May 26, 2011

'Ironman' veterinarian bridges gap between Japanese and U.S. veterinary worlds

For Koji Yasuda, B.S. '05, M.S. '07, DVM '11, just communicating a need to people in positions of power is not enough. Everyone, he says, has the power "and obligation" to make a difference.

For Yasuda, that power comes from his triple-degreed Cornell education. The need he saw was the stark difference he observed between methods of practicing veterinary medicine in America and those used in his home country of Japan.

He met the "obligation" to make a difference by founding the Veterinary Medicine International Exploration Program, which brought 19 students from 11 Japanese veterinary colleges to spent a week in America in summer 2009; in summer 2010, it hosted 11 Japanese students; and in March 2011 it hosted 10.

While here, the students learned about the role of veterinarians in the United States and trends in the profession, completed clinical rotations in Cornell's veterinary teaching hospital and visited the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, N.Y., and the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California-Davis.

"Cornell students receive tremendous value from the experience," said Alfonso Torres, associate dean for public policy. "The exchange of information, cultures and perspectives is invaluable."

Yasuda, age 28, who grew up in Japan until age 15 and then attended a boarding school in New Hampshire before attending Cornell in 2001, will begin a three-year comparative pathology residency at the New England Primate Research Center at Harvard Medical School in June. "I will be living my dream after graduation," said Yasuda. "I will continue the exchange program, and I will also be gaining the knowledge I need to bridge what I believe is another opportunity for eye-opening dialogue and exchange: between human medicine and veterinary medicine."

Koji's training in veterinary pathology will allow him to understand the processes and causes of animal diseases, many of which can offer insights into human diseases.

"Working with scientists, physicians and veterinarians, I hope to put together a program and working project that will allow us to understand the interface between humans, animals and our environment/ecosystem: the 'one health' concept," said Yasuda.

His resume speaks to his commitment and leadership at this interface. He has completed internships with the World Health Organization in the Philippines and Laos in the midst of the H5N1 and H1N1 influenza outbreaks, was involved in a research project with Dr. David Relman at Stanford University School of Medicine in an effort to understand the role that indigenous microbial populations may play in health and diseases, and conducted pathology and translational research projects at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the New England Primate Research Center at Harvard Medical School.

Combining his master's research work with Xingen Lei, professor of animal science at Cornell, and various faculties at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, Yasuda has authored nine peer-reviewed scientific articles, serving as the first author for five of these, and is already an ad hoc reviewer for three journals. He is also a co-class representative and curriculum chair in his graduating class at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

"We have so much to do in the world," said Yasuda. "When I look around, I see excellence and intelligence and compassion. It would be my honor to help channel it toward the greater good."

Another example of such efforts: Yasuda raised more than $7,000 to support the Japan disaster relief efforts by participating in the May 14 inaugural Thomas Cook Ironman 70.3 Mallorca (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13-mile run) in Spain.

"Events like this remind us just how fragile life can be and how lucky we are to be able to do the things we do," Yasuda wrote on his fundraising page.

Stephanie Specchio is director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.