To some it may seem unlikely that a two-time graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM) at Virginia Tech would go on to teach and do research at a human medical school. To Kristin Eden, it makes perfect sense.

The three-time Hokie and veterinary pathologist recently began a new journey after completing her Ph.D. focusing on translational inflammation and cancer biology at VMCVM — just down the road in Roanoke with the majority of her time at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM). For 10 weeks out of the year, she will serve as an attending pathologist at VMCVM in Blacksburg.

Eden received her bachelor’s degree cum laude in biochemistry from Virginia Tech in 2006 and her D.V.M. degree from VMCVM in 2010. She then completed a three-year veterinary anatomic pathology residency at Texas A&M University and became a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists in 2013 before returning to her alma mater to pursue her Ph.D.

“I always loved medicine and biochemistry and problem-solving,” Eden said of her multidisciplinary background. “But I wanted to get into something hands-on because biochemistry and research by itself seemed so theoretical, and I thought, ‘Okay, what does this mean for actual health? What does this mean for people?’ I was always the person who wanted to know more about how diseases happen and why they happen.”

In her new role as an assistant professor with VTCSOM in the Department of Basic Science Education, Eden will contribute her expertise as a veterinarian, researcher, and pathologist through teaching and translational research, educating medical students and accelerating the generation of new knowledge that will improve health outcomes for all species.

At VTCSOM, Eden will also continue her research on inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer, which was the focus of her Ph.D. work in the laboratory of Irving Coy Allen, assistant professor of inflammatory disease in the veterinary college’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. There, she investigated the relationship between inflammation and cancer in the gastrointestinal tract.

This past year, Eden, Allen and several other lab members received honors and accolades for identification of a novel biochemical signaling pathway that drives inflammation in eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs in the upper gastrointestinal tract. The project’s manuscript, with Eden as first author, was selected for the cover publication in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms.

Eden’s honors related to this research also include the American Society for Investigative Pathology/American College of Veterinary Pathologists Experimental Biology Presentation Award, the American Association of Immunologists Trainee Abstract Award, and the Virginia Tech Graduate Student Association Gold Award for Best Oral Presentation.

Allen noted that the impact of Eden’s work extends beyond her research accomplishments. “She also has a passion for pathology, mentorship, and education that will continue to benefit the students at both VTCSOM and VMCVM. I look forward to seeing what the future brings to Kristin and watching her succeed in her new endeavors,” he said. 

Eden’s past roles as a graduate student mentor at VMCVM and clinical teacher during her residency helped her realize her desire to stay in academia and teach. What attracted her as an educator to VTCSOM was the progressive curriculum, which is heavily focused on problem-based learning — a hands-on pedagogical approach that reinforces critical thinking through self-directed, small-group learning and context-specific problems.

“The students do a lot of workshops and case-based material,” Eden described, reflecting on her first week in her new position. “In a passive learning environment, students tend to get bored, which absolutely crushes that natural curiosity that you need to have if you’re going into medicine. With a problem-based learning environment, students build essential skills in independent critical-thinking, decision-making, as well as collaboration and communication.”

And the results? Eden said: “Students seem to love it; their Step 1 scores are great; they’re obviously learning.”

Eden described her role in problem-based learning as one of a facilitator rather than a lecturer. With lesson plans that call for engagement, such as a weekly case study culminating in a discussion panel that includes not only the doctor who treated the patient, but also the patient themself, Eden noted that the connection to real-world applications gets students excited about what they’re studying.

After her first week on the job, Eden said she’s excited to jump in and learn more about the crossovers between veterinary and human medicine.

“This week alone, I was helping out with a workshop on congenital diseases and discussing a disease with a pediatric gastroenterologist. I said, ‘Oh, we see that in horses all the time,’ and she was so interested and wanted to know more about the disease from the veterinary medicine perspective. That’s why I wanted to stay in academia — not only to teach, but to be exposed to all these different people and perspectives and to stay immersed in a culture that embraces a cross-disciplinary approach to research and medicine.”

Written by Leslie Jernegan