Monthly Archives: June 2011

Sharing the wealth

Professor emeritus continues serving the community and the profession

If Noah’s ark sails again it could make a fruitful boarding stop in the office of Howard Evans, BS ’44, PhD ’50. A microcosm of biodiversity, this miniature museum is decked floor to ceiling with animal specimens from across the globe. Yet it models only a brief sample of the expansive zoological knowledge Evans holds. This professor emeritus is a proficient anatomist whose life is rich with stories of worldwide adventures, a tireless fascination for how life is built across kingdoms, and an equal delight in sharing this beauty with others.

“Everyone should know some anatomy because it’s the basis of how animals act and what they do,” said Evans. Since joining the Veterinary College’s Department of Anatomy in 1950, he has taught thousands of veterinarians the inside story of how animals work, with courses spanning species from farm to domestic to exotic.

With a joy in teaching as indiscriminate as his joy in nature, he advised Cornell’s undergraduate zoology club, served on 37 graduate committees, and spent 20 summers teaching the AQUAVET program for aspiring aquatic specialists. This generous collaborative spirit extended to his colleagues at the College, where he served as Secretary of the Faculty for twelve years and chaired the department of Anatomy for ten.

He has served the profession’s future through over 160 publications, including his seminal text, Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog, which he and Sandy deLahunta are currently updating to a new full-color edition. He has edited several anatomy journals, and served as consultant for anatomy programs in universities including Tufts, University of Georgia, UC Davis, and international universities in Grenada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Taiwan, and Japan.

For Evans, retirement means more time for teaching. “Leading trips for Cornell Adult University (CAU) has been good fun, and gave me the chance to collect more specimens for Cornell’s Museum of Vertebrates,” said Evans. Since retiring in 1986 Evans has led scores of Cornell alumni across the world in over a dozen educational expeditions through CAU. Traveling to New Guinea, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and more, his recent Antarctic expedition introduced him to the Gentoo penguin skeleton now adorning his desk.

With bins brimming full of tangible treasures including stuffed animals, bones, fossils, and more, Evans now takes his show on tour. The energetic 88-year-old regularly presents on natural history topics across Cornell, including at Alice Cook House, where he is a Faculty Fellow and frequently dines with undergraduate residents. He and his wife, Erica, continue yearly pilgrimages to teach fish structure at Cornell’s Shoals Marine Lab, and he still gives anatomy lectures at the College.

His natural treasures and world of experience fascinate children at local elementary schools, where his visits are in high demand. Twice a week in the fall he gives classrooms a taste of nature’s spectacular show and tell.

“Teachers try to encourage kids to ask questions. But when they get excited about nature they just love to tell stories,” Evans laughed. As a storytelling scientist gifted at both these arts, Evans can relate.

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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Cornell receives $500,000 to tackle salmonella in tomatoes

tomatoTwo experts from Cornell are teaming up to tackle salmonella contamination in produce, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cornell was one of 24 institutions to receive such grants to reduce food-borne illnesses and deaths from microbial contamination. Craig Altier, a salmonella specialist at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will work with Greg Martin, Cornell professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology and an expert on tomato disease resistance at the Cornell-affiliated Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, to investigate how salmonella interacts with tomatoes with the hope of finding ways to stop its spread.

“My lab explores how salmonella interacts with animal intestinal tracts,” said Altier, associate professor of population medicine and diagnostic science. “Bacteria are very frugal creatures; they turn genes on and off only when they need to. They only turn on the genes that make animals sick when they know they’re in an animal, and we want to know how this process works in plants. We will look at which bacterial genes turn on when salmonella enters a tomato and try to figure out how to intervene.”

salmonellaUnwittingly sharing our food with unseen organisms sends thousands to the hospital each year. Some 50 million Americans get sick every year after consuming food-poisoning pathogens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 3,000 of those cases are fatal. Salmonella bacteria pose the biggest food-borne health threat in the United States. While the quest for cleaner food reduced cases of many food-borne pathogens during the past 15 years, salmonella infections continue to rise.

Altier will grow mutant strains of salmonella in his lab to study how the bacteria affect tomatoes when they lack certain genes. He will take strains to Martin’s lab to test them on tomato plants while Martin studies the plants’ immune responses. After running them through the course of infection, Altier will remove the salmonella from the plants to analyze in his lab.

