A doctoral candidate’s determination and love for equine animal sciences creates impactful research

Lauren Wesolowski was determined from an early age to put horses at the center of her life. Wesolowski, a doctoral candidate in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal Scienceshad to convince her parents, who had no background with horses, to enroll her in riding lessons at the age of 10. Now, as a graduate research assistant, she is pushing the boundaries of equine health and performance research.

Paving the way for a research career

A surprising twist from her planned path to veterinary school led Wesolowski to discover a passion for research. Now she says she has played a crucial role in the Department of Animal Sciences in preparing her for a career in equine research. Through the impressive learning experience as a graduate research assistant, Wesolowski is immersed in research directly related to her area of ​​interest and develops skills that will transition seamlessly into her professional career.

Wesolowski earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in equine pre-veterinary medicine and a minor in biology from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Late in her undergraduate studies, she discovered an interest in the research side of the horse world and decided to attend graduate school.

Lauren Wesolowski is a doctoral student in the Department of Animal Sciences researching equine exercise physiology. (thanks photo)

To maximize her graduate school experience, Wesolowski sought a job as a research assistant. She contacted professors who were researching horses and was fascinated by the work being done in the Department of Animal Sciences, especially under the direction of Sarah White-Springer, Ph.D., associate professor of equine physiology.

Finding a research focus

In the fall of 2020, Wesolowski made Aggieland her next home and began her master’s degree in animal science, focusing on equine exercise physiology.

“From elite competition horses to old metabolic horses, proper immune responses are essential for overall health,” Wesolowski said. “I want to learn how to treat and manage horses to promote an ideal immune system and inflammatory responses.”

Under White-Springer’s mentorship, Wesolowski studied the effects of nutrition on reducing chronic inflammation in thoroughbred horses during early race training. Wesolowski’s work was motivated by the need to combat the range of health problems arising from the condition.

Understanding how the immune system plays a role during an inflammatory response was a crucial part of the research.

Wesolowski explained that immune systems are complex. On the one hand, an inflammatory response signals the immune system to remove harmful pathogens from the horse’s body. However, chronic or extensive inflammatory responses can harm the body by disrupting normal cellular functions and preventing the body from returning to homeostasis. This can lead to an increased risk of injuries and a decrease in athletic performance.

Based on research that vitamins and other nutritional supplements promote inflammatory responses in humans, Wesolowski’s research examined how a mixture of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids could reduce inflammation in racehorses. The results showed a beneficial reduction in inflammation in horses given the nutritional supplement.

Lauren Wesolowski presented her research results on equine physiology and performance at the International Conference of Equine Exercise Physiology in Sweden in 2022. (thanks photo)

White-Springer described Weslowski’s research as “groundbreaking.”

“Her master’s research underlines her commitment to pushing the boundaries of our understanding of equine physiology and performance,” said White-Springer. “Most of the research procedures in this project had never been applied to horses before. Therefore, Lauren has not only conducted highly relevant and impactful research, but her findings could also shape the future of horse training and nutrition programs.”

Since beginning her graduate program as a master’s student, Wesolowski has presented research at eight conferences around the world, including conferences focused on animal science, equine science, and human health. The breadth of her research does not begin and end with horses; Wesolowski’s work spans multiple species, including cattle, sheep, pigs and rodents.

“The data and insights Lauren has generated have expanded our understanding of animal health, nutrition and performance,” said White-Springer. “In addition, her research findings have practical applications in the field of equine and cattle management, providing valuable information for an exceptional range of stakeholders.”

In her doctoral studies, Wesolowski continues to study the immune system, but she is now investigating how to promote a healthy immune system by controlling the circadian rhythm through blue light exposure.

Support from the department provides inspiration and growth

Research didn’t come naturally at first, Wesolowski said. But with a strong willingness and desire to learn, she welcomed the challenge of wearing the researcher hat. The new learning environment taught Wesolowski the importance of adaptability, learning from mistakes and moving forward.

Lauren Wesolowski (second from left) at the 2023 Equine Science Society conference with her graduate chair Sarah White-Springer, Ph.D., (third from left) and fellow graduate students. Wesolowski took third place in the graduate student oral presentation competition held during the conference. (thanks photo)

Wesolowski certainly faced challenges along the way, but she wasn’t alone. She credits faculty and department mentors for helping her overcome obstacles.

“I have learned and grown so much working with my mentors and professors in animal sciences,” she said. “When I started graduate school and research as a student, I had no idea what I was getting into. The biggest lesson I learned from my mentors is how to think, work and write like a researcher and scientist.”

She believes that the people in the department, and especially the students she works with, make it a special place to learn and do research.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about working as a research assistant is the other graduate students I’ve met along the way,” Wesolowski said. “It is incredibly fun and inspiring to work with other graduate research assistants who share my passion for animal science.”

When asked what advice she would give to a new graduate research assistant, Wesolowski said taking initiative is important.

“Professors and researchers will appreciate if you took the time to dig deeper into the literature, create the graphs for a meeting, or prepare the supplies for sample collection without being asked,” she says. “Once you understand what needs to be done in the lab, take the initiative to get it done and go the extra mile if you can.”

Emerging leader and mentor

In addition to her research efforts, Wesolowski broadens her student experience through extracurricular activities, serving as a teaching assistant, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, and participating in various professional organizations in the animal sciences and equine industry.

Lauren Wesolowski demonstrates the use of heart rate monitors on horses to a group of Texas 4-H Youth Development Program students in 2023. (thanks photo)

Wesolowski advocates for fellow students as a graduate student representative for the international equine research organization, the Equine Science Society, ESS. This role allows her to bring a student perspective to the ESS Board of Directors to shape helpful programming and resources for students. Thanks to her leadership and direction, Wesolowski coordinated and hosted five webinars for students in the first four months of her role.

“Lauren’s role as a teacher, mentor and lecturer has fostered the academic growth of countless students, demonstrating her commitment to sharing knowledge and education within the life sciences,” said White-Springer.

Wesolowski plans to graduate in May 2026 and hopes to pursue a career as a research director in the equine pharmaceutical or nutritional industry.

“I am passionate about studying the immune system because I believe this research could improve the well-being of horses at many different stages of life,” said Wesolowski.