MEET THE WINNERS:
Christoph Leineweber
and Anke Cordula Stöhr

Nominated by the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians


The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their specialized research to the public. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question:

"What are the broader implications of your work, and how does your work impact the public at large?"

Responses were judged for their relevance and clarity. Read below to read Christoph Leineweber and Anke Cordula Stöhr's winning summary, and learn more about their research.


Helping to Understand and Save Tortoises
by Studying Their Blood

Aldabra giant tortoise
Photo courtesy of Anke Cordula Stöhr

Hibernation is important for the health of many species like the Hermann's tortoise and for their survival during the cold winter season. Tortoises that cannot hibernate often develop liver and kidney diseases and have a reduced reproductive activity. Our results show that seasons (changing temperature and light cycle) and sex influence the whole body of the tortoise, as seen in changes in their blood values over the course of the year. We don't yet know much about the physiology and blood values of many reptile species. But knowledge about normal values in healthy individuals are the basis for conservation and for diagnosing disease.

But why study Hermann's tortoises? These animals are often kept as pets and are ambassadors for the conservation of declining wild populations of this and other reptile and amphibian species. Due to global warming and other environmental changes, many reptile species are globally declining, while data for many others is not available. Since reptiles cannot self-regulate their body temperatures, they are particularly sensitive to such changes. The results of our study extend the knowledge of reptile physiology, providing information that can be used in future studies in wild animal populations to maintain biodiversity, and help to improve the veterinary treatment of loved individual reptile patients.

This summary is in reference to:

Changes in Plasma Chemistry Parameters in Hermann's Tortoises (Testudo hermanni) Influenced by Season and Sex
Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, 29(3-4): 113-122. 2019.
Christoph Leineweber, Anke C. Stöhr, Sabine Öfner, Karina Mathes, Rachel E. Marschang


A photograph of Christoph Leineweber.

Christoph Leineweber
Nominated by the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians

Christoph Leineweber grew up in Wingerode, Germany. He became an environmental technician and then studied veterinary medicine at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, where he graduated with a degree of Veterinary Medicine (Vet. med.) in 2016. Since May 2016, he has been working as a veterinarian for clinical pathology at the diagnostic laboratory Laboklin GmbH & Co. KG in Bad Kissingen, Germany.

He is in the process of completing his dissertation (German Doktorarbeit) in a joint program between the diagnostic laboratory Laboklin and the Clinic for Small Mammals, Reptiles and Birds of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover and expects to finish in the summer of 2020. The topic of the dissertation is “Blood parameters in chelonians with a particular focus on thyroid hormone levels and the influence of season, sex, iodine, and protein composition of the blood on those levels, as well as clinical chemistry parameters.”  He has published scientific papers on chelonian clinical chemistry as well as on clinical chemistry of other exotic pet species in several journals and has presented at several national and international veterinary conferences.


What drew you to your current research field?

I have been interested in reptiles, amphibians, and birds since I was a child. I used to go to the local lakes every spring to see the pollywogs and other amphibians swim. I have always felt at home outdoors and enjoy observing the changes in nature throughout the year. It has always been my dream to be a veterinary and to learn more about exotic animals and to be able help them. After school, I began to work in a laboratory and discovered my love for this area of diagnostic medicine. Today, I am combining both in my work in laboratory medicine and research as my way of contributing to the improvement of veterinary diagnostics in order to help animals.


Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?

Before I began to study veterinary medicine, I met Dr. Karina Mathes in 2008. She raised my enthusiasm for reptile medicine and after I completed my studies, she supervised my dissertation and brought me into contact with Dr. Rachel Marschang, which was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration and the beginning of my research in the field of veterinary diagnostics of exotic animals. I began to work together with Rachel in the lab, she is supervising my dissertation and has included me in further research projects. She has motivated and supported me whenever she can and has made it possible for me to publish my results in international journals and to presented at conferences all over the world. She is the best mentor I could imagine and has contributed a lot to my great research in the last years. Without her this were not possible.


What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?

Reptiles inhabited this planet a long time bevor humans existed, but many of their species are vulnerable. Reptile physiology is very different from that of mammals, especially the fact that they cannot self-regulate their body temperature and that they are more susceptible to climatic changes. In our study of a popular tortoise species often kept as pets, we showed that the different seasons influence the body organs and blood. The specific reference intervals that we established will help in diagnosing disease in ill tortoise. Many people dislike snakes and other reptiles, but these animals are a very interesting and important part of our world, and increased knowledge of them and their physiology is helpful for veterinary medicine and conservation and can also be useful for other medical research.


