Monthly Archives: October 2011

Oct. 26, 2011

By Carly Hodes

maned wolf

The maned wolf, native to southeast South America, a near-threatened species, is one of the kinds of animals that students in the new Cornell-Smithsonian joint graduate program may address as they learn to become wildlife conservation scientists.

At a time when extinction threatens nearly one-quarter of all known vertebrate species, Cornell and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have teamed up to offer a new shared doctoral program that will train the next generation of wildlife conservation scientists.

The Cornell-Smithsonian Joint Graduate Training Program (JGTP) began accepting applications this month to train students who will leverage basic research at Cornell with conservation initiatives pioneered by one of the nation’s pre-eminent wildlife research institutes. Using the facilities, resources and expertise at both institutions, students will learn to become independent investigators equipped to study and preserve some of the rarest species on the planet.

“We are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and this crisis is manmade,” said Alex Travis, director of the Cornell Center for Wildlife Conservation, who helped organize the program. “Although we must continue to take every effort to preserve natural ecosystems, numbers of more and more species have dropped so low that they require focused conservation efforts. We want to train top students in a setting in which they will be able to apply basic scientific approaches and cutting-edge techniques to the preservation of biodiversity. The knowledge these collaborations generate will then help solve real conservation problems around the world.”

Students in the five-year program benefit from the dual mentorship of a Cornell faculty member and an SCBI staff scientist. Collaborative research projects will utilize resources in Ithaca and SCBI campuses (in Front Royal, Va., and Washington, D.C.), allowing students the opportunity to work with advanced biomedical facilities at Cornell and endangered species populations such as cheetahs, clouded leopards, cranes and oryx at SCBI.

Jen Nagashima

Jennifer Nagashima, the first student admitted in the Cornell-Smithsonian Joint Graduate Training Program during last year's pilot phase, studies canine reproduction.

Jennifer Nagashima, the first JGTP student admitted during last year’s pilot phase, for example, works on canine reproduction. She studies aspects of female reproduction at SCBI, where she works on in-vitro egg maturation and fertility synchronization. In the Travis lab, she is learning new technologies to preserve genetic resources of male animals using spermatogonial stem cells. She’s also synthesizing both lines of training in studies on assisted reproduction techniques such as in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. She has rounded out her studies by delving into how hormones control the canine reproductive cycle with Ned Place, a reproductive endocrinologist at Cornell.

“These topics are highly complementary, and Jennifer’s study benefits tremendously from her work in these three labs,” said Travis. “Bringing these skills together could help manage captive populations of endangered canids such as the African wild hog and South America’s maned wolf. Interestingly, these same approaches could help dog breeders filter diseases out of domestic populations while also helping humans. There are over 400 human diseases having similarity to diseases in dogs. Identifying genetic causes of disease can then benefit everyone.”

Carly Hodes is a writer 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/doctoralprogram.cfm

 

Media hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct11/SmithsonianVet.html

US Ag Net

http://www.usagnet.com/state_headlines/state_story.php?tble=NY2011&ID=994

News from Planet Earth

http://www.newsfromplanetearth.com/60749/cornell-smithsonian-to-train-new-generation-of-wildlife-scientists/

High Beam Research

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-270907727.html

Media Newswire

http://media-newswire.com/release_1161547.html

Young bald eagle returns to the sky

Eagle returns to the sky after successful treatment at the Swanson Wildlife Health Clinic

eagleA young female bald eagle found bleeding on the side of the road near Corning, NY, returned to the wild on Friday, October 7, three weeks after treatment at Cornell University’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Clinic. The bird was likely down for some time before a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officer found her and took her to the clinic, according to the clinic’s Director, Dr. George Kollias.

“She is an immature bird born this year, and they can be kind of clumsy,” said Kollias. “She was found underweight and in poor body condition. Sick or injured eagles will often scavenge road-kill, putting themselves at greater risk for parasite infection and trauma from traffic. I’ve seen several of these cases; if she did get hit by a car, she was relatively lucky.”

Dr. Emi Knafo, zoo and wildlife resident at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine who first handled the case, described the young bird’s resilience after trauma.

“She came in dazed and bleeding from her mouth and ear,” said Knafo. “We ran a series of tests to evaluate her condition. Radiographs and blood work looked normal, though she had a lot of intestinal parasites. She was big, strong, and relatively healthy, and she quickly regained alertness and started eating on her own in the first couple days.”

Five days after her arrival, the Cornell clinicians transferred the increasingly restless eagle to local wildlife rehabilitator Cynthia Page, owner of Page Wildlife Center in Manlius, NY.

