Category Archives: Published

New Salmonella Dublin test for milk and cattle available for first time in US

Salmonella can cause serious disease on cattle farms, killing calves, causing cows to abort, contaminating raw milk, and harming humans along the way. While the cattle-adapted strain Salmonella Dublin creeps into the Northeastern US, veterinarians and farmers struggle to catch the bacteria in time to protect livestock because these bacteria often hide dormant in carrier animals, making the strain particularly hard to diagnose.

For the first time in the US, a more useful test for Salmonella Dublin is now available exclusively at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC). Cheaper, quicker, safer, and more sensitive, the test detects antibodies rather than bacteria. Traditional bacteriological tests could only identify S. Dublin organisms in sick or deceased animals, missing up to 85% of infections in carrier cattle. The new test reveals carriers, helping farmers and veterinarians monitor infection spread over time and track the impact of control measures in ways that were previously impossible.

Dairy-cows-Pavement“We’re very concerned about this disease spreading east because it could severely harm animal and human health, as well as the livelihoods of dairies in the region,” said Dr. Belinda Thompson, senior extension associate at the AHDC. “Salmonella Dublin is already common west of the Mississippi River, but it’s only recently being recognized in the Northeastern US. We want to be pro-active now to keep it out of our farms.”

In recent years the AHDC has dealt with several high-morbidity and high-mortality outbreaks of Salmonella Dublin in New York and other states. To address the problem before it grows further, Dr. Bettina Wagner, director of the Serology and Immunology Section of the AHDC laboratory, secured the nation’s first USDA permit to import and use the enhanced test.

While Salmonella Dublin usually doesn’t make adults cows very sick, it can wreak havoc on young and unborn calves, particularly in populations like those in the East Coast that haven’t been exposed. Its resistance to many common antibiotics severely limits treatment options and, to make matters even worse, it often presents as respiratory disease, throwing off track veterinarians trained to recognize diarrhea as salmonella’s telltale sign.

“Infected calves often look fine the day before a sudden rapid onset, the next day they look depressed, and the next day they die,” said Dr. Paul Virkler, senior extension associate at the AHDC. “Veterinarians often think it’s something else-. We’ve seen newly infected herds in which every single calf in a particular age group dies. We’re trying to keep this from getting to baby calves, the life and future of a farm, and the animals most at risk.”

People working with cattle are also at risk. All Salmonella strains affect most vertebrates and can jump between species. Even carriers that don’t seem sick can shed bacteria, and people, companion animals, and other livestock can pick up the infection through contact with any bodily excretion.

“People have died drinking raw milk with Salmonella Dublin,” said Virkler. “It’s one of the bad players in raw milk. Pasteurizing milk will kill the bacteria.”
Prior to the new test’s release, testing had to be done animal by animal. The new antibody test can use milk samples straight from bulk milk tanks to find whether a herd has been exposed. It can also work with blood samples and diagnose individuals, helping keep unexposed herds infection-free by removing infected animals and pre-screening new animals farmers are considering buying.

“Herd managers can take preventative measures and help control the infection’s spread by isolating sick calves, pasteurizing milk, managing cattle movement, and improving hygiene,” said Thompson. “But to see if any of this is working, they need a tool to monitor success. We didn’t have that until now. This test will let us learn about the prevalence of Salmonella Dublin on the East Coast and hopefully nip it in the bud.”
cows in field

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http://vet.cornell.edu/news/Dublin.cfm

Media Hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct12/SalmonellaDublin.html

Meat Trade News Daily

http://www.meattradenewsdaily.co.uk/news/291112/usa___a_lack_of_understanding_over_salmonella_.aspx

MyScience

http://www.myscience.us/wire/cornell_offers_only_u_s_salmonella_dublin_test_for_cattle-2012-cornell

The Post Standard: Syracuse.com

http://blog.syracuse.com/farms/2012/11/better_test_for_cattle_disease.html

Phys.org

http://phys.org/news/2012-11-cornell-salmonella-dublin-cattle.html

Drovers CattleNetwork.com

http://www.cattlenetwork.com/cattle-news/Cornell-offers-only-US-salmonella-dublin-test-for-cattle-176821551.html?ref=551

Bovine Veterinarian Online

http://www.bovinevetonline.com/news/industry/Cornell-offers-only-US-salmonella-dublin-test-for-cattle-176821551.html

USAgNet

http://www.usagnet.com/story-national.php?Id=2486&yr=2012

Dairy Herd Network

http://www.dairyherd.com/dairy-news/latest/Cornell-offers-only-US-salmonella-dublin-test-for-cattle-176821551.html

