Monthly Archives: November 2011

How unchecked alarms can spark autoimmune disease

November 29, 2011

A white blood cell engulfs an invading Bacillus anthracis

A neutrophil (yellow), the most abundant white blood cell type and the first line of defense against invading microbes, engulfs Bacillus anthracis (orange), the agent of anthrax. The bacteria break down, releasing DNA that triggers an immune response.

One in five Americans suffers from autoimmune disease, in which the immune system goes off-track and attacks the body’s own cells. Cornell researchers have identified a signaling mechanism in immune-system cells that may contribute to this mistake, opening the door for possible new therapies for autoimmune diseases such as lupus and arthritis.

Cynthia Leifer, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and colleagues described the mechanism in the August issue of the European Journal of Immunology. The problem lies in what are called innate immune cells, the first responders to infection.

“Innate immune cells have internal watchdogs called TLR-9 receptors that set off alarms whenever they encounter invaders,” said Leifer. “They look for general classifying patterns [in DNA] to determine whether something is a virus, bacterium, protozoan, or part of self.”

However, some of these patterns exist both in invading organisms and the body’s own cells, so mistakes can arise.

Cynthia Leifer

Leifer

“We are mapping the critical regulatory mechanisms that keep these receptors from responding to self-DNA so that we can know if and how they predispose people to autoimmune disorders when they fail,” Leifer said.

Innate immune cells engulf things that look dangerous, tear them open, and release their components, including DNA. When TLR-9 receptors see DNA that identifies microbes, they send a signal to fire up more immune-system activity, including inflammation and the creation of antibodies. But before a receptor can work, enzymes in the cell must prepare it by chopping off part of the receptor molecule and leaving a part that can bind to microbe DNA.

From there, Leifer believes it’s a numbers game. If too many receptors are prepared, they may respond to the small amount of self-DNA that makes its way into immune cells, triggering an autoimmune response. So the immune cell has a regulatory mechanism, an enzyme pathway that cuts prepared receptors in a second place.

Working with cells in culture, Leifer identified this second chopping event, which cuts TLR-9 at a different site. This produces a molecule that binds to DNA, blocking it from reaching the prepared receptors, and does not send a signal.

“People without autoimmune diseases have the right balance of these two chopping events,” Leifer said. “Our studies suggest that people with a propensity for these diseases might have a defect in this pathway that allows more prepared receptors to signal for immune responses. This may be a potential target for therapies designed to help quiet those alarms.”

A second but interrelated problem Leifer has tackled involves how TLR-9 moves through an immune cell from the placewhere it is created to its working site. In earlier work she described the protein sequences in TLR-9 that act as address labels guiding where the receptor travels.

“We think they’re interrelated because if you don’t travel properly you don’t get chopped properly,” she said. “If TLR-9 ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can sound a false alarm.

Leifer’s research is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Carly Hodes ’10 is a communication specialist at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Original Press Release:

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine news

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/leifer.cfm

 

Media Hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Nov11/LeiferDNA.html

Medical Xpress (PhysOrg)

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-unchecked-alarms-autoimmune-disease.html

MyScience

http://www.myscience.us/wire/how_unchecked_alarms_can_spark_autoimmune_disease-2011-cornell

Bionity

http://www.bionity.com/en/news/135431/how-unchecked-alarms-can-spark-autoimmune-disease.html

R&D Mag

http://www.rdmag.com/News/Feeds/2011/11/general-sciences-how-unchecked-alarms-can-spark-autoimmune-disease/

ECN

http://www.ecnmag.com/News/Feeds/2011/11/blogs-the-cutting-edge-how-unchecked-alarms-can-spark-autoimmune-disease/

Futurity

http://www.futurity.org/top-stories/false-alarm-can-spark-autoimmune-disease/

Sparks fly at 27th Cornell Farrier Conference

farrierSparks flew amid a chorus of clangs and the smell of horses as farriers, metalworkers, and equine enthusiasts converged from near and far for the 2011 Cornell Farrier Conference on the weekend of November 12-13. Organized and hosted by the College of Veterinary Medicine since 1983, the renowned conference garnered 91 attendees in its 27th year.

“We updated the format this year to include more live and hands-on opportunities,” said conference organizer Steve Kraus, BS ’70, AFACJF, a Cornell alum and the College’s newly appointed farrier with 40+ years of experience. “Registrants took advantage of three hands-on metalworking sessions, an extensive vendor showcase, live demonstrations, and a full day of lectures on Sunday.”

Expert certified farriers from New York, Nebraska, Utah, and Kentucky offered hands-on instruction in blacksmithing, tool-making, and horseshoe preparation while professional horse trainer Rick Wheat from Batesville, AR, conducted live demonstrations on horseback showing how his invention, the Noavel Headstall, can be used to train horses for shoeing.

On Saturday afternoon participants had a chance to witness a leg dissection demonstration conducted by Mitchell Taylor, CJF, owner and director of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Richmond, KY. In the shoeing demonstration that followed, Dave Richards, president of Equicast, Inc. in  Aberdeen, NC and Dr. Mike Steward, veterinarian from Oklahoma, showed how clog shoes can be applied using Equicast, a product offering extra support to feet with structural-wall or sole failure. Other presentations included domosidan gel administration for sedating horses, advice for passing the AFA certification, metallurgy for farriers, and more.

Sunday’s lecture series focused on treatment options for problems ranging from lameness to support needs, including a lecture on new treatments in soft tissue injuries by the College’s own Dr. Lisa Fortier, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVS, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Cornell University.

“Cornell’s conference is one of the most respected educational events for farriers in the country,” said a professional farrier who had traveled from Maryland to attend. “Opportunities for advanced training are limited, and usually involve meeting up with one guy showing you his favorite hammer. At Cornell’s conference you get peers and experts from around the country coming in, and not just farriers but veterinarians, horse trainers, and other professionals who teach from different angles. It all adds up to learning how best to help the horses, and when that happens everybody wins.”

 

The Cornell Farrier Conference is held every Fall at the College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, the College offers courses in general and advanced farriery at different times throughout the year. To learn more, visit:

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/education/farrier/courses.cfm.

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/Farrier2011.cfm

Show highlights farm animal veterinary medicine

Peter Ostrum ’84 highlighted in new online show documenting work of farm animal veterinarians

Modern American livestock farmers face two emerging challenges: an increasing shortage of large-animal veterinarians, and dimming public understanding of what happens with food before it hits the fork. A new reality documentary series called Veterinarians on Call seeks to bridge these gaps by offering online viewers a candid look into the work of real livestock veterinarians, raising awareness of the care that goes into responsible livestock farming in the US.

Ostrum

As part of its efforts to support the veterinary and animal health industry, pharmaceutical company Pfizer funded the show’s production. Currently seven short ‘webisodes’ are available through the show’s Youtube Channel. Each episode follows one of several livestock veterinarians selected from various states and specialties who have volunteered to be filmed in their day-to-day work behind the scenes caring for food-production animals.

Cattle veterinarian Dr. Peter Ostrum ’84 features prominently in the series. Ostrum had an early start onstage playing the role of Charlie in the classic film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Preferring farms to fame, he left acting to earn his DVM from Cornell and now works at a mixed animal practice in upstate New York, which he co-owns with three other Cornell alumni.

Ostrum

“I got a call from a friend and fellow alum, Dr. Roger Saltman ’81, who works at Pfizer, and asked me if I’d be willing to participate,” said Ostrum. “The crew shadowed me throughout my normal workday and during emergency calls on dairy farms. When we discussed cases on camera I tried to explain what I’m doing for someone who’d never been on a farm.”

The show highlights how veterinary care plays into the key concepts of animal welfare and food safety, and reveals aspects of the job Ostrum says people wouldn’t normally think of.

Ostrum

“This job is not just treating sick cows. A lot of it is education; we spend a lot of time with people, training the farm workers who work with these animals every day and are usually the ones making decisions about treatment,” said Ostrum.
“Growing up, most of my peers were raised on farms. Now that more people live in cities and suburbs, fewer and fewer people understand what agriculture involves. I’m doing this to encourage aspiring veterinarians to consider large animal medicine, and also to try to help people reconnect with their food sources and shed some light on what’s going on in the farming sector.”

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/vetsoncall_Ostrum.cfm

Scholarship recognizes a perseverance to finish

Whitefield

When John W. Whitefield ’65 passed away in 2004, his colleagues and friends began raising funds for a scholarship that would keep his memory alive through generations of students who would receive the award. Through the work and creativity of some of his closest friends, including fellow alumni Dr. Ed Dalland ’68 and Dr. Joel Edwards ’64, the scholarship fund recently reached $100,000 with more than 350 donations from friends, family, colleagues, classmates, and clients.

“John was a good friend of mine and when he became ill I recruited a number of Cornell alumni to form a fundraising committee headed by Joel Edwards to establish the Whitefield Scholarship,” said Dalland. “We wanted to honor John while he was still alive, and he was very humbled. We mailed brochures to all practicing veterinarians in New York State letting them know of our efforts and asked veterinarians to give their clients the opportunity to contribute, especially those with pets on which John had performed surgery.

“The College’s alumni are devoted to the profession, the College, and their communities. Reaching our goal of $100,000 took approximately five years of effort, but we made it! John upheld that spirit of service, and in his honor we hope to support students that will do the same.”

The John W. Whitefield ’65 Memorial Scholarship will be given every year in perpetuity.

“Dr. Whitefield had to drop out of Cornell for one year because he ran out of money,” said Dalland. “Thankfully he was able to earn enough to complete his education. That is why the scholarship is to be awarded to a third-year student interested in pursuing a surgery internship or residency after graduation. What a terrible loss our profession would have suffered if he was unable to finish his education.”

The minimum for scholarship endowments at the University and College is $100,000, which provides annual support in perpetuity to qualifying students. Scholarships may be named for individuals, animals, or beloved faculty members and provide much-needed assistance. If you are interested in establishing a scholarship or know of individuals who might be, contact Amy Robinson in the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development at amy.robinson@cornell.edu.

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/whitefield.cfm

Christopher Byron ’98 joins AVMA editorial staff

ByronIn September 2011 Dr. Christopher R. Byron BS ’94, DVM ’98 was appointed assistant editor for the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) and the American Journal of Veterinary Research (AJVR), premier veterinary science journals published by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Throughout my education at Cornell, and during my career as a surgeon, researcher, and veterinary educator, I have been interested in the science of veterinary medicine,” said Byron. “My new role as an assistant editor for the JAVMA and the AJVR fits well with this interest, and will be a natural complement to my prior experiences. The AVMA journals are important vehicles for scientific communications, and I am looking forward to serving the veterinary profession in this new capacity.”

Byron’s appointment is the latest in a string of varied professional experiences as a young equine surgeon. After earning both his undergraduate and veterinary degrees at Cornell University, Byron interned at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY. He then completed an equine surgery residency and master’s degree program at Michigan State University, becoming a board-certified diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) in 2003, on whose Resident Credentials Committee he now serves.

As an Assistant Professor of Equine Surgery at the University of Illinois for six years, Byron taught veterinary students and residents, practiced clinical equine medicine, and headed a research team publishing papers about shock wave therapy and equine joint disease, including several in JAVMA and AJVR. He then joined the staff of the Ruffian Equine Medical Center, a private equine referral center in Elmont, NY, where he practiced equine surgery until March 2011.

Experience on the review board of the ACVS Veterinary Surgery journal prepared him for his full-time position in Schaumburg, IL. As assistant editor for AVMA’s publications, he will read and review article submissions and prepare them for release to JAVMA and AJVR’s subscribers, informing the veterinary community about the latest developments in veterinary science and clinical innovations.

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/byron.cfm

Study shows drinking ‘raw’ milk puts farmworkers, babies, and others at higher disease risk

Nov. 8, 2011

By Carly Hodes

Will a fresh glass of “raw” milk nourish or poison you? Pasteurization almost always provides protection from contamination. Unpasteurized “raw” milk, on the other hand, provides a potential breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter and Salmonella, all of which have caused outbreaks spread by raw milk in the past year, said Ynte Schukken, professor of epidemiology and herd health at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

researcher Ynte Schukken with dairy cows

Dr. Ynte Schukken, professor of epidemiology and herd health, with livestock.

He has co-authored a paper in the August issue of the Journal of Food Production quantifying the risk of contracting Listeria monocytogenes from raw milk. In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the four-year project of graduate student Alejandra Latorre produced a comprehensive map showing which populations were most at risk when buying from various sources.

“Listeria is one of the most virulent and deadly foodborne pathogens,” said Schukken. “Our study demonstrates the relative risk various populations face when ingesting raw milk, including farmworkers, pregnant women, young babies and the elderly. Compared to intermediate-aged adults, these last three groups were particularly susceptible.”

The researchers analyzed risk across various purchasing methods including buying from a farm’s on-site store, directly from its bulk tank or from a third-party retailer. “Raw milk from retailers proved most dangerous by far. But when it comes to milk, the safest purchasing decision you can make is to buy it pasteurized,” Schukken said.

Despite its dangers, 28 states permit the sale of raw milk. Enthusiasts claim health benefits from nutritious compounds supposedly destroyed by pasteurization.

“These claims are not backed by scientific evidence, and several studies have shown them to be myths,” said Schukken. “Pasteurization helped revolutionize health, effectively ending diseases such as tuberculosis and Q fever. Bypassing this safety measure could have serious consequences for public health, dramatically increasing bacterial infection and outbreaks.”

Other tips to minimize risk, says Schukken: “Make sure the farm is a legal raw milk farm participating in a testing program. Only buy what you can finish in a week, keep it cold in your fridge, and use it quickly.”

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Media Hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Nov11/RawMilk.html

Medical Xpress (PhysOrg)

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-raw-poses-groups.html

MyScience

http://www.myscience.us/wire/drinking_raw_milk_puts_farmworkers_babies_and_others_at_higher_disease_risk-2011-cornell

Minnesota Ag Connection

http://www.minnesotaagconnection.com/story-national.php?Id=2396&yr=2011

UPI

http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2011/11/19/Raw-milk-puts-babies-farm-workers-at-risk/UPI-75531321743525/?spt=hs&or=hn

Western Farm Press

http://westernfarmpress.com/management/running-risks-raw-milk-food-safety-blunder

Real Raw Milk Facts

http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/raw-milk-news/story/cornell-drinking-raw-milk-puts-farmworkers-babies-and-others-at-higher-dise/

Public Opinion Online

http://www.publicopiniononline.com/living/ci_19445503

Bites

http://bites.ksu.edu/news/151355/11/11/09/us-running-risks-raw-milk-food-safety-blunder

Southwest Farm Press

http://southwestfarmpress.com/livestock/running-risks-raw-milk-food-safety-blunder

Student’s Fulbright project tackles potential epidemics in Trinidad and Tobago

pFrom the stray-strewn streets of Trinidad and Tobago to cow-covered pastures of rural New York dairy farms, Miguella Paula-Ann Mark-Carew has journeyed far in her quest to understand and combat disease epidemics across the world. Ever since she came to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine through a veterinary summer program when she was 17, Mark-Carew wanted to return as a full-time student. While attending Dartmouth College, she spent two respective summers  conducting epidemiological research with Drs. Paul Bowser and Ted Clarke, and her positive experiences with Cornell faculty further sealed her aspiration. In 2007 she came to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine as a doctoral student in the field of comparative biomedical sciences.

An aspiring epidemiologist, Mark-Carew studies Giardia parasite infections at the group and population levels to help understand and control potential epidemics. Giardia protozoa infect the small intestine of humans and other animals, causing stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, fever, nausea, and vomiting for two to four weeks. It commonly spreads via water contaminated by raw sewage or animal wastes. It can also spread between individuals, quickly putting populations at risk. Mark-Carew’s Giardia studies took her from the New York Watershed to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago to study the parasite’s prevalence and genetic makeup in dairy cattle and other mammals.

tr
After receiving a Fulbright grant funding an independent epidemiological project, Mark-Carew returned to the Caribbean state of Trinidad and Tobago to take on a growing health concern facing her family’s homeland. Her Fulbright project involves efforts to quantify, manage, and control the population of thousands of stray and free-roaming dogs in streets across the country. These dogs can carry Giardia and other diseases humans can catch, posing a serious potential public health risk, according to Mark-Carew. Beyond its medical and epidemiological significance, the project involves sociological surveys with political potential. Mark-Carew interviews residents and tourists about their perspectives on several concerns, including stray dog issues, testing to identify parasites, and the value of continuing her efforts to count the number of strays, all with the hope of inspiring policy changes to address the stray problem.

“I adopted three puppies when they were a month old from an active dog abandonment site,” Mark-Carew mentioned. “One is with me now in Ithaca, and the other two are scheduled to fly home with me after my visit this coming January. I literally brought my work home with me!”

 

Other Projects

Mark-Carew has also been involved with a project called “Caring Collars Loving Leashes” that was started by her mother, Marlene Mark, to promote the human-animal bond.

“We encourage owners to walk their dogs and obtain ID tags for free collars we give out so they can find their dogs if they get lost,” said Mark-Carew. “Over 150 collar and leash sets were split between the two branches of the Trinidad and Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TTSPCA). We’d like for it to be an annual campaign during May, National Pet Month in the US.”

 

Inspired by a talk Mark-Carew gave at Cornell about her project, five Cornell students have visited Trinidad and Tobago to lend a hand. Sophie Tilitz, a rising freshman undergraduate interested in animal science, helped for six weeks from February to April 2011. In January 2011, second-year veterinary student Jasmine Bruno and third-year students Sarrah Kaye, Erin Lashnits, and Sarah Dumas spent two weeks on the islands with Mark-Carew collecting parasite samples from dogs, cattle, and water buffalo, processing samples in the lab, counting roaming dogs in the streets, and volunteering in an intensive marathon spaying and neutering event.

(Read more about their adventures.)

 

Future Plans

Mark-Carew hopes her career will allow her to assist the World Health Organization or similar entities to navigate an increasingly globalized world through which pathogens can spread quicker than ever before. She aims to understand how diseases differ across the world and species and hopes to work on projects concerning public health and animal health, particularly dealing with waterborne diseases in developing countries.

“I plan to return to Trinidad and Tobago during January 2012 break and Summer 2012,” said Mark-Carew. “This project means a lot to me and I plan to devote several years to seeing that something is done to control roaming dogs and promote responsible dog ownership in Trinidad and Tobago. I am looking for additional Cornell students to help with the roaming dog assessment project, and can be reached at mpm26@cornell.edu.”

 

For more on Mark-Carew’s Fulbright project, visit her blog: http://halfbrightfulbright.blogspot.com/

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/carew.cfm