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July 21, 2015

For Additional Information, contact:
Kyle Partain, 303-771-3500, ext. 55,

DENVER, Colo. – Sheep producers all across the United States could benefit in the coming years from the work of Alisha Massa, DVM, which is why she was awarded the annual Sheep Heritage Foundation Memorial Scholarship.

The Washington State University Ph.D. candidate received a $2,500 scholarship – the largest scholarship ever awarded by the foundation. A Michigan native, Massa graduated from Michigan State University (bachelor of science, 2008) and the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine (DVM, 2014). She had to leave her horses at home when she made the cross-country journey to Washington state, but chose WSU because of the school’s reputation for studying infectious diseases in food animals.

“I’m really interested in studying infectious diseases and I felt like the best fit for me was with Dr. Stephen White with the USDA (ARS-Animal Disease Research Unit) in Washington,” Massa said. “I’ve been out here about six months now and I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it.”

Along with Dr. White and others at the lab, Massa is studying ovine progressive pneumonia, which is caused by an ovine lentivirus similar to human immunodeficiency disease. OPP causes pneumonia, wasting, mastitis and arthritis with no effective treatments or vaccines.

“It’s really prevalent in the large range flocks that we have out west,” she said. “We’ve found the region of the sheep genome that is responsible for a lower incidence of the virus.”

But the work won’t stop there, according to Dr. White in his recommendation letter for Massa.

“The genetic region contains four genes and no one yet knows which one or ones are responsible for suppressing viral replication,” he wrote. “With this information, sheep producers could breed sheep to be even more resistant to OPP, because it will show how to improve the existing genetic test.”

Massa’s immediate goals include settling into her research, teaching some classes, looking to get her work published and spending as much time as possible among the school’s multiple flocks.

WSU also works with the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho, so she hopes congressional funding for the station will continue in the years to come.

Massa was somewhat surprised to win the scholarship given that she’s just getting started on her research. Additional funding for the Sheep Heritage Foundation meant Massa picked up $1,000 more in scholarship funds than the 2014 recipient.

“There are certainly ways I can put that extra money to use,” she said. “I’m really pleased and flattered to have won such a prestigious scholarship.”

While she spent time in veterinary school working with local vets, Massa said the research side has always been a draw.

“I just love to get into the lab and do experiments,” she said. “It gives me a chance to get away from a desk and a computer and really be hands-on. I love working with all the technicians in our lab, too.”

ASI is an equal opportunity employer. It is the national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 79,500 sheep producers.

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