Food Safety News

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/11/cornells-new-test-spots-salmonella-in-cattle/

Ithaca Journal

http://www.theithacajournal.com/article/20121111/NEWS01/311110027/Cornell-test-detects-salmonella-cattle?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|p

Before It’s News

http://beforeitsnews.com/food-and-farming/2012/11/cornells-new-test-spots-salmonella-in-cattle-2446024.html

Healthy Cooking News

http://healthycookingnews.blogspot.com/2012/11/cornells-new-test-spots-salmonella-in.html

Beef Cattle News

http://savant7.com/beefcattlenews/

Stop Foodborne Illness

http://www.stopfoodborneillness.org/content/cornell%E2%80%99s-new-test-spots-salmonella-cattle

MeatingPlace

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:lnLu6SjDDeMJ:www.meatingplace.com/Industry/News/Details/37578+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Highbeam Business

http://business.highbeam.com/409224/article-1G1-310739927/cornell-offers-new-salmonella-test-cattle

CABI.org VetMed Resource

http://www.cabi.org/VetMedBeta/news/22617

The Meat Site

http://www.themeatsite.com/meatnews/19365/cornell-offers-us-salmonella-dublin-test-for-cattle

The call of the wild

There’s something enthralling in the eyes of a raptor, a primal intensity that instills respect and makes it hard to look away. Such a spell sparked a similar spirit in Sarah Cudney ’16 when she first encountered raptors at Cornell as a high-school summer student, an experience that imbued her with a keen vigor for veterinary medicine.

Eurasian Eagle Owl, BuboThe wild was never far for Cudney, who grew up in Boulder, Col. in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, but it suddenly came closer when she started handling raptors in Cornell’s three-week pre-veterinary high-school summer program in Exotic Avian Husbandry.
“I had such an amazing experience working with the birds that I was determined to come back to Cornell,” said Cudney. “That summer course made me decide to apply here.”

As a newly minted Cornell undergraduate studying animal science and biology, one of the first things Cudney did was return to the raptors. She joined the Cornell Raptor Program, getting directly involved with raptor conservation through formal classroom instruction on biology and natural history of birds of prey, captive propagation and release of selected species, rehabilitation of sick and injured raptors, and public education programs.

Rising through the volunteer ranks, Cudney became both Director of Education and Student Supervisor, organizing and presenting outreach events in Ithaca and the surrounding area and training new student volunteers. She even adopted the daily responsibility of hand-feeding and caring for an American Kestrel and a Eurasian Eagle Owl, one of the world’s largest owls. Hooked on wildlife, she also volunteered as a wildlife supervisor at the Swanson Wildlife Health Center, assisting veterinarians in examination, radiology, medication, treatment, and care of local sick and injured wildlife.

“Working with wildlife made me realize I wanted to go into wildlife medicine,” said Cudney. “I don’t know if I’d have even applied to vet school if not for the Raptor Program and the Wildlife Health Center.”

She became president of Cornell’s Pre-Veterinary Society, arranging speakers, meetings, fundraisers, field trips, and volunteer work for the group, as well as mentoring undergraduate peers throughout their own veterinary school preparation. Cudney also came up campus to the College frequently to conduct research in Dr. Ned Place’s endocrinology lab. This led to two manuscripts, including her honors thesis describing a model of how seasons cause shifts in metabolic signals to the brain that can influence obesity, which has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

Cudney graduated with highest honors, a slew of awards, research publications, a strong network of supporters built through her activities, and varied hands-on animal experience: all the right ingredients for a strong veterinary school application.

“I chose Cornell for the next step too, partly because of the people and places I’d established good relationships with,” said Cudney. “But a big part of it was the opportunities Cornell gives to work with wildlife and conservation. It’s one of the few schools with a wildlife center on campus. I love working with all kinds of animals but for me there’s something special about wildlife.”

Coming full circle, Cudney served this year as a teaching assistant for the high-school Summer course in exotic avian husbandry that first brought her here. She begins veterinary school this fall and hopes to pursue wildlife and conservation medicine.

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Editor’s Note: Cornell’s veterinary Class of 2016 is 102 students strong. Equally as diverse in backgrounds and interests as those who came before them, they are also among the brightest, with this year’s Class boasting a median GPA of 3.75 and the highest median GRE score to date.

