TAG: "Veterinary medicine"

Veterinary researcher launches crowdfunding campaign


Effort to benefit dogs’ long-term health is UC Davis’ first Indiegogo campaign.

Benjamin Hart, UC Davis

A veterinary professor is the first UC Davis researcher to launch a “crowdfunding” campaign under the university’s auspices.

The campaign is on Indiegogo, the world’s leading platform for this popular and relatively new online fundraising tool. People use it to put forth all kinds of new ideas and projects, hoping to draw “crowd” support.

University Development has established a crowdfunding policy and selected Indiegogo as UC Davis’ vendor of choice, which means contributions to official UC Davis Indiegogo campaigns go through the development office — and do not count as researchers’ personal income.

Benjamin Hart, a distinguished professor emeritus in the School of Veterinary Medicine, is seeking $9,000 for the first phase of a project to benefit dogs’ long-term health, by determining the optimum age they should be when they are spayed or neutered.

Hart and his UC Davis colleagues discovered in recent studies of Labrador and golden retrievers how neutering them before the age of 6 months, which is common practice in the United States, significantly increased the occurrence of joint disorders — especially in the golden retrievers.

Now Hart wants to develop the world’s first science-based guidelines for mixed-breed puppies, so caregivers will have the information they need to make “healthy spay and neuter decisions.”

Learn more on the campaign page, which includes two videos: Hart tells how “our project will help mixed-breed dogs live a better life,” and he gives some statistics, including, “We know that roughly two out of three family dogs are of mixed breed.”

Though dog owners and veterinarians have a strong interest in the subject, the relatively small scope of the project would not meet the criteria typically required by large funding entities. So Hart and his team have turned to Indiegogo, the world’s most established crowdfunding platform and the university’s vendor of choice for a one-year pilot project.

“The Indiegogo staff has been helpful,” Hart said, “and the website for uploading the material is quite easy to use.”

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Slime-producing molecules help spread disease from cats to sea otters


Gelatinous polymers act to provide environment conducive to transmit infectious diseases.

The spread of diseases from land animals to sea otters and other marine mammals is aided and abetted by gelatinous, sticky polymers produced by seaweed, reports a research team headed by a UC Davis veterinary infectious disease expert.

These large, complex molecules form slimy biofilms and bind water-borne organic matter into larger particles, in which disease-causing micro-organisms can become embedded and introduced to the marine food chain, the researchers discovered.

Using the parasite Toxoplasma gondii as a model, they showed how these sticky polymers increase the chance that disease-causing organisms would be picked up by marine snails, which graze on kelp and are among the common foods of some endangered sea otters.

Findings from the new study will be published Oct. 8 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Discovering the role that these invisible polymers play in disease transmission in the ocean is a tremendous step forward in helping us better understand and mitigate the impacts of coastal water pollution on the health of wildlife and humans,” said lead author Karen Shapiro, a research scientist in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

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Veterinary scientists serving on the Ebola frontline


UC Davis alums working for CDC in Sierra Leone.

Kim Dodd at the entrance to the "hot lab" wearing the associated personal protective equipment.

As Sierra Leone enters a three-day, house-to-house campaign in an effort to slow the spread of Ebola virus, two veterinary scientists working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who received their Ph.D. and D.V.M. degrees from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine will stay in the field, on the front lines in battling the largest Ebola outbreak since the deadly virus was identified in 1976.

Kim Dodd, a current UC Davis combined degree student (Ph.D. ‘14, DVM ‘15), joined her mentor and UC Davis alum Brian Bird in Sierra Leone in early September. Bird (Ph.D. ’08, DVM ‘09) serves as a veterinary medical officer in the Viral Special Pathogens Branch of the CDC and is now the lead of the CDC Ebola Field-Laboratory located at an Ebola Treatment Unit in Kenema, Sierra Leone.  This field-laboratory supports the international response to this unprecedented outbreak in partnership with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international collaborators. The laboratory serves as a regional reference laboratory to provide rapid Ebola testing.

According to the latest data from the WHO, the current outbreak in West Africa encompasses five countries with more than 5,000 cases identified and 2,630 deaths to date, more people than the last 38 years combined. Veterinary scientists such as Dodd and Bird comprise a critical role in conducting the laboratory testing to identify cases so that rapid tracing of patient-contacts can begin and to reduce the transmission of Ebola within the population.

Bird and the CDC stress the importance of early and rapid testing, as the initial clinical signs of Ebola virus infection can be nonspecific and similar to those seen with malaria, lassa fever, or other tropical diseases. It is therefore critical to rapidly identify positive cases for referral to Ebola treatment centers, and to send negative cases elsewhere for treatment and follow-up, in order to reduce community transmission and control the outbreak.