“A number of recent salmonella outbreaks started with contaminated produce,” said Martin. “My lab studies how the tomato immune system acts against certain bacterial pathogens, and this new project will test whether the plant immune system interferes with salmonella’s ability to survive on leaves and fruits. If it does, we may be able to breed new varieties that suppress salmonella growth, which could have implications for lessening salmonella contamination in many different crop plants.”

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Original Press Release:

College of Veterinary Medicine news

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

Media Hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June11/Salmonella.html

Bionity

http://www.bionity.com/en/news/133272/cornell-receives-500-000-to-tackle-salmonella-in-tomatoes.html

My Science

http://www.myscience.cc/en/wire/cornell_receives_500_000_to_tackle_salmonella_in_tomatoes-2011-cornell

US Ag Net

http://www.usagnet.com/state_headlines/state_story.php?tble=NY2011&ID=560

South Dakota Ag Connection

http://www.southdakotaagconnection.com/story-national.php?Id=1372&yr=2011

Bionity

http://www.bionity.com/en/news/133272/cornell-receives-500-000-to-tackle-salmonella-in-tomatoes.html?WT.mc_id=ca0265

 

Molecular messenging

From molecular blueprints to bacterial cities, Holger Sondermann explores biological architecture

What do sink scum, dental plaque, and streambed slime have in common? They are all biofilms, billions of bacteria banded together into a resilient community. Beyond clogging your drain, these colonies can turn equipment such as catheters, implants, and heart valves into biomedical hazards. When growing inside the body, biofilms can cause infectious diseases affecting urinary tracts infections, gingivitis, listeriosis in dairy cattle, and the infections associated with the deadly incurable lung disease cystic fibrosis.

But moving from solo life to social life requires communication. Holger Sondermann, structural biologist and student of cellular communication pathways, was determined to find out how Bacteria organize.

“Biofilms cause the majority of all chronic infectious diseases,” said Sondermann. “Once formed, they are extremely difficult to disperse. Knowing how these bacteria aggregate will help us find ways to stop them, but there was a void of information with regard to their signaling mechanisms.”

What happens when a lone bacterium decides it’s had enough of the single’s scene? Like any good Facebook user, it sends out friend requests. Discovering a social networking tool much like those we use online, Sondermann found how bacteria form biofilms by sending invitations to their neighbors. A receptor protein called VpsT accepts the request, and prepares the individual for community life.

“The next step is learning to modulate this pathway,” said Sondermann. “This could inform hospital instrument design, guiding the creation of materials that repel biofilm formation. Understanding how they grow will be crucial in developing future therapies to disperse biofilms and treat chronic infectious diseases. In the case of bovine Listeria infections, understanding these mechanisms could help improve food safety.”

Unveiling such molecular machinery requires probing proteins at the most basic level to uncover their structure. In his second line of research, Sondermann seeks the biophysical blueprints of cell signaling proteins in the brain.

“When they work right, these proteins help telling nerves what to do. When they don’t, they are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as paraplegias, neuropathies, schizophrenia, and Huntingtons,” said Sondermann. “Our goal is to find how they are normally built in order to see what physically changes when their mutations lead to neurological diseases. Seeing these differences shows us what is physically going wrong, and may lead to better diagnostic tools for neurological disorders.”

A 2008 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences and Robert N. Noyes Assistant Professor in Life Science and Technology, Sondermann received tenure in November 2010.

“I hope to continue our lab’s work while expanding our collaborations,” said Sondermann. “We have partnered with faculty at the Dartmouth Medical School and University of California, Santa Cruz on the biofilm project, using complementary approaches and exchanging new knowledge.  I also hope to intensify my interactions with colleagues in the College of Veterinary Medicine who are interested in infectious diseases, to explore how our research program can fit into the broader mission of the college to improve health across species.”