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

 

 

Surprise packages sent by cancer cells can turn normal cells cancerous

Surprise packages sent by cancer cells can turn normal cells cancerous, but Cornell scientists have found a way to keep their cargo from ever leaving port. Published in Oncogene in January 2012, their study demonstrates the parcels’ cancer-causing powers, describes how they are made, and reveals a way to jam production. Treatments that follow suit could slow tumor growth and metastasis, the spread of cancer to new parts of the body.

RedMicrovesicle_000

A cancer cell (bottom right) producing and shedding microvesicles, which travel between cells and attach to a normal cell (upper left) to unload cancerous cargo

Remote recruiting through inter-cellular mail lets cancer cells grow their ranks without having to move. While most cells communicate through a standard postal system of growth factors and hormones, cancer cells and stem cells use bulkier parcels called microvesicles. These big packages are stuffed with unconventional cargo that boosts the survival and growth rates of recipient cells and can dramatically alter their behavior and surrounding environment. The cargo of microvesicles includes unique sets of proteins that often reflect their cell of origin and are capable of completely changing a cell’s form and function.

“Stem cells make microvesicles containing one set of proteins that can help heal damaged tissue, while cancer cells make malignant microvesicles called oncosomes that contain another set of proteins which facilitate the growth and spread of tumors,” said Dr. Richard Cerione, professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author.

Dr. Marc Antonyak and graduate student Bo Li, co-authors and researchers in Cerione’s lab, examined cells in culture to observe the effects of oncosomes on normal cells. They focused on fibroblasts, a normal cell type that is often found associated with human tumors and helps to facilitate tumor growth.
“We incubated healthy fibroblasts together with aggressive breast cancer cells,” said Antonyak. “Although we’d disabled the cancer cells from forming tumors on their own, they kept pumping out oncosomes. The fibroblasts that were bathed in these oncosomes began turning cancer-like, living longer, growing faster, and forming tumors.”

Using a variety of techniques to parse out participating proteins, including immunoblot analysis, immunofluorecence, and electron microscopy imaging, Antonyak identified each link in this pathway and traced it back to the first: a protein called RhoA that acts like a lever initiating microvesicle production. Cancer cells crank production into overdrive, said Antonyak, but jamming the lever could stop the whole assembly line.

“Even if we immobilize cancer cells, as long as they can make these microvesicles they can continue spreading vital components for the development of cancer,” said Cerione. “It’s clear that microvesicles can change the behavior of cells and play an important part in cancer progression. Treatments targeting the microvesicle production pathway we’ve outlined could have a real impact on slowing cancer progression.”

Microvesicles_000 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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http://vet.cornell.edu/news/CancerCargo.cfm

 

First total knee-replacement surgery restores young dog’s active life at Cornell

jake-copy_000James Gillette has two passions: hunting and his dog. In an effort to spend time with both, he has dedicated years to training Jake, his chocolate lab, how to retrieve game. Often described as inseparable, Gillette and Jake were just as likely to be wandering through wetlands as they were to be at home until travesty hit both.

In the summer of 2010, Gillette fell so ill that when Jake ran in front of a truck and fractured his knee, it was several weeks before Gillette was well enough to get Jake to a veterinarian. When Jake later arrived at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA), he was unable to put any weight on the leg and it looked like it might have to be amputated.
In a first-ever surgery at Cornell, Assistant Professor of Surgery Dr. Ursula Krotscheck and an orthopedic surgeon from Ohio State University led a team of CUHA residents in a total knee replacement surgery, a relatively novel procedure never before performed at Cornell. The surgery team removed pieces of bone around Jake’s knee and constructed components to recreate the joint, giving Jake a second chance at an active life.

jakedog055-copySoon after the surgery in Spring 2011, Jake walked home by Gillette’s side using all four legs.

“Jake has recovered extremely well from what in most cases would have been a crippling injury,” said Krotscheck. “We are one of only five teaching hospitals that have performed this procedure. Our team and Jake’s resilience all contributed to making our first canine knee replacement a success.”

Now a year post-surgery, Jake recently passed his first anniversary check-up with flying colors.

“Look at him run!” said Gillette as he tossed Jake’s favorite toy, spurring the eager retriever into a full sprint. “He’s happy as ever and his leg is like new. Before the surgery he wasn’t using it at all. Now we’re playing and hunting together again.”

jakedog035-copy_000jakedog096_000

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College of Veterinary Medicine News
http://vet.cornell.edu/news/Jake.cfm

Ticks untold

Prime suspects in mystery fevers may hold new tick-borne diseases
Suddenly your horse is sick and you don’t know why. She breathes normally but her temperature is rising, her eyes grow yellow with jaundice, she seems depressed, and barely eats. The fever is clear but the cause is not; even the most experienced experts can offer no concrete answers. Eventually the fever fades, but is that the end of whatever caused it or is the source still lurking somewhere inside?