Professor James MacLachlan, their mentor at UC Davis, says veterinary researchers like Dodd and Bird with the joint skillset of a D.V.M. and Ph.D. are invaluable in dealing with One Health situations like this Ebola outbreak where emerging and zoonotic diseases have such a devastating impact on global health.

“These two remarkable individuals now are on the front line of this exceptionally brutal disease outbreak – what an example for what a veterinary degree can lead to,” he said.

In an email update, Dodd notes that “the impact of the outbreak is devastating with so many families reeling from loss of loved ones, including many young children.”

Yet there are bright moments.

“Today was a good day – a total of 20 patients (survivors) were released to their families after fully recovering and finally testing negative. I spoke to the father of a 6-year-old girl who had been in the treatment center for 21 days. When she walked out, small yet brave in a new shirt two sizes too big for her, he and I both wept.”

While Bird and Dodd’s involvement in the outbreak response highlights the value of veterinary scientists in global public health challenges, it also illustrates the need for more individuals in the public health field with training in veterinary medicine, human medicine, diagnostics, and epidemiology to support international One Health efforts.

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Solving the mystery of bluetongue livestock disease


UC Davis discovery could help predict occurrence of the disease, develop controls for it.

The bluetongue virus, which causes a serious disease that costs the cattle and sheep industries in the United States an estimated $125 million annually, manages to survive the winter by reproducing in the insect that transmits it, report veterinary scientists at the University of California, Davis.

The findings solve a century-old mystery and are particularly significant as global climate change brings more moderate winter temperatures around the world.  The new study appears today (Sept. 12) in the journal PLOS ONE.

“By conducting this epidemiological study on a commercial dairy farm in Northern California, we were able to demonstrate that the virus overwinters in female midges that had fed on an infected animal during the previous season,” said lead author Christie Mayo, a veterinarian and postdoctoral researcher in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“This discovery has important ramifications for predicting the occurrence of bluetongue in livestock and, we hope, for eventually developing controls for the disease,” said co-author James MacLachlan, a UC Davis veterinary professor and viral disease expert.

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Chicken gene provides insight on craniofacial birth defects


UC Davis findings significant for humans as well as poultry and livestock.

These chicks are part of UC Davis' living library of poultry and avian genetics, which includes the talpid lines examined in this study. (Photo by Mary Delany, UC Davis)

Each year, thousands of babies are born in the U.S. with craniofacial defects, from cleft lips and palates to more severe abnormalities of the face or head. Now new discoveries in chicken genetics and biology are shedding light on the basis of these abnormalities in both birds and humans.

The work, by a team including UC Davis animal science professor Mary Delany, was made possible by information from the chicken genome sequence and a stock of rare chicken lines kept at UC Davis. The findings appear in the August issue of the journal Development.

The researchers focused on a mutation of the gene named talpid2, known to be associated with a number of congenital abnormalities, including limb malformations and cleft lip or palate.

They found that talpid2 — like other limb and craniofacial mutations found in both humans and chickens — is related to the malfunction of “cilia,” tiny, hairlike structures on the surface of cells of the body.

Cilia play a vital role in passing along signals during development. When a gene mutation interferes with the normal structure and function of the cilia, it sets off a chain reaction of molecular miscues that result in physical abnormalities, in chickens or in people.

“Now that this new information is available, the talpid2 mutation can be expanded as a model for studying similar congenital abnormalities in humans including oral-facial defects, which affect many people around the world,” said Delany, who also serves as executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Delany said that the findings also are significant for production of poultry and livestock, which are likewise vulnerable to genetic mutations that cause similar physical abnormalities.

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Researchers ID gene mutation for heart disease in Newfoundland dogs


Information could help gradually eliminate the disease from the breed.

Newfoundlands — those massive, furry, black dogs — have captured many a heart with their hallmark size, sweet nature and loyalty. Unfortunately these gentle giants’ own hearts are all too often afflicted with a potentially lethal congenital disease called subvalvular aortic stenosis, or SAS, which also affects children and other dog breeds including the golden retriever.

A team of researchers led by UC Davis veterinary cardiologist Joshua Stern has for the first time identified a gene mutation responsible for canine SAS, the most common inherited heart disease in dogs. The study appears online in the journal Human Genetics: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24898977.

