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

Artistic alum serves Costa Rican clinic

fDr. Robin Truelove Stronk, DVM ’75 spent her tropical getaway in Costa Rica volunteering her veterinary skills to help a community in need. In February 2011 she took part in a low-cost spay and neuter clinic in Esterillos Oeste, Costa Rica. Along with a colleague, Dr. Rich Righter, they neutered 40 animals in one day.

“These animals are all owned by poor families and the stray and unwanted animal situation is heartbreaking,” said Stronk. “We worked in an open school building on the beach on folding tables from the local church with only the light coming through the windows. We moved our surgery tables following the sun. Owners sat in little school chairs and quietly watched the surgery.”

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When owners presented their animals, the veterinary duo held an informal screening process to ensure proper care after the surgery.

“One of the requirements was that they agree to keep the animal under close observation for several days post-op and that they provide transportation home,” said Stronk. “Virtually nobody has cars so they use what we would call ‘Yankee ingenuity’.”

kAfter owning her own practice in Vermont for 24 years, Stronk sold her business to a corporation and worked for them for a few more years before taking a new path.

“I have switched to exercising my right brain and now work as an animal artist,” said Stronk. “So I am essentially the ‘Artist Formerly Known as Veterinarian.’ The spay clinic made me feel young again! It was probably one of the most challenging, rewarding days of my career. I can’t wait to repeat it this coming year.”

Stronk’s animal art has been featured in several places, including the cover of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and her new book, a collection of illustrated veterinary memoirs, Vet Noir – It’s not the Pets – It’s the People Who Make Me Crazy.Check out her artwork at http://www.truelovearts.com/.

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

 

 

Dissolving diseases

International dog disease expert eliminated ailments across species and the world

“I started at James Baker’s lab under a challenge,” said Leland ‘Skip’ Carmichael, PhD ’56. “I came in his office looking for graduate work. He told me I had six months to figure out how a dog’s immune system responds to canine hepatitis, or I was out.”

Fortunately for dogs across the world, Carmichael passed the test. Over the 40 years he spent at Baker Institute he became one of the world’s best-known international authorities on canine infectious diseases. He has characterized, developed tests and treatment plans for, and invented vaccines against most major canine infectious and reproductive diseases, including distemper, hepatitis, canine parvovirus-2, canine herpesvirus, and canine brucellosis.

“We were at a time when diseases were being recognized and their causes clarified,” said Carmichael. “We focused on research that could directly benefit animals, and always saw our problems in the field.”

From the field to the lab, Carmichael exercised an aptitude for innovation in eradicating disease. “Baker Institute was one of the first labs to use tissue culture methods to isolate viruses, look for vaccines, develop serological tests, and measure immune responses,” said Carmichael. “When a mysterious disease began causing widespread abortions in dogs across the nation, I was charged with figuring out why. By air delivery at midnight I received a paint can that contained aborted fetuses and placental tissue. I went straight to the lab and inoculated plates with tissue samples.  The next morning the plates had bloomed with bacteria I’d never seen before.”

Carmichael had found a new species of Brucella, bacteria causing a devastating venereal disease best known for killing farm animals and harming humans who consume infected raw milk.

“Brucellosis is one of the most important veterinary diseases. We were the first to recognize the canine strain and establish control. We offered a free testing service, and fielded over 10,000 phone calls in the first year. Now Cornell’s Animal Health and Diagnostic Center runs the most reliably accurate Brucellosis test I know. The disease has all but disappeared in dogs.”

Today, canine infectious diseases are much rarer than when Carmichael first stepped into Baker’s office, in part because of the work he and his colleagues at Baker Institute have done. Meanwhile, his educational legacy continues. Carmichael’s former graduate student Collin Parish now directs Baker Institute.

“Dogs are part of the human experience,” said Carmichael, “but we’ve seen a nation-wide diminution of canine research in recent years. Most funding comes from institutions that favor research modeling human disease. Baker believed that veterinary research should focus on diseases of animals, I was fortunate to work in a time when that goal garnered strong support. I hope this institute will continue conducting research that can help dogs in the future.”

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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Breaching barriers, reaching remedies

Unlocking new treatment potential for major diseases from MS to Alzheimer’s to HIV

In her first few years at Cornell, Dr. Margaret Bynoe rocked the world of immunology with major advances that are already changing how diseases are treated. Some were so unconventional that it took time to convince her peers they could work. “I’ve been told things couldn’t be done,” said Bynoe, “and that I was only ‘challenging dogma.’ But that’s how science builds knowledge.”

Bynoe knew she was on to something when she developed a novel treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) in mice, an auto-immune disease that affects the nervous system.