“They grow very active when they’re confined,” said Kollias. “We someday hope to add a flight cage to our facilities so we can continue to treat birds while giving them enough room to move and practice flying. For now we try to get them out to rehab as soon as possible. Our resident Dr. Brendon Noonan cared for the bird until she was ready for rehab.”

Page mixed deworming medicine with the bird’s food and monitored her recovery in the facility’s 12ft x 36ft flight cage, where the eagle spent the last two and a half weeks rebuilding her abilities to take off, land, maneuver, and hunt.

band
Left to right: Michael Allen, Dr. George Kollias (sunglasses), DEC bird-bander, Cynthia Page (dark blue holding camera), two onlookers, Dr. Emi Knafo (brown, sunglasses), Post-Standard photographer

On the date of release a small team of wildlife workers from Cornell and the DEC converged outside the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Page carefully helped the bird out of her car, aided by the expert hands of retired DEC wildlife technician Michael Allen. While the eagle wore a leather hood to keep her calm and prevent her from biting, a DEC official banded her legs so that she could be identified in the future.

Followed by a group of captivated onlookers, they brought the bird to a grassy field bordering woods and marshlands full of grazing waterfowl. Page lowered the eagle to the ground to give her a chance to orient herself. Knafo removed the hood, and Page released her grip and stepped back.

birddThe eagle’s eyes dilated as she surged forward. Stumbling at first but with increasing drive she ran in a semicircle, stretched her wings, and began to rise.

Several powerful flaps later, her 8-foot wingspan shadowed the marsh, and the eagle returned to the sky. A chorus of honking alarms heralded her release as startled waterfowl scattered at the sight of the soaring predator. The eagle circled to land on a sturdy tree branch, where she ruffled her brown feathers and began to preen.

“It’s a remarkable feeling to watch a release and to know you helped make it possible,” said Kollias. “This year we’ve had more bald eagles at the clinic than ever before, about eight since last September. Maybe more people know what we do at the Clinic and bring in cases; maybe it’s because the population is rising.”

Once at the brink of extinction, the recovery of America’s iconic bird represents one of wildlife conservation’s greatest success stories. In 1975, officials found only two bald eagles in the entire state after hunting, pesticides, and deforestation devastated the population. Last Friday the young eagle treated at Cornell joined a growing population of 570+ estimated individuals across New York.

For more pictures, check out our Facebook Album of the release.

f f f
f ff eagle

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

Classroom innovation prepares students for clinics and professional life

Whatever their background, most new veterinary students share one desire: to work with animals as soon as possible. Continuous modifications and improvements to the curriculum—in response to input from faculty, students, alumni, and employers— have resulted in a history of  classroom adaptations in Cornell’s veterinary curriculum that continually bring students closer to the action sooner.

“We want to give students the tools they’ll need as veterinarians as early as possible so they can refine them over the time they’re with us,” said McDaniel. “Last Fall we introduced a new set of labs in which first-years perform basic procedures on all major species. After spending mornings learning anatomy while dissecting cadavers in Block I they look at the same structures in live animals in the afternoon. It gives these young people a wonderful sense of accomplishment and they can practice these skills during their summer experiences.”

Teaching skills to students sooner, the Clinical Procedures module now precedes the Public Health module, helping students gain comfort with one of medicine’s most infamously difficult endeavors: surgery.

“Surgical skills are hard for students; there’s a steep learning curve for handling instruments,” said McDaniel. “Past students got their first surgery experience in their third year. Now incoming first-years learn correct instrument handling from real surgeons and more advanced techniques and suture patterns in the spring.”

In response to student suggestions in course evaluations instructors introduced discussion sections to the Ethics and Animal Care module.  Small groups of students discuss ethically charged scenarios and share perspectives. The module’s latter portion now includes new lectures and discussions on animal nutrition.

The Community Practice Service (CPS) began offering underclassmen new opportunities to observe appointments run by fourth-year students and to practice communicating with clients by conducting brief patient-history interviews on camera. Peers and faculty use the recording to offer students constructive feedback on communication skills. Meanwhile, third-year students in the Communication Skills module must navigate new simulated client interactions involving actors playing clients with varied temperaments.

These classroom innovations aim to build solid foundations of competence and confidence they will need in their next stage of training and professional life.

“We meet students when they first walk in the door and begin equipping them with skills they’ll need in the clinics and beyond,” said Dr. Carolyn McDaniels, veterinary curriculum instructor and current director of Course VII. “This kind of course never existed when I was in school.”

Course VII, or “Block VII”, revolutionized veterinary learning at Cornell nearly twenty years ago. A foundation course, its six sequential sections span students’ first 2.5 years. Former course director Dr. John Ludders, professor emeritus of anesthesiology, has seen it through its multifaceted evolution.

“Back when we were designing the ‘new curriculum’ we realized students would miss basics such as examination skills, ethics, and public health,” recalled Ludders.  “So Dr. John Saidla designed a course called ‘Block VII’ to fill curricular gaps. The students really appreciated the course. When he left around 1999 several clinical faculty stepped up to help lead and refine the course.

“Students seemed inadequately prepared for clinic rotations. They could not perform some basic tests or properly restrain patients, and had problems understanding basic public health issues. So we revised Block VII to strengthen physical examination skills, teaching students to milk dairy cattle, perform diagnostic procedures in cadavers, complete governmental health certificates for patients, and use basic clinical equipment.”

Course VII became a catch-all repository for essential material not covered in the other six blocks. Last year, with the help of several faculty and former course directors, Dr. McDaniel led the course through its most recent innovations.

“In teaching I often ask myself and my students what makes someone a great veterinarian,” said Dr. McDaniel. “There has to be a knowledge base, but they also most have technical hand skills and the ability to communicate effectively. The first six blocks in the curriculum build the knowledge base. We cover the rest. That’s two thirds of a veterinarian’s most important learning.  I love watching students become veterinarians over the three years we see them in this course.”

‘Scopes Magazine
October 2011

Weighing in on weighing less

Nutrition research reveals paths to weight loss and the secret life of fat

Americans are getting fatter and so are their pets. Following rising trends in human obesity, nearly half of pet dogs and cats weigh too much, and it’s taking heavy tolls on their health. Cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and other bone and joint problems disproportionately plague overweight animals. Nutrition clinicians at Cornell’s Companion Animal Hospital are helping downsize this growing problem by creating knowledge and solutions that could help humans and pets reach healthy weights.

“Obesity is the number one preventable health problem in veterinary medicine today,” said Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, head of Cornell’s nutrition and obesity management services. “Food equals love; people give treats, pets get fatter. Education and prevention are the only real tools against obesity.”

Dr. Wakshlag’s team of two resident trainees and one nutrition technician offers personalized nutritional support and weight-management planning for pets. Their clinical research has attracted sponsorship from Nestle Purina, a pet-food manufacturer that values new nutrition knowledge, resulting in three papers this year and several studies in progress.

The first proved pedometers attached to bungee cord collars can accurately count a dog’s steps and used the technique to show that dogs that walk more stay fitter. The second paper used their pedometer methodology to demonstrate for the first time that exercising dogs could help them lose weight, and determined how many calories dogs can eat per 1,000 steps of walking while still trimming down.  Dr. Wakshlag uses his findings to develop intervention plans based on dog walking to prevent canine obesity.

The hospital’s nutrition residents are expanding on Dr. Wakshlag’s third study addressing a new finding that is changing the way veterinarians and human doctors look at fat.

“Historically people saw fat tissue as inert energy deposits,” said Dr. Jason Gagne ’09, second-year resident in the nutrition service. “Recently we’ve realized it acts more like endocrine tissue, releasing proteins called adipokines that activate the immune system and cause chronic inflammation. This can exacerbate many disease processes and lower insulin resistance, leading to diabetes. We’re trying to learn which cells in fat tissue produce adipokines.”

First-year resident Dr. Renee Streeter studies how heavy hounds handle hidden health hazards from pro-inflammatory proteins. Her research compares dogs’ adipokine levels to their body conditions and the levels of anti-inflammatory omega three fatty acids in their blood. While most adipokines increase with body score (higher is fatter) and harm the body, one kind does the opposite.

“Adiponectin is the single beneficial thing released from fat,” said Dr. Wakshlag. “Unlike other adipokines, it’s an anti-inflammatory insulin sensitizer. An injection of adiponectin will make your insulin work better. When you’re lean, you release a lot of it, when you’re fat, you release a lot less. That’s why you have to lose weight to become more sensitive to insulin.”

In the nutrition team’s clinical trials, inflammatory responses decreased due to lowering levels of bad adipokines after dogs lost weight.

“While most adipokines fell, we were surprised to find that canine adiponectin levels stayed the same. Dogs have much more adiponectin than cats or humans, no matter if they’re fat or thin. This may be one reason why dogs are less prone to Type-II diabetes than other species.”

Cornell’s headway on the obesity battlefront owes its success largely to corporate sponsors investing in the future of healthy pets.

“Nestle Purina has been phenomenally generous,” said Dr. Wakshlag. “They funded our pedometer-based weight-loss studies, Renee’s study, and Jason’s entire two-year residency. Proctor and Gamble, who makes Natura Products, IAMS, and Eukanuba, recently stepped up to fund Renee’s 3 year residency program, with plans to make this a continual position for the Cornell University Hospital for Animals.

“These partnerships meet the rising demand for nutrition knowledge in the private and corporate sectors. Two Cornell veterinary alumni– Dr. Kurt Venator ‘03 of Nestle Purina and Dr. Susan Giovengo ‘91 of Proctor and Gamble – helped make our residencies possible.  These pet food companies know the value of having nutrition experts in hospitals and hope to help fight the obesity epidemic these future clinicians will face.”

‘Scopes Magazine
October 2011

Reining in Roaring


Earlier detection and new treatments for horse racing’s number-one performance problem


It’s a big day at the track. Years of training and thousands of dollars are at
stake. The gates open and your horse lunges forward. But his breath comes
in gasps. It looks as if he’s wearing a heavy mask that is blocking his access to
air. Worn nerves signal sluggishly to weakened muscles that barely respond
enough to open his airway. He slows and falls to the back of the pack.

This career-limiting problem affects nearly 8 percent of race horses and a higher percentage of sport horses. Oficially called “recurrent laryngeal neuropathy,” the common equine disease is better known as “roaring” for the strained sounds affected horses make when they try to run. It shares similarities with human vocal cord paralysis, a neurological condition
causing difi culty breathing and loss of speech and requiring tracheostomy and intensive surgery. Roaring starts early and
unseen, slowly wearing down the nerves that stimulate the muscle responsible for opening the larynx.

“Upper airway problems cause poor performance in many race horses,” said Dr. Jonathan Cheetham, an equine surgeon and sports medicine practitioner at Cornell’s Equine Hospital. “Symptoms often show in a horse’s second to fourth year, when a trainer has already invested thousands in its athletic career. The standard treatment, surgery called a laryngeal tie-back together with a ‘lazer hobday’ procedure to remove the vocal cords, returns 65-70 percent of treated horses to racing. But that’s after six weeks of recovery and another six weeks to regain fitness. It takes a toll on the horses, their trainers, and the racing economy.”

Taking roaring by the reigns, Dr. Cheetham and the Equine Performance Clinic team are helping to change how veterinarians look at and treat the disease. The team running the Clinic’s indoor treadmill offers good client service while researching new methods to diagnose disease earlier and improve treatments.

According to Cheetham, the horse is a useful preclinical model of human airway disease. Much of what he is learning and working out at Cornell could help restore function in human patients with laryngeal disease. The Equine Performance Clinic pioneered techniques using a trans-esophageal ultrasound to evaluate airway muscles in horses.  Developed at Cornell with support from the Harry M. Zweig Memorial Fund, these techniques could give human doctors a new view of deteriorating laryngeal muscles and let them follow progress after treatment.

The team is developing a novel treatment for roaring using a laryngeal pacemaker to electronically stimulate the muscle and maintain its function: another technology applicable to humans with vocal paralysis.

Cheetham has spent the past year developing new ways of detecting neurological disease earlier, thanks to a grant from the Grayson Jockey-Club Foundation.

“Motor nerves need insulation from myelin sheathes to carry signals quickly,” said Dr. Cheetham. “Laryngeal neuropathy works by breaking down myelin in the two major meter-long nerves controlling the horse’s airway muscles, slowing their conduction velocity and cutting off the muscles from adequate stimulation. If we can use nerve conduction velocity to detect early myelin breakdown we may be able to catch the disease before the muscle starts shrinking.”

Placing tiny needles into the nerves, Dr. Cheetham measured conduction speeds across their length to see how speeds vary across the nerves. Next he will validate a technique that does not use needles and look at how nerve conduction velocity at the weanling stage affects performance of 2-year-old horses with the hope of confirming it as a viable diagnostic and predictive tool. Validating such a test would expand the window of detection and open doors to earlier prevention and treatments, and aid understanding of the disease mechanisms that produce ‘roaring’ in horses.

“We have also been developing ways of enhancing nerve grafting using tissue engineering techniques,” said Dr. Cheetham. “If we can pick up problems early, we might be able to treat without invasive surgery or a permanent implant. It could be safer, cheaper, and faster, and may improve the success of recovery from airway diseases in both horses and humans.”