“Our hope now is that breeders will be able to make informed breeding decisions and avoid breeding dogs that harbor this mutation, thus gradually eliminating the disease from the Newfoundland breed,” Stern said. “In addition, now that we know one gene responsible for SAS and more about which proteins are involved, we can move forward to consider novel therapies that may help treat this devastating condition.”

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Neutering health effects more severe for golden retrievers than Labradors


UC Davis study finds higher rates of certain joint disorders and cancers in Labradors.

Incidence rates of both joint disorders and cancers at various neuter ages are much more pronounced in golden retrievers (left) than in the Labrador retrievers, UC Davis researchers found.

Labrador retrievers are less vulnerable than golden retrievers to the long-term health effects of neutering, as evidenced by higher rates of certain joint disorders and devastating cancers, according to a new study by researchers at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Results of the study now appear online in the open-access journal PLOS ONE at http://tiny.cc/tia0ix.

“We found in both breeds that neutering before the age of 6 months, which is common practice in the United States, significantly increased the occurrence of joint disorders – especially in the golden retrievers,” said lead investigator Benjamin Hart, a distinguished professor emeritus in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

“The data, however, showed that the incidence rates of both joint disorders and cancers at various neuter ages were much more pronounced in golden retrievers than in the Labrador retrievers,” he said.

He noted that the findings not only offer insights for researchers in both human and veterinary medicine, but are also important for breeders and dog owners contemplating when, and if, to neuter their dogs. Dog owners in the United States are overwhelmingly choosing to neuter their dogs, in large part to prevent pet overpopulation or avoid unwanted behaviors.

This new comparison of the two breeds was prompted by the research team’s earlier study, reported in February 2013, which found a marked increase in the incidence of two joint disorders and three cancers in golden retrievers that had been neutered.

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Dairy training aims to boost Rwanda to health


UC Davis initiative is working to improve dairy cows’ health and productivity in African nation.

Cows provide Rwandan farmers with a nutrient-rich source of food for their families.

In Rwanda, the expression “have milk” — “gira amata” — is not part of a milk-mustachioed marketing campaign. It’s a wish for prosperity.

UC Davis scientists hope to make that wish come true in the small African nation, by improving dairy cows’ health and productivity — and thereby people’s health, too.

Dairying is a centuries-old enterprise in Rwanda, but production levels are quite low, and the milk is often contaminated with bacteria that pose health risks for cows and people.

“The underproduction of milk in Rwanda is heartbreaking,” said professor Ray Rodriguez, executive director of the UC Davis Global HealthShare Initiative.  Rwandan cows produce just 5 liters of milk per day on average, whereas if the cows were healthy and well cared for, they should produce 25 to 40 liters per day, he said.

Partnership with Rwanda

The UC Davis Global HealthShare Initiative is coordinating a partnership among campus scientists and students, and their colleagues in Rwanda.

The UC Davis partners are not only teaching Rwandan veterinarians, veterinary students, university faculty and government officials how to improve the health and productivity of dairy cows and the safety of milk, but how to provide the same training around Rwanda, a nation of smallholder farmers.

Faculty members on the team are Rodriguez and Jim Cullor, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and director of its Dairy Food Safety Laboratory.

Their team comprises Somen Nandi, co-founder and managing director for Global HealthShare and principal investigator for its Rwanda project, and several graduate and undergraduate students.

“It’s about feeding the kids,” Cullor said. “It’s the children of Rwanda who are our customers.”

Rodriguez added that the project also is a reminder of the international aspect of modern health issues. “All health is now global health; we can’t just look at our health in the U.S. in isolation,” he said.

Focus on mastitis and ‘rural tech’

The UC Davis team is focusing on mastitis, a bacterial infection of the cow’s udder and the most common dairy cattle disease in the United States. In Rwanda, mastitis reduces milk production, causes milk to be unfit for sale and may result in the cow’s death.

During the past year, the UC Davis team has provided training to 40 Rwandan veterinary students, university faculty and government officials, teaching them practical techniques for preventing mastitis and identifying the different types of bacteria that are likely to be found in milk.

The success of the Rwandan program relies upon developing a collaborative partnership with the Rwandan government, and identifying technologies that are appropriate for that country.

For example, sophisticated laboratory tests used in the United States are not economically practical for Rwanda. Instead, the UC Davis team is training the veterinary professionals and students to prepare petri dishes on which microbial cultures can be grown.

“It’s not low tech; we call it ‘rural tech,’” Cullor said.

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Pediatric patients welcome canine friends


UC Davis veterinary medicine students bring cheer at Josh Dog Day.

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine students introduce Josh the Dog to delighted pediatric patients

Therapy dogs — even stuffed animal dogs — can do wonders for hospitalized children.