Horse owners across the states are facing this distressing scenario. At the Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC), Dr. Linda Mittel fields a growing number of calls about these mysterious fevers of unknown origins (FUOs). Many come from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes areas: the nation’s topmost hotbeds of human tick-borne disease. This pattern led Mittel to suspect that the culprits of the fever caper could be ticks and the difficult-to-diagnose diseases they carry.

“Tick-borne diseases are some of the fastest growing emerging diseases in the United States right now,” said Mittel. “As ticks continue expanding their numbers and geographic range these diseases may affect new areas. We get calls about fevers at broodmare operations, showbarns, and farms where race horses rest or layup, even in areas where they didn’t know they had ticks. But horses moving between states can move ticks with them, and the effects of this movement are starting to show.”

Mittel and colleagues at the AHDC are embarking on a project to find just what diseases ticks in hotbed zones are carrying and whether they are behind the wash of mystery fevers in horses. The study will use samples from horses suffering FUOs to look for bacterial infections known to be transmitted by ticks (Anaplasma, Babesia, Borrelia, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia) as well as other bacteria known to cause non-respiratory infection in horses (Leptospira, Bartonella, and Neorickettsia.)

These agents are considered emerging infectious diseases in humans, and this will be the first study determining their presence in horses with FUOs. The study will also sample ticks found on or near horses in designated areas to find which pathogens they carry and to potentially discover previously undocumented tick-borne pathogens.

Many tick-borne diseases are sensitive to specific drugs; others are not sensitive to antibiotics at all. Knowing which diseases are at the root of FUOs will help veterinarians treat them effectively. It will also help owners understand how the causes of fevers might impact affected horses’ futures in racing, performance, or showmanship.

“I’m quite excited to start solving the mysteries of these fevers and to possibly uncover new previously unrecognized diseases – in horses and people,” said Mittel. “If these agents are in the horses, humans may also have them without realizing– people who work with these horses might be particularly at risk. Knowing what we’re dealing with here will hopefully solve the mystery of FUOs and help equine and human medicine recognize and address the growing onslaught of tick-borne disease.”

This research is funded by the Harry M. Zweig Memorial Fund for Equine Research.

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First discovery of cells expelling mitochondria uncovers newfound survival tactic

An ancient union between cell and organelle has shown the first sign of fracture, challenging common conceptions of a primordial partnership all multicellular organisms rely on to live. Cornell researchers have recorded the first direct evidence of cells expelling intact mitochondria, the cellular machinery responsible for energy production.

AAAmitochondria B

An illustrated mitochondrion

Malfunctioning mitochondria produce free-radicals that damage cells, contributing to aging, mitochondrial myopathies, and disorders ranging from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and dementia to Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. The newfound breakup behaviour, described in Mitochondrion 2011 Nov.11(6), may be an early cell-survival strategy to escape the toxic effects of damaged mitochondria.

“It is very surprising to see living cells actively jettisoning vital parts of themselves,” said Dr. Theodore Clark, immunologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “This is the first time full mitochondria have been found outside cells and it may account for 15 years’ worth of unexplained data showing mitochondrial DNA and protein in extracellular spaces. We think these cells’ behaviour reveals a newfound survival tactic deeply rooted in evolution.”

Today’s mitochondria evolved from freewheeling bacteria that settled down in other cells two billion years ago. In exchange for food and shelter, the bacteria helped cells break nutrients into energy. These helpful tenants became modern mitochondria: the power-plants inside all cells of nearly every animal, plant, fungus, and protozoan.

Yet domestic disputes over cellular housekeeping may spur divorce, according to findings from Clark’s lab showing mitochondria moving out.

Graduate student Yelena Bisharyan discovered this while studying an unrelated phenomenon: escape stunts of the fish parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Clark’s lab had observed these parasitic protozoa avoiding destruction by shaking off attacking antibodies and exiting their hosts and wanted to see how they escaped.

“Attacking antibodies bind to the parasite’s cell surface,” said Clark. “We suspected that when antibodies attach, the parasite can shed them by breaking off its surface proteins – sort of like a lizard shedding its tail.”

tetrehymena 2

Tetrahymena, a protozoan, sheds proteins and mitochondria in response to attacking antibodies

Applying antibodies to parasites in culture, Bisharyan observed the reactions of Ichtyophthirius and Tetrahymena, another ciliated protozoan used as a model system to study fundamental biological principles across species.

