Twin scholarships support future equine veterinarians

Two aspiring equine veterinarians at Cornell will soon start horse-healing careers
with less student debt, thanks to twin scholarship gifts. The Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) Endowment Board recently awarded two fourth-year students at the College of Veterinary Medicine $6,000 each to help offset the costs of education and ease their transition into equine practice.

quirkphoto1

TCA’s Endowment Board supports and promotes equine education and research by sponsoring scholarships in veterinary medicine and supporting organizations that are educating the public in the proper care of horses.

“We first started and continue a student scholarship program at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine and wanted to expand the program to other schools. Cornell was chosen for too many reasons to mention,” said Dr. James Orsini ’77, Associate Professor of Surgery and director of the Laminitis Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, who co-chairs TCA’s endowment with Herb Moelis. “The scholarship program is an important component of our mission. Our goal is to support as many worthy students as possible at veterinary colleges across the United States and we hope to continue to do more.”

Susan Shaffer ’13 and Kaitlin Quirk ’13 were selected by the Board to receive the award because of their outstanding academic success and strong interest in equine medicine. Born in Texas, Shaffer is an enthusiastic equestrienne planning to pursue equine practice. She gives regular tours for prospective students and has taken her interests abroad in various international service learning projects. Quirk grew up in Albany, N.Y. and studied animal science as an undergraduate at Cornell. An avid rider planning to pursue equine medicine, she is also interested in applying her veterinary training to international medicine and public health.

“We seek to support the best and brightest veterinary students with a financial need and who plan to work in equine practice, academic medicine, and related equine fields,” said Orsini. “We want the next generation of equine veterinarians to be superbly trained and educated. We hope this scholarship will lighten the financial burden for these students’ veterinary education so they can focus their passion on their careers helping horses.”

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/orsini.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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Mike meets Minnie

Cornell University’s Hospital for Animals welcomes its newest resident: Minnie the miniature horse. Minnie’s stint at the hospital as a patient turned into a career as a companion when her owner generously donated her after learning the Hospital was seeking company for Mike, the College’s blood-donor draft-horse.

“Mike lived by himself, and horses are herd animals that do better in groups,” said Dr. Sally Ness, internal medicine resident.

Good timing is a great matchmaker, and despite the size difference the unlikely pair clicked. Minnie has also become a star attraction at the College’s Annual Open House, where she made her first public debut in April 2012 by popular request.

“Twenty kids lined up along the paddock fence asking to ‘pet the pony,’” said Ness. “Students spiffed her up with ribbons, and she was a huge hit. Mike loves his new pal and was actually a little concerned when we borrowed her for the festivities. They are fully moved in together and share his stall and paddock. She is definitely the boss:we were worried about Mike stealing her grain, but in fact she will finish and go over and push him away from his breakfast! But he seems to appreciate the company and doesn’t seem to mind.”

Icelandic horses travel to Cornell

Horses will help unlock immunological mysteries of allergies and herpes

For horses, Iceland is a safe haven from disease. Several pathogens never made it to the island, whose native horses evolved for almost 1,000 years in isolation. Without facing diseases common outside, such as equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) and insect-induced allergies (called sweet itch or summer eczema), Icelandic horses never had to develop immunity to them. But immunological ignorance comes at a price: When they leave the country, these internationally popular horses are unusually vulnerable.

Yet in a discrepancy that has long puzzled immunologists, expatriate Icelandic horses give birth to far hardier foals. Born outside Iceland, these foals are up to fifteen times less likely than their parents to develop allergies. In all breeds, foal and adult immune systems work very differently. Learning how and why could help prevent allergies earlier and enable better vaccines protecting foals from early-developing diseases like EHV-1.

Dr. Bettina Wagner, equine immunologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine, works with collaborators at Cornell and in Iceland to unravel the mystery of neonatal immune development with the help of Icelandic horses.

In February 2012, 15 pregnant mares traveled from their native Iceland to Cornell University, meticulously protected from exposure to several common pathogens. With the help of collaborators at the University of Iceland at the Institute for Experimental Pathology Keldur in Reykjavik, Dr. Wagner’s group receives regular samples from the mares’ first brood born in Iceland last Summer. Comparing foals in Iceland to their forthcoming U.S.-born siblings will reveal how separate factors (environmental and maternal) affect immune development.

Clinical collaborators at Cornell assisting with the project include Drs. Gillian Perkins and Dorothy Ainsworth. Dr. Klaus Osterrieder in Berlin, Germany will help in the study of EHV-1 while Dr. Mandi deMestre of the United Kingdom will collaborate on the immune regulations analysis. Cornell professor Dr. Hollis Erb will advise on the statistical analysis of the data.

“We want to know why foals born outside Iceland have better protection than those born in Iceland,” said Dr. Wagner. “It could be due to time of exposure, environment, or some combination of these, but the evidence points more to what the mother passes on.”

Dr. Wagner thinks that protective power may lie in a mare’s milk. Some mammals, including humans, start absorbing antibodies while in the uterus, but horses receive all immunities after birth. To absorb immune protection, newborn foals must quickly drink colostrum, which is packed with immune components.

Mares encountering new allergens may become hypersensitive to the antibodies their systems produce in response. But when they pass these antibodies on through milk, Dr. Wagner thinks that the foals’ budding immune systems may learn to use those same antibodies more constructively.

Dr. Wagner’s group investigates specific antibodies called immunoglobulin-E (IgE), which can go astray in allergic diseases, reacting to harmless stimuli and causing inflammation. Building our understanding of early immune development in horses and humans could help doctors treat allergies and early-striking diseases in both species.

“If we know how allergic diseases start early in life we can interfere before they develop,” said Dr. Wagner. “Horses are a valuable model for human allergies, for which regulatory mechanisms develop very early. It’s difficult to investigate human neonatal immunity, because most maternal immune transfer happens before birth. The horse system is more controllable, especially in Icelandic horses, and can reveal the separate effects of maternal transfer and environmental exposure.”

The study may improve protection from EHV-1, which often strikes before current vaccines designed for adult immune systems can protect foals.

“If we can learn how immune responses in foals differ from those in adults, we can use specific immune reactions that foals can mount early in life to develop better neonatal vaccines for earlier protection from a wide array of infectious diseases.”

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

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Sparks fly at 27th Cornell Farrier Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Show highlights farm animal veterinary medicine

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

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

Ostrum

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

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

Ostrum

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

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

Ostrum

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

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

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

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