Pediatric patients in the playroom were instantly cheered this week when UC Davis veterinary medicine students visited, bringing stuffed dogs to patients and providing quick tips on how to care for them.

The visit is an annual playroom event, hosted by the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department and UC Davis Veterinary Medicine. The visit is based on the Josh and Friends Project, which helps transform anxious hospital stays for children into friendship-filled adventures to wellness.

Vet med students fundraise during the year to raise money to purchase stuffed dogs for Children’s Hospital patients.

“Our students have a passion for bringing healing to the lives of individuals, not just the four-legged kind, in our community. With this in mind, the goal of Josh Day is simple. We strive to bring hope and encouragement to the children and families of our community experiencing a medical difficulty,” said Diana Donckels, UC Davis veterinary club president.

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Cleft palate discovery in dogs to aid in understanding human birth defect


UC Davis study also shows that dogs have multiple genetic causes of cleft palate.

This puppy is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, the breed with the newly discovered genetic mutation for cleft palate.

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine researchers have identified the genetic mutation responsible for a form of cleft palate in the dog breed Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers.

They hope that the discovery, which provides the first dog model for the craniofacial defect, will lead to a better understanding of cleft palate in humans. Although cleft palate is one of the most common birth defects in children, affecting approximately one in 1,500 live human births in the United States, it is not completely understood.

The findings appear this week online in the journal PLOS Genetics and are available online at https://tinyurl.com/knr8wb3.

“This discovery provides novel insight into the genetic cause of a form of cleft palate through the use of a less conventional animal model,” said professor Danika Bannasch, a veterinary geneticist who led the study. “It also demonstrates that dogs have multiple genetic causes of cleft palate that we anticipate will aid in the identification of additional candidate genes relevant to human cleft palate.”

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Wildfire smoke, exposure linked to reduced immune system, lung functions


Researcher studied monkeys living outdoors and exposed to pollution during 2008 widlfires.

In the study, investigators found a link between reduced immune system function and abnormalities in lung function, particularly in female animals. (Photo by Kathy West, California National Primate Research Center )

In the study, investigators found a link between reduced immune system function and abnormalities in lung function, particularly in female animals.

California wildfires in 2008 led to a natural experiment with monkeys living outdoors at the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis, showing for the first time that exposure to high levels of fine particle pollution affects both development of the immune system and lung function.

“These animals were breathing the same air that we were breathing, so from a health point of view, it’s very significant,” said professor Lisa Miller, who carried out the study and leads the center’s Respiratory Diseases Unit. Miller noted that the monkeys, which live in outdoor corrals, would have received a higher dose than human residents of Davis.

In June 2008, widespread wildfires in Northern California caused notable smokiness in the Davis area. Over a period of 10 days levels of small particles classed as PM2.5 (inhalable particles smaller than 2.5 microns) at the UC Davis campus were recorded at 50 to 60 micrograms per cubic meter. Some readings reached nearly 80 micrograms per cubic meter, well over the federal standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

The California National Primate Research Center houses about 5,000 animals, mostly rhesus macaques. Many of the animals are born and live outdoors in large family groups of 100 or more. Infants are born in late spring and early summer.

With funding from the California Air Resources Board, Miller, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, tested lung function and took blood samples from monkeys that were born during the 10 days of peak air pollution.

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Treating the inner animal in all of us


New veterinary, comparative medicine center advances health care, human and otherwise.

Peter Ernst, UC San Diego

Peter Ernst, UC San Diego

Discoveries about how diseases arise or are transmitted in animals can be useful in understanding the same sorts of afflictions in humans. Similarly, new therapies or techniques used in people may be effective in caring for animals as well.

The newly established Center for Veterinary Sciences and Comparative Medicine (CVSCM) at the UC San Diego School of Medicine embodies this ideal – a highly integrated and innovative consortium of universities, institutions, scientists, physicians and veterinarians seeking to improve the condition of all animals, human and otherwise.

“By understanding the biology of disease, either in people or in animals, all benefit,” said Peter Ernst, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor of pathology at UC San Diego School of Medicine and founding CVSCM director. “We want to use the lessons learned and advances made in human healthcare to improve the lives of animals and vice versa.”

The CVSCM features a faculty of 25 academic veterinarians from UC San Diego School of Medicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, The Scripps Research Institute, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.

It builds upon UC San Diego’s long-standing post-doctoral training program in laboratory animal and comparative medicine and has close links to the UC Veterinary Medical Center-San Diego, a collaboration between UC San Diego Health Sciences and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

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