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 Vet Visionary. Story by Alan Bavley.

 

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In 2001, Narfstrom began performing the delicate surgery to inject the virus into the retinas of her Briards. The results were more than just encouraging: The new genes assimilated quickly and the dogs' retinas began producing rhodopsin. "It was really great," Narfstrom says. "After three or four weeks, the dogs could see. They started to use their eyes and not just their noses."

Inspired by these results, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are now working on clinical trials that will use the same techniques on people with LCA. "My dream now," Narfstrom says, "is to do similar studies on the [Abyssinian] cats. To me, gene transfer is one of the most exciting things."

Based on her track record, she hopes to get a research grant to support the work. "I'm just trying to gear up with money, cats and publications," she says.

Narfstrom's past successes were the reason Cecil Moore, now interim dean of the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, invited her to apply for the school's endowed chair. At the time of the offer, Narfstrom was ready for a change. She was a professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, where she had risen through the ranks and served as vice dean of the veterinary college for several years.

"I realized I had come to a limit there," she says. "Their resources weren't that good. I had the opportunity here in Columbia to really continue with the [research] models I had and do something really worthwhile." So she and her husband, Stem Wiechel, a large-animal veterinarian, and their youngest son pulled up stakes and moved to Missouri.

Narfstrom has made such moves before. Growing up, she led a nomadic life as her father, a civil engineer, moved her family first to the Philippines and later to Colombia. She attended 13 different schools, sometimes two in a single year. She didn't settle in Sweden until she was 16. "I feel more international than Swedish," she says.

In her teens, Narfstrom considered becoming a doctor, but a summer job working with the ill and elderly at a nursing home discouraged her. During another summer job at a kennel, however, she was told that she had "good hands for animals," she says.

That started her thinking about a career as a veterinarian. And she's had no second thoughts: "I don't regret at all not becoming a doctor working with human patients. I think I've been able to do so much. And it's been rewarding, really."

       
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Published by the Office of Research.

©2007 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.