Notice the determined look in Iowa State veterinary researcher Heather Greenlee’s eye? It’s because Greenlee is bound and determined to learn all there is to know about cow retinas. Specifically, how these retinas can help with early identification of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). This research, which is in collaboration with the USDA’s National Animal Disease Center, is helping to identify BSE up to 11 months before infected animals show any signs of illness.

When it comes to food safety, this could have big implications. That’s because BSE is an untreatable neurodegenerative disorder that can incubate for years before any symptoms are detectable. Greenlee said the screening methods used in this research could be used for animals tagged for import or export as a way to identify BSE sooner than other conventional methods.

But treatment for animals isn’t all this research adventure holds. It also could help lead to faster diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in humans. “Our goal is to develop our understanding of the retina to monitor disease progression and to move diagnoses up earlier,” said Greenlee. “We think this research has the potential to improve diagnosis for a range of species and a range of diseases.” In other words, it’s research that could one day change the world.

At Iowa State, researchers are making exciting headway in all kinds of fields, from infectious diseases to climate change and more. And what’s even more exciting is that Iowa State students have the opportunity to learn from – and even join – these research endeavors. All they have to do is keep their eyes open for adventure.