Using negative staining and electron microscopy techniques, Bisharyan recorded parasites sacrificing their surface proteins to rid themselves of attached antibodies. Yet her images also captured something completely unexpected: intact and fragmented mitochondria coming out of the parasite’s cells.

This surprising finding won Bisharyan an invitation to present at one of the 2011 Gordon Research Conferences, a prestigious international forum showcasing major discoveries across scientific fields.

“Mitochondria experts were very excited to see this,” said Clark. “Over the past 15 years several papers have reported mitochondrial DNA and proteins floating outside mammalian cells. No one knew how or why they got there. What we’ve found in protozoa may help explain similar processes in mammals.”

Mitochondria (m) are pushed to the surface and jettisoned from the cell

mitochondria shed

Mitochondria (red) discovered outside cells

Certain cellular stressors can trigger mitochondrial expulsion, according to Bisharyan’s study. In protozoa, for example, not only antibodies but also heat shock can induce this effect. These stressors elevate calcium levels within the cell, possibly damaging mitochondria and causing them to produce toxic free-radicals.

“Our hypothesis is that mitochondria become poisoned and these protozoa have found a way to rid themselves of the damaged powerplants before they can cause further harm,” said Clark. “We think their behaviour reveals an early adaption to cellular stress that other species may share.”

Mammals and fish parasites may bear little family resemblance these days, but a common ancestor may have equipped both with emergency mitochondria-removal systems. Understanding this process could illuminate new approaches to reducing mitochondria-induced damage in humans and other animals.

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Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine news

http://vet.cornell.edu/news/Mitochondria.cfm

Researchers discover what cancer cells need to travel

Feb. 21, 2012

By Carly Hodes

cancer cell

An invasive cancer cell moves with its leading edge.

Cancer cells must prepare for travel before invading new tissues, but new Cornell research has found a possible way to stop these cells from ever hitting the road.

Researchers have identified two key proteins that are needed to get cells moving and have uncovered a new pathway that treatments could block to immobilize mutant cells and keep cancer from spreading, says Richard Cerione, Goldwin Smith Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The study, co-authored by graduate student Lindsey Boroughs, Jared L. Johnson, Ph.D. ‘11, and Marc Antonyak, senior research associate, is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (286:37094-37107)

Most adult cells stay stationary, but the ability for some to move helps embryos develop, wounds heal and immune responses mobilize. When migrating cells go astray they can cause developmental disorders, ranging from cardiovascular disease to mental retardation. Metastasis (the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another) also relies on cell migration. How exactly cancer cells migrate
and invade tissues continues to be a mystery. However, Cerione’s lab uncovered a potentially important clue when it noticed that cancer cells gearing up to move would collect a protein called tissue transglutaminase (tTG) into clusters near the cell membrane.

meta“TTG is turning up in many aspects of human cancer research and seems to be contributing to the process that turns cells cancerous,” said Cerione. “Lindsey and Marc discovered that cells must gather tTG into a specific place in their membrane before they can move. But tTG is usually inactive, and we’ve been trying to understand how a cell gets this protein to the exact right place so that it can be activated to stimulate cell migration.”

Observing breast-cancer cells in culture, Cerione’s lab found a missing link in our understanding of cell migration: Cancerous cells become hyperactive invasion vehicles by using tTG together with other proteins like wheels, poking them through the surface to form a “leading edge” that pulls the cell forward. But to get the wheels to the leading edge, it turns out they need another protein to roll them there – a “chaperone” protein called heat-shock-protein-70 (Hsp70).

“We’ve known for years that Hsp70 acts as a chaperone to other proteins, ensuring that they assume the right structure and behave properly when a cell is under stress,” said Cerione. “Heat shock proteins have also been implicated in cancer, although scientists have been trying to understand their exact role in cancer. Our research has uncovered a previously unknown role for these chaperones – helping tTG get to the leading edge. TTG must be in this location for cancer to spread.”

migrating cervical cancer cell

A migrating cervical cancer cell stained for tissue transglutaminase (green). Cells must gather this protein at their leading edge in order to move.