“The immune system is like a child,” she said. “It learns as it matures. If it learns improperly it starts attacking the body. In MS it targets myelin, the protective coating insulating nerves.  To stop this we need a way to reeducate an adult immune system.”

Old dogs struggle with new tricks, but they are less likely to attack friends when they are properly introduced. Bynoe created patches soaked in myelin, applying  them to the skin of mice genetically predisposed to MS. “Their immune systems learned to recognize myelin as friend, not foe. We successfully abolished the disease.”

When she submitted a grant to develop this technique into a human treatment, reviewers said it would never work. Several years later, Bynoe’s work inspired a group of Polish researchers to use her technique on humans, significantly reducing symptoms in 80% of MS patients in their trial.

The ability to re-imagine paradigms helped Bynoe discover another new technique with the potential to shape the course of treatments for MS and other major neurological ailments.

“While investigating Adenosine, a crucial compound in many bodily processes, we discovered that it regulates the blood-brain barrier, which prevents most immune cells and foreign substances from entering the brain,” she said.

On the bloodstream highway, the brain is a restricted exit, but sometimes pathogenic particles sneak through its molecular gate.

“Diseases that infiltrate the brain become difficult to treat. If we could regulate the barrier safely we could put a damper on diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and HIV-AIDS, by delivering drugs directly to afflicted cells. We could also potentially close the gate to stop rogue immune responses like those that cause MS.  Adenosine seems to be the gatekeeper. We think we have the key.”

Using caffeine to block Adenosine from opening the gate to immune cells, Bynoe stopped MS-like symptoms in mice. Her lab’s next goal is to use Adenosine to get treatments past the barrier in mice with Alzheimer’s. Using various models in collaboration with other scientists, they plan to investigate barrier-breaching treatments that could one day tackle HIV-AIDS.

“It took over a year of rigorous experimentation to confirm it works,” said Bynoe. “Now we hope to expand to treating larger animals.”
Partnering with entrepreneurs and investors, Bynoe helped found a growing company driven by her research. They are currently working to develop tools that will treat a wide array of human neurologic diseases.

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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Keeping your organs in shape

Life on the faculty fast track leads to new developmental discoveries

One of the College’s youngest faculty, precocious Polish immigrant Natasza Kurpios kicked off her Cornell career earlier than most.

 

“We met by chance at a conference in Barcelona,” said Dr. Ruth Collins, professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine. “She had recently started as a post-doc at Harvard and was presenting a poster on her work that was attracting a lot of buzz in the field. Inspired by her talent and potential, I encouraged her to apply to our department. Her interview confirmed how well her research aligned with the department’s established strength in signal transduction, and her boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm made it clear she would be an outstanding teacher and colleague.”

 

The department offered Kurpios a faculty position, allowing time to complete her work at Harvard. There she discovered the first vertebrate example linking changes in organ development to changes at the level of individual cell shapes. Now she is expanding this work while leveraging the College’s diversity of animal systems in avian and mammalian species.

 

“We investigate how cells change shape to form organs, and the genes regulating this process,” said Kurpios. “On the outside most animals look symmetrical. On the inside it’s a different story. The heart and stomach are on the left, the liver is on the right, intestines loop and coil from left to right in just the right shape to fit in the body.

“Organs growing in the wrong direction or the wrong place cause problems. For example, in babies born with a birth defect called ‘gut malrotation’, incorrectly looped intestines tie themselves in knots, compromising digestion and blocking off their own blood supply. We knew this was controlled by genes but no one knew which genes were responsible.”

Looking through windows she made in chicken eggs to study developing embryos, Kurpios discovered the key gene regulating intestine looping: PITX2.

“This gene is like the conductor of a vast orchestra, setting off a cascade of signals telling other genes how to build organs. All species have this gene on the left side of the body. If it ends up on the wrong side, the organ map shifts and the intestines loop improperly.”

This discovery shed light on how gut malformations can develop. “We are looking into the potential role of PITX2 in this and other bowel obstruction issues, such as gastric dilatation and volvulus, that commonly afflict dogs and horses as well as humans,” said Kurpios.

Actively engaged with peers in the Vertebrate Genomics Group and the Cornell Stem Cell Program, Kurpios also collaborates with computational biologists and bioengineers across campus to model developmental changes and analyze the mechanical properties of tissue matrices influencing organ growth.

 

“These are fundamental biological questions with enormous applicability to stem cell biology and cancer studies,” said Collins. “Kurpios’s hiring reflects the goals of New Life Science initiative in strengthening key research areas and recruiting faculty to work across disciplinary boundaries.”

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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Seeking the next generation

The time is ripe for hiring new faculty as retirement numbers swell

The tide is rising in our faculty pool as the average age of professors in the College continues to climb. Demographic shifts reveal a troