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Jerrie Gavalchin, autoimmune disease expert, dies at 64

Jerrie Gavalchin, associate professor in the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, died May 3 after being struck by a pickup truck while biking near her home in Groton, New York. She was 64.

Gavalchin’s research focused on autoimmune disease and immunology in animals, aimed at deriving strategies to improve animal health and production (goods from animals). She was also a teacher and mentor to hundreds of students.

Jerrie Gavalchin

“During an already challenging time, this is a tremendous loss to the department, to our students and to the Cornell community as a whole,” wrote Kathryn Boor ’80, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in a letter to CALS faculty and staff.

Gavalchin received her bachelor’s degree in 1977 and her doctorate in 1983, both in microbiology from Rutgers University. After a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in the Cancer Research Center at Tufts University School of Medicine, Gavalchin was hired in 1986 as an assistant professor in the departments of Medicine and Microbiology/Immunology at the State University of New York, Upstate Medical Center. She was still a faculty member there at the time of her death.

In 1999, Gavalchin was hired as an adjunct associate professor at Cornell’s Baker Institute for Animal Health in the Department of Microbiology. She moved to Cornell’s Department of Animal Science as an associate professor in 2001.

Gavalchin’s research focused on identifying pathogenic mechanisms related to autoimmune disorders, such as lupus. She also investigated the role of estrogen in immune responses and whether the hormone’s activity could explain gender biases in immune responses and autoimmune diseases. Her work investigated whether environmental chemicals could be triggers or modulators of lupus.

Along with studies of M. paratuberculosis infection in cattle and sheep, and immunosuppression in cattle, she developed low-cost veterinary diagnostic tools.

Her teaching focused on the impact of immunology in animal health and disease, and she taught career-development courses for undergraduates in animal science. She also served as a faculty adviser for the Dressage Club at Cornell and advised the Minority Animal Science Students organization, helping them raise funds to support earthquake relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“She maintained the largest undergraduate advising load in the department and advised many students interested in careers in veterinary medicine and also animal health,” said Tom Overton, a professor in the Department of Animal Science. “Anyone who interacted with her knew that she was passionate about her work and she was a source of both encouragement and inspiration to students.”

Gavalchin was a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Association of Immunologists, among other organizations.

She received the CALS Professor of Merit Award in 2013 and the Donald C. Burgett Distinguished Advisor Award in 2014.

Gavalchin is survived by her husband, Carl Batt, a professor in the Department of Food Science in CALS, and her daughter, Sam Batt ’16.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

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Abby Butler