When cells become stressed, Hsp70 influences the behavior of their “client” proteins, ensuring they keep the right shape. Cells need chaperones like Hsp70 to ensure that various proteins work correctly and don’t warp, but these same chaperones can help cancer cells spread by helping move tTG to the membrane surface. Using inhibitors that block the function of chaperones, Cerione and his team paralyzed Hsp70s and stopped breast cancer cells in culture from gathering tTG into a leading edge, effectively immobilizing them.

Exactly how Hsp70 gets tTG going remains unknown, but Cerione believes other proteins are involved.

“If we can better understand how Hsp70 influences tTG, we can figure out ways to modulate that interaction to immobilize cancer cells and keep them from becoming invasive,” said Cerione. “We suspect Hsp70 is using a third kind of protein to move tTG, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out now. Finding the next link in this chain of events could have important consequences for preventing cancer migration and metastasis.”

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/Migration.cfm

Media Hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Feb12/CancerMovers.html

Ithaca Journal

http://www.theithacajournal.com/article/20120222/LIFE/202220336/Cornell-scientists-find-cancer-cells-need-travel?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Life|s

PhysOrg

http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-02-cancer-cells.html

ECNMag

http://www.ecnmag.com/News/Feeds/2012/02/blogs-the-cutting-edge-researchers-discover-what-cancer-cells-need-to-tra/

Zeit News

http://www.zeitnews.org/biotechnology/researchers-discover-what-cancer-cells-need-to-travel.html

My Science

http://www.myscience.cc/news/2012/what_cancer_cells_need_to_travel-2012-cornell

Reddit

http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/q0swt/cancer_cells_must_prepare_for_travel_before/

Laboratory Equipment

http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news-Proteins-Key-to-Stopping-Cancer-from-Spreading-022312.aspx

Conservation in action

First Indonesian to receive major fellowship will help save world’s rarest rhinoceroses

Deep in the Indonesian rainforest on the island of Java roam the last of earth’s most critically endangered large mammal species: the Javan rhinoceros. Once Asia’s most widespread rhinoceroses, these secretive forest-dwellers disappeared altogether from the continent’s mainland in October 2011, when the last individual was found dead in Vietnam with its horn chopped off by poachers. A single population of just 40 rhinoceroses survives in the western half of Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park, cramped into a corner of the island that has reached its carrying capacity.

The Indonesian government recently endorsed a daring plan to expand the range of their emblem species by establishing a second population with more room to grow. Yet a major concern remains. The plan involves moving some rhinoceroses from the isolated westernmost tip of Java to the eastern side of the park—an area surrounded by 19 agricultural villages whose inhabitants rely on water buffalo to work their rice paddies. No fences limit the wanderings of these loosely managed buffalo, which regularly pass into the park and could spread diseases that would quickly decimate the rhino’s population.

Cornell postdoc Dr. Kurnia Khairani has received a Fellowship Training Grant from the Morris Animal Foundation to address this problem. With the help of faculty and students at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Khairani is combining fieldwork in Indonesia with labwork and training at Cornell to improve the health and outlook of Javan rhinoceroses. It is the first time an Indonesian has received this prestigious award, and the first time a Cornell fellow will be trained in conservation medicine.

“Of the five rhinoceros species the Javan is the rarest, and Khairani’s work is critical to its future,” said Dr. Robin Radcliffe, director of the Cornell Conservation Medicine Program, one of the world’s foremost experts working in rhino conservation. Radcliffe oversees the project and is excited by its possibilities. “Khairani herself is a major investment for conservation efforts in this region: she will take her Cornell training back to Indonesia and become a decision-maker in her own country. Cornell is involved in real-world conservation, training people who will use what they learn here to tackle new problems in the race to preserve biodiversity.”

A postdoc in the laboratory of immunologist Dr. Julia Fellipe, Khairani will work under the joint mentorship of Fellipe and Radcliffe. Additional mentorship from epidemiologist Dr. Daryl Nydam and microbiologist Dr. Pat McDonough will round out Khairani’s skills.

Conducting a preliminary health survey of village buffalo, Khairani found several diseases of concern to rhinoceroses, including blood parasites, salmonellosis, and leptospirosis. With highly infectious diseases such as SARS, West Nile Virus, and Avian Influenza making worldwide headlines for crossing species barriers and ecosystems, it is critical to get this historic move of the rarest rhinoceros right the first time. Khairani’s ongoing survey will focus on hemorrhagic septicemia, a bacterial disease linked to four recorded die-offs of Javan rhinoceroses in the region. Khairani will determine the prevalence, distribution, and risk of contracting septicemia faced by the buffalo population; conduct questionnaire-based interviews with buffalo owners to determine management factors that might contribute to the regional epidemiology of the disease; and propose possible interventions.