If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?

Specialists in reptile medicine are irregularly distributed throughout the world, so opportunities to perform research may be limited, as is financial support for such research. Young scientists should therefore be flexible, ambitious, never surrender and should take every chance they get to start research in exotic animal medicine. International conferences and organizations are great opportunities for coming into contact with other fantastic researchers, for making new contacts and friendships, for dipping into exotic animal research and for collecting information and new impressions.


A photograph of Anke Cordula Stöhr.

Anke Cordula Stöhr
Nominated by the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians

Anke Cordula Stöhr grew up in Freiburg i. Brsg., Germany, studied veterinary medicine at the University of Leipzig, and graduated with a degree of Veterinary Medicine (Vet. med.) in 2008. She then worked multiple years as a small animal and exotics veterinarian in different animal hospitals and clinics in Germany and was certified as a Specialist for Reptile Medicine (Zusatzbezeichnung Reptilien) by the Veterinary Board of Baden-Württemberg, Germany in 2012.

She also performed different research projects including “Diagnosis and characterization of ranaviruses in reptiles and amphibians in Germany” and “Establishment of reference values for the detection of thyroid diseases in tortoises and turtles”, authored multiple scientific publications and presented her work at national and international conferences. She was then accepted as a Zoological Medicine Resident with a concurrent graduate program in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University in 2017. She is expected to graduate with a Master of Science degree for her work on “Establishment of laboratory methods to assess the application of blood transfusions in reptiles” in May 2020 and to sit the examination for board certification as a Diplomate of the European College for Zoological Medicine (Herpetology) in spring 2021.


What drew you to your current research field?

During my first work experience as a vet student in a specialized reptile practice, an elderly woman presented her Hermann’s tortoise, which had been treated for several weeks by a general practitioner with a medication that is known to cause severe renal side effects in chelonians. The animal could not be saved and needed to be humanely euthanized at this point. During this highly emotional process, the pet owner reported that she had obtained the tortoise as a present from her grandmother when she was a child, and described how she shared the next 70 years with her, while almost all her human friends died. This heartbreaking loss of a friend, which had accompanied the woman during her complete life, caused by accidental fatal mistreatment by a poorly educated veterinarian appalled me deeply. I decided to learn as much as possible about the highly diverse group of reptiles, keep them as pets at home, and to help improving the general knowledge of their needs and diseases. I soon understood that this is not only beneficial for veterinary patients, but that a multi-disciplinary approach is required to maintain species diversity.


Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?

While reaching out to multiple academic institutions in Germany to find an opportunity to perform veterinary-related research in reptiles, I got in contact with Dr. Rachel Marschang in 2009. She welcomed me in her lab, allowed me to perform multiple research study on reptile viruses, aroused my passion for virology and my general interest in research, introduced me to the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV), encouraged me to join international conferences and to present my work there, as well as to publish my findings in international journals. She also introduced me to other leading veterinarians in the field, encouraged me to apply for a residency position in the USA, and supported me in any possible way. She was the best mentor I could imagine and is also a wonderful person and friend. I am forever grateful for everything she did for me. My career path would have been much different and less exciting without her.


What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?

Reptiles are a highly diverse group of cold-blooded animals and a lot of them a threatened or already extinct. Their physiology is very different from most mammals and is influenced by different factors. In comparison to dogs, cats and farm animals, veterinary knowledge in reptiles is limited and basic research is needed to understand what is normal for them and when they are sick. During this project, we looked at changes of blood parameters during different seasons in a tortoise species that is commonly kept as a pet and is also declining in the wild. This is not only important to treat pet tortoises adequately, but also for conservation.


If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?

The number of veterinarians that have a broad knowledge on reptile medicine is growing and most understand the need for evidence-based research. However, in comparison to specialists in other fields of veterinary medicine they are irregularly distributed throughout the world and opportunities to perform research may be limited depending on where you are from. Financial support for such research is also limited and unevenly distributed globally. Join international organizations, be proactive in introducing yourself, remain flexible and ready to jump on an opportunity when it opens. Most veterinarians focusing on reptiles are awesome people and are happy to help!


CONTACT INFORMATION

Christoph Leineweber
christoph.leineweber@tiho-hannover.de

Anke Cordula Stöhr
anke@lsu.edu

For information about the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians, please visit their website:

Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians


For questions about BioOne or the BioOne Ambassador award, please contact:

Katie Kaefer
katie@BioOne.org


Read the rest of the winning summaries →