Discuss this work with Dr. Cheetham on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/CornellEquine
Visit the Equine Performance Center website
http://www.vet.cornell.edu/labs/eptc/intro.htm

‘Scopes Magazine
October 2011

Life-saving surgery inspires gift to help the hospital see inside ailing wildlife

When their dog, Buzz, faced a life-threatening condition in October 2009, Richard and Stacy Hoffman drove their Scottish terrier six hours from Maryland to Cornell University Hospital for Animals, where a timely surgery saved his life.

Their experience inspired several donations to the Companion Animal Hospital, and as strong supporters of animal welfare they were keen to learn more about the College’s commitment to animal care. The Hoffmans oversee a family foundation that funds projects supporting otherwise overlooked wildlife. When they took a tour of Cornell’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, which provides hospitalization and medical care to sick or injured wild animals brought in by the public with the goal of releasing them back to their original habitat, they knew they had found a match.

“Some wildlife species get a lot of attention while others that might not be quite as ‘sexy’ fall under the radar,” said Richard Hoffman. “It’s important to us and to Earth’s ecosystems that species don’t dwindle because no one noticed or cared. We took a tour of the Center and saw the work they do helping local wildlife and training students who could someday translate that experience to a greater scale, and we wanted to give something tangible to help.”

Through a gift from their foundation, the Hoffmans helped the Center purchase four pieces of imaging equipment that will provide invaluable diagnosis and treatment options for the animals treated at the Center while simultaneously building a multimedia library usable for teaching and research in wildlife medicine.

“The biggest new piece is an endogo®HD, a totally portable, wireless, high-definition endoscopic imaging platform that can record, store, and play back images and videos taken from inside an animal’s body, making it particularly useful for diagnosis and teaching,” said Dr. George Kollias, Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Medicine and Chief of the Center. “We also purchased a small-diameter rigid endoscope for birds and small mammals that allows veterinarians to use surgical instruments to take biopsies, retrieve ingested foreign bodies, and conduct minimally invasive surgeries.”

For their tiniest patients, the Center purchased a fully functional miniature endoscope. Finally, all endoscopes were updated with new, more powerful light sources.

“We use this technology to help diagnose and treat wildlife when laboratory tests and other diagnostics don’t provide definitive answers,” said Kollias. “It lets us use minimally invasive techniques to visualize the organ surfaces and to take tissue samples if organs or tissues safely. The equipment is also particularly useful in species for which there is little or no published clinical laboratory data or disease description.”

The Hoffmans hope their gift will help veterinarians, students, and researchers find ways to prevent future problems in wildlife and promote research to help wildlife.

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Committed to canine care

Devoted dachshund-lover establishes fund to improve the lives of dogs
Relationships with her dachshunds comforted Friedl Summerer throughout her life, from a war-torn childhood to the passing of three husbands, and throughout her golden years in New York City.

Born in Germany in 1918, Friedl Summerer grew up in Austria, where she began life as a budding actress. World War II soon brought her career to a crashing halt, and she narrowly escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to Paris and eventually settling in New York City.

“She had three passions: dogs, children, and public broadcasting,” said Imssy Klebe, a close friend of Summerer. “She could not have children, though she always wanted to. She was extremely devoted to her dogs. All through her life she had dachshunds, which she loved in particular. I walked many evenings with her and her dachshund Sissy. She was particularly close with Sissy.”

Dr. Lewis Berman ’57 served as Sissy’s veterinarian, and Summerer left a generous portion of her estate to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where Berman received his training.

“She knew Cornell conducted research and patient care to help prolong the lives of dogs and wanted to support those efforts,” said Klebe.

Summerer passed on April 16, 2010, leaving a bequest in honor of Sissy for more than $2.2 million to the College, to be used for direct canine care.

The Sissy Summerer Canine Care fund will help the College and the Department of Clinical Sciences support lecturer positions that have direct impact on canine patient care and student training.  The fund currently supports Dr. Andi Looney, an anesthesiologist in the Pain Management Service committed to providing care and comfort to canine companions, and Dr. Brian Collins in the Community Practice Service, part of Cornell’s distinctive training program that enables veterinary students to begin practicing their hands-on skills as first-year students.

“This endowment has a very real impact on the delivery of canine patient care, which runs the gamut from routine vaccinations to advanced end-of-life care,” said Dr. Margaret McEntee, chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences. “It will also expand our ability to train future veterinarians by providing significant hands-on experience in the Cornell University Hospital for Animals through the Community Practice Service as a core component of the veterinary curriculum. This is a great opportunity for them, and I think is invaluable for their training as future veterinarians.”

‘Scopes Magazine
October 2011