The project also involves outreach, educating local public health officers and villagers on septicemia diagnosis and management through hands-on training. It has also opened doors for Cornell veterinary students to gain valuable hands-on international experience, and several have already conducted internships in Indonesia with Khairani through Cornell’s Conservation Medicine Program with funding by Expanding Horizons.


“Knowledge of the region’s diseases will help veterinary officers improve the health of buffalo, a resource crucial to the region’s economic vitality,” said Khairani. “Healthier buffalo will enhance the well-being of local villagers while reducing their impact on the park. Improving our understanding of animal health in the area will help reduce the risk of disease transmission from livestock to rhinoceroses. This is essential to establishing a second habitat and population of the rare Javan rhinoceros, a crown jewel of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity.”

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Cornell’s satellite animal hospital enters second year

Cornell University Veterinary Specialists extends advanced clinical capabilities and education to NY Metro area

January 14 marked the first birthday of Cornell University Veterinary Specialists (CUVS), the College of Veterinary Medicine’s satellite referral and emergency hospital in Stamford, CT. In less than a year, CUVS has served the medical needs of more than 2,500 animals referred from over 400 veterinarians across the region for advanced diagnostics and treatment in emergency and critical care, cardiology, internal medicine, orthopedic and soft tissue surgery, and oncology.

As collaborations and caseloads continue to grow, CUVS, the nation’s largest academically affiliated veterinary center, is broadening its impact on pet-owners and the veterinary community across the Northeast with multiple educational initiatives.

“CUVS has become a leading veterinary referral center in the NY metropolitan area,” said Dean Michael Kotlikoff. “As a College we are engaging in academic referral medicine in the same way that the strongest medical colleges’ academic medical centers lead human medicine. In the absence of an academic footprint in the NY metropolitan area, we have added a previously unavailable option to access specialty services and continuing education.”

Monthly continuing education lectures for area veterinarians, held in the center’s 45-seat classroom, enable practitioners to stay up-to-date on important clinical topics while earning nationally-approved professional credits.  Regularly held education sessions for local pet owners, led by CUVS specialists, have covered topics as diverse as pet adoption, first-aid, and geriatric care. Partnering with Mercy College’s programs in veterinary technology, CUVS also offers frequent labs, lectures, and clinical externships for students and professional technicians.


In Fall 2011 CUVS held its first all-day continuing education event for referring veterinarians. More than 100 veterinarians attended the sold-out program entitled The First 24 Hours: A Multifaceted Approach to the Emergency Patient at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich, CT. Faculty members from the College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca joined CUVS specialists to lecture on a range of topics in emergency medicine and guide labs that offered hands-on experience.

Veterinarians choosing the CPR lab practiced resuscitating a robotic virtual dog under the guidance of its creator, Dr. Daniel Fletcher, assistant professor in the section of emergency and critical care. Dr. Margaret Thompson, section chief of imaging at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, led the computer-based laboratory in emergency radiology of the thorax and abdomen.

“Feedback from attendees was very positive, and we all enjoyed meeting local veterinarians face-to-face,” said Dr. Susan Hackner, Chief Medical Officer of CUVS, and a double-boarded specialist in Internal Medicine and Emergency & Critical Care. “The veterinary field is a small community, and we do refer cases back and forth, but we don’t often get a chance to meet as a group to get to know each other. Putting faces to names helps us forge stronger bonds with our referring veterinarians, and we look forward to holding more events like this.”

Educational opportunities at CUVS are also available to Cornell’s veterinary students, who are eligible to complete observational externship rotations at the specialty referral center, as several have already done.

Collaborations between the College and CUVS extend to faculty and clinicians.

“The College’s faculty help read our imaging studies, and College clinicians have used our services for consulting,” said Hackner. “Dr. Meg Thompson is training us to get the most out of CT scanning, and we are working with Dr. Wakshlag in Nutrition to open CUVS to nutrition resident rotations. Dr. Marta Castelhano has helped us to set up an active research site collecting samples for the College’s nationally recognized DNA Bank.  We look forward to further deepening these collaborations.”

