INSIDER BLOG

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Ralph Bunte 
Associate Professor, Office of Research

The Insider: Ralph Bunte joined Duke-NUS as an Associate Professor with the Office of Research in November 2009. He also holds an appointment within SingHealth Experimental Medicine Center (SEMC). His primary responsibility is to provide pathology support, especially microscopic evaluation of tissues, to biomedical researchers in Duke-NUS and in SingHealth. He reports to Prof Shirish Shenolikar, Senior Associate Dean of Research and his office is located on level 6 along the Principal Investigator’s bar. 

Ralph: I was born and raised on a grain/livestock farm in Illinois, USA. We were relatively self-sufficient:  raised animals for food and had a large vegetable garden and two fruit orchards. At age 17, I decided to become a veterinarian and work as a general practitioner to provide veterinary care to large and small animals. I went on to obtain my DVM degree from the University of Illinois and practiced for a short time before joining the US Army to ensure that I would not be drafted later after I had established my practice.  I swore my oath of office into the Army in a cow barn by a farmer after removing a retained placenta from a cow that had given birth the day before.  

 

14 weeks of Army training passed and I was assigned to Fort Douglas in Utah as a general Army Veterinary Corps Officer for 2 years. Thereafter I took up a 3-year assignment in Germany and Denmark as a food inspector, followed by another 3 years as a food-inspection instructor at the Army’s food inspection school. During this period, I decided to become a veterinary pathologist because of my respect for the Army veterinary pathologists I had met.  I thought they were very smart and I wanted to be like them, so I trained in veterinary pathology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. I then served as the Training Officer for veterinary pathologists at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, before being assigned to the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases where my major work was with monkeys.  Thereafter, I retired from the Army.

I have had the privilege of working at many places in the world, doing a variety of jobs in and outside of veterinary pathology, and inside and outside of academia.  I also have helped train other veterinary pathologists and laboratory animal veterinarians and even taught at a medical school in Chicago.  The most interesting projects I have worked on were forensic cases.  One was a mouse found in a half-full bottle of beer opened several days before.  Did the mouse crawl in the bottle before filling or after filling and then drown, or was the mouse killed or found dead and then deliberately put in the bottle?  The answer was formulated by taking x-rays of the mouse in a dental chair in the clinic, and then learning from a beer expert that mice love hops. X-rays showed no abnormalities, especially no broken bones.  The probable cause of death was drowning after the bottle was opened. Another intriguing project was a mouse found in a 3-pound bag of roasted peanuts.  The two persons who ate some of the peanuts claimed illness from touching the dead roasted mouse, so I had to determine what mouse disease agent(s) could have survived the roasting and then infected the people producing the clinical signs they described. The “victims” dropped the case after we indicated we could defend against their claim because of some tests we conducted on the mouse.

Upon arrival in Singapore I was lucky to have been invited to a tea-dance the first Sunday I was here.  I knew nothing about dancing.  I thought I had either two left or two right feet.  After one year of difficult lessons and practices, I started to get the hang of a few dances. I stuck with it because of my dance friends. They were, and still are, forgiving of me. During my life I have learned that “being physically close” sometimes has its advantages, like playing horseshoes and throwing bean bags, and now with dancing.  

 
Friendships forged through dance

3rd from right: Ralph enjoying the traditional Chinese prosperity dinner with his friends

My duties in Singapore are to provide pathology support to biomedical researchers using research animals, now mostly mice.  I teach proper necropsy techniques to best optimize the visualization of organs and tissues in situ, and then teach how to best harvest and trim these organs and tissues to maximize their value during microscopic examination.  My most important skill is to identify abnormal findings that may or may not be a consequence of the experimental manipulations.