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‘Scopes Magazine, Summer 2011

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/documents/scopessummer11_web.pdf

New Lyme disease test for horses and dogs will help improve treatment

Bettina WagnerRomping through summer fields seems like a harmless pleasure for dogs, horses and humans alike. But just one bite from the wrong tick can rob an animal of that pastime. The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi catch rides with certain species of ticks and can cause Lyme disease in animals the ticks bite. Catching the disease early is paramount because it becomes progressively harder to fight as the bacteria conduct guerilla warfare from hiding places in the joints, nervous tissues and organs of their hosts.

A new test for Lyme disease in horses and dogs, developed by researchers at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC) at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell, will improve our understanding of the disease and pinpoint time of infection, opening possibilities for earlier intervention and more effective treatment plans.

“We’ve offered Lyme disease testing for years,” said Bettina Wagner, the Harry M. Zweig Associate Professor in Equine Health and lead developer of the test, “but we have recently been able to improve our techniques with the multiplex testing procedure. The new test exceeds its predecessors in accuracy, specificity and analytical sensitivity.”

The multiplex procedure, which can detect three different antibodies produced in response to the bacteria associated with Lyme disease using a single test on the sample, eliminates the need for separate tests. In addition, it requires smaller samples and answers more questions about the disease. Multiplex technology has been used for the last decade, but the AHDC is the first veterinary diagnostic laboratory to use it to test for Lyme disease.

Different kinds of antibodies can be found in the body at different stages of infection. The new test can distinguish and measure these differences, giving more information about the timing of the disease.

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease are particularly difficult to detect, according to Wagner, because after infection they tend to hide where they can’t be found. They bury in the joints of dogs, causing arthritis or lameness. Serious kidney disease has also been associated with Lyme infections in dogs. In humans and horses, they also burrow into the nervous system, in the spine or the brain, causing pain, paralysis or behavioral changes. By the time such clinical signs appear, the bacteria are usually not in circulation anymore.

Horse“Now we can distinguish between infection and vaccination and also between early and chronic infection stages,” Wagner said. “That was not possible before. You were able to say whether an animal was infected, but not when it was infected, or how far the infection had developed.”

The test and information the test provides can help veterinarians make advanced decisions about treatment. After the long treatment period ends, veterinarians usually conduct follow-up testing to see if it was successful.

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Cornell Chronicle: June 16, 2011
http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/lymeassay.cfm

Grayson Storm Cat Award to study stem cell therapy

Catherine Hackett, DVM, Ph.D., has been selected as the winner of the 2010 Storm Cat Career Development Award. The $15,000 award is presented to an early-stage scientist with an interest in a career in equine research.

Selected from numerous competitors, Hackett’s research will focus on equine stem cells in a project entitled “Temporal Analysis of Mesechymal Progenator Cells.” The research will be overseen by Dr. Lisa Fortier, a distinguished researcher, recipient of multiple Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation grants, and frequent recipient of Zweig funding.

“My project investigates characteristic cell surface traits of cell populations in bone marrow, particularly the cells that can form tissues such as cartilage, bone, and muscle,” said Hackett. “I look at the surface of different cell types to determine what type of mature cells they will become, such as blood or bone cells. I also study how these surface properties change over time in culture as the cells grow and respond to culture conditions.”

For patients waiting for stem cell therapy, it can take time (e.g. four to eight weeks) for cultured stem cells to divide enough times to reach clinically useful numbers. Hackett hopes to find ways to both decrease the time needed in culture before cells are ready to be implanted and to improve the ability of cells to form the correct tissue

“Stem cells from bone marrow have been used in horses to help heal injuries to tendons, cartilage, and joints, improving repair and changing the patient’s immune response to transplantation of cells or tissues from a different donor,” said Hackett. “The same applications are being investigated in humans to treat similar types of injuries as those seen in the horse. The properties of mesenchymal stem cells are still poorly understood, and we hope our research into their characteristics and behavior can help find ways to improve their clinical utility and function.”

The award is named for the Thoroughbred stallion Storm Cat, which stood at Overbrook Farm in Kentucky. Overbrook is owned by the family of Lucy Young Hamilton, a Foundation board of directors member who personally underwrites the Career Development Award.

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Pregnancy paper picked by bio elite

A paper on pregnancy immunology from the lab of Dr. Doug Antczak has been selected by the Faculty of 1000, placing his work in a library of the top two percent of published articles in biology and medicine.