Quick facts:

  • An advanced diagnostics and treatment center for pets with serious or emergency health issues.
  • Specialty referrals and 24/7 emergency and critical care
  • Six specialists, two part-time specialists, three emergency veterinarians
  • Specialties include emergency & critical care, orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery, internal medicine, cardiology, oncology, and a recently added ophthalmology service
  • 20,000-square-foot facilities include:
    • Intensive care unit; emergency room; three surgery suites with interventional radiology and fluoroscopy; imaging suites with CT scanner, digital radiology, echocardiography, ultrasound; 45-seat classroom auditorium; onsite apartment for visiting faculty and externs
    • Visit www.cuvs.org to learn more

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Reverse genetics better vaccines

Cornell-Israel collaboration works backwards to fight virus threatening livestock trade worldwide

European livestock beware: bluetongue virus is coming your way, and it’s deadlier than ever. Once limited to warmer climes, the insect-borne virus’s new highly pathogenic strain has been spreading northward since 2006, reaching farther into Europe than ever before. Bluetongue’s rise threatens ruminants and the industries depending on them. Sheep and deer suffer most, developing dangerously high fevers, swollen mouths, and occasionally the disease’s signature blue tongue. Most infected sheep and deer die; other ruminants (cattle, goats, camels, buffalo, and antelopes) show milder symptoms but can carry the disease, further enabling its spread.

Illnesses, deaths, and international trade restrictions due to bluetongue have cost the world economy billions, including the United States, whose more benign strains still hinder livestock-related exports to bluetongue-free countries. Vaccines work weakly at best: with 25 separate strains each needing yearly updates, the quickly-evolving bluetongue virus seems to defy defense.

In the arms race between virus and victim, human knowledge is catching up. Dr. John Parker, virologist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Baker Institute for Animal Health, has joined Israeli microbiologist Dr. Marcelo Ehrlich of the University of Tel Aviv to learn what makes bluetongue tick, unlocking the inner workings of its deadliest strain with discoveries that could help in designing a lasting universal vaccine.

“No one thought bluetongue would spread this far, and with current vaccines even the most watchful countries can’t protect themselves from it,” said Parker. “Insects carrying bluetongue don’t respect national borders, and climate change has let them expand their range. Meanwhile this new strain is especially virulent: good at bursting through cells to infect new ones. If we can learn how bluetongue kills cells and why this strain is so good at it, we may be able to better control its spread.”

When bluetongue invades a cell it creates a protein called NS3, reproduces, and eventually bursts through the cell. All strains produce NS3, but the more virulent strains produce an altered form. When experiments in Israel suggested NS3 helps degrade cells so the virus can escape, Ehrlich contacted Parker, a former collaborator, who studies cell death.

The pair has created a novel plasmid-based system to discover exactly what NS3 does using reverse genetics. While standard “forward” genetics start with a trait then look for the genes influencing it, recently developed “reverse” genetics systems manipulate specific genes to look for their effects. Parker and Ehrlich are making mutant bluetongue viruses that alter NS3 to see what it does in a cell.

“Reverse genetics has become the gold standard for doing molecular virology,” said Parker. “It’s particularly useful for studying specific proteins. But until recently it was very difficult to develop these systems for reoviruses, the family to which bluetongue belongs.”

In 2006 one of Parker’s collaborators created a new reverse genetics system that uses plasmids, easily copied pieces of bacterial DNA, to insert viral mutants directly into cells, skipping steps that once impeded the study of reoviruses.

“The majority of Cornell’s microbiology labs do this every day: they take plasmid DNA, mutate it, and study the effect on a protein,” said Parker. “It’s much more convenient and makes transferring genetic material between labs easier, enabling better collaboration. In Israel, where virulent bluetongue is common, Marcelo will conduct experiments that for biosecurity reasons could never be conducted in the US, where strains are relatively benign.”

The researchers took an unusual route in constructing the mutant viruses they will study: hiring a company to synthesize them from scratch.

“These days you can make a pathogen by putting in an order,” said Parker. “It was first done for Polio virus, and more and more researchers are taking this approach. It’s cheaper and faster than paying grad students to spend months cloning genes. People used to learn PCR—nowadays my lab staff learn how to place an order, making sure the DNA sequence they ask for is right.”

“Viruses are often seen as mysterious and dangerous things that are hard to control. There’s some truth to that, but we are making significant progress in our abilities to manipulate viruses in ways that help us understand them better in order to develop better vaccines and treatments.”

Their work is supported by the US-Israel Binational Agricultural Research Development (BARD) Fund, which funds collaborative research to solve agricultural problems.

File:Map of molecular epidemiology of bluetongue virus in Europe.gif

The molecular epidemiology of bluetongue virus (BTV) since 1998: routes of introduction of different serotypes and individual virus strains. 

Map Source

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012