of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including premature birth, developmental disability, and pregnancy loss. While most viral infections are controlled by maternal, placental, and fetal immunity, a handful of viruses can replicate in the placenta with potentially devastating consequences. We use a combination of in vitro and in vivo models to understand how cytomegalovirus and other significant causes of placental infection disrupt normal placental development and function. We seek to understand how the development of the placenta and the fetal immune system affect the susceptibility of the placenta to infection across gestation and whether fetal and placental injury is a direct consequence of viral replication in trophoblasts and other placental cells or indirectly caused by the immune response to viruses.

To learn more about our team, please contact Dr. Craig Bierle or visit

Respiratory Virus and Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health and select academic partners, including Dr. Thielen, were selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to join a new academic-public health partnership, the Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence network. This network will focus on modernizing the public health system’s disease-investigation capabilities by integrating next generation sequencing and other advanced microbial detection technologies within CDC and in state and local public health systems. The project led by Dr. Thielen will focus on using novel molecular diagnostic techniques to describe the epidemiology of respiratory pathogens and antimicrobial resistance longitudinally in the region. Biological specimens for these studies will be obtained from one of three pathways: (1) submission of specimens from participants in a perspective longitudinal, household-based cohort study, (2) collection of specimens obtained from participants consented as part of a clinician-identified outbreak investigation, or (3) de- identified residual specimens obtained from the MHealth Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory (IDDL). We are seeking students interested in developing new laboratory and computational tools to more rapidly and effectively use these data to inform the public health response.

To learn more, contact Dr. Beth Thielen. More information about the lab can be found at

Molecular epidemiology of swine viruses

Research in the VanderWaal lab aims to understand the dynamics of virus spread through animal populations (primarily swine), focusing on quantifying underlying drivers and overarching consequences of pathogen evolution for disease transmission and epidemiology. By applying quantitative tools to elucidate and predict disease dynamics, the ultimate outcome of this research aims to facilitate data-informed decision making, enhance disease preparedness, and optimize surveillance and control measures. Current projects primarily focus on viruses affecting swine in the U.S., including PRRS, PED, among others. Students in this lab primarily pursue projects related to data analysis and modeling, thus strong quantitative skills are necessary.

To learn more, contact Dr. Kim Vanderwaal. More info about the lab can be found at

Viral ecology and evolution

The VanderWaal lab is recruiting a talented PhD student who is excited about combining computational tools and field data from food animal systems to address practical questions about the interplay between virus evolution, immunity, and epidemiology. More info can be found at