According to its website, the Faculty of 1000 (F1000) identifies and evaluates the most important articles in biology and medical research publications. Articles are selected by a peer-nominated global faculty composed of the world’s leading scientists and clinicians who rate chosen articles and explain their importance.

Antczak’s paper, “Functions of ectopically transplanted invasive horse trophoblast,” (Reproduction 2011 Mar. 9), was selected and evaluated by F1000 member Anthony Michael Carter.

“This paper advances understanding of how invasive trophoblast cells are able to establish endometrial cups in the mare,” wrote Carter in an evaluation describing Antczak’s discovery. Trophoblast cells, which form around embryos, can migrate to the uterus. In pregnant mares, these invading cells form ulcer-like structures in the uterus that produce equine gonadotropin. This hormone serves several functions in pregnancy including protecting the embryo from the mother’s immune system.
“Our work may have practical application in equine practice, for example in the development of new methods to prevent unwanted estrus in competition mares,” said Antczak. “It also has implications for biomedical use in the future, as a way to provide sustained delivery of biologically active molecules or drugs.”

The project’s lead scientist, Dr. Amanda de Mestre, was formerly a post-doctoral fellow in the Antczak lab, and is now a faculty member at the Royal Veterinary College in London. De Mestre’s training included two distinct experiences at Cornell. While still a veterinary student in her native Australia, she spent a summer conducting research in the Antczak lab as a participant in Cornell’s Leadership Program.

F1000’s database provides both a repository for peer-rated high-impact biology articles and a social media forum for serious science. Its community features enable discussions to be built around the selected publications. Additional faculty members may evaluate and rate the article, and subscribers can post comments. Antczak will be able to join the conversation, providing follow-up notes concerning his article and responding to ideas put forth by commenters and evaluators.
“As a post-publication peer review service, we embrace the idea that the impact of your article can deepen and spread in unforeseen ways with community interaction,” wrote Sarah Greene, Editor in Chief of the F1000, in a letter to Antczak announcing his inclusion. “Even your own reckoning of the article may advance toward further conclusions and result in new strategies and collaborations.”

This research is part of a continuing program in equine pregnancy immunology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health that has been supported for many years by the Zweig Memorial Fund, the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Bloodstream battles

When bacteria bloom in the blood the ensuing battle can wreak havoc on the body. Endotoxemia, bacterial blood poisoning, ignites a rising tide of immune cells and blood platelets that help fight infection but can also cause tissue damage. In horses, endotoxemia and subsequent inflammation can cause severe complications following abdominal surgeries, in common equine disorders including colic and retained placenta, and in weak foals that fail to nurse properly.

Dr. Thomas Divers is leading a team of Cornell veterinarians investigating a new approach to treating the effects of endotoxemia by quelling the rampaging immune response. Collaborators Drs. Marjory Brooks, Susan Fubini, Ashlee Watts, Tracy Stokol, and Sally Ness aid in the investigation.

“Veterinary clinicians currently use a ‘best guess’ approach to managing horses with endotoxemia,” said Divers. “They typically administer a broad spectrum of treatments to clear bacteria and support cell repair, but specific attempts to block the inflammatory response have mostly failed.  We have developed a new strategy for treating endotoxin that targets blood platelets as a key control point.”

If successful, this novel approach will change the best-guess strategy into an evidence-based solution to suffering by using the anti-platelet drug clopidogrel (Plavix®), one of the most commonly used drugs in human medicine. The project will provide insights into the pathophysiology of endotoxemia and the ability of Plavix® to down-regulate platelet reactivity in endotoxic horses.
“Plavix® is a highly effective oral anti-platelet agent, and holds promise for helping treat inflamed horses,” said Divers. “We have optimized techniques to evaluate equine platelet reactivity, forming a testing panel broadly applicable for investigating thrombosis in horses, particularly in studying laminitis. We are now performing anti-platelet drug treatment trials for horses with endotoxemia. The trials are going well, and we are looking forward to publishing by the end of the year. When the patent on Plavix® expires in 2012, generic versions of the drug will become available, and we will be poised to start using anti-platelet drugs to affordably and effectively treat blood poisoning and inflammation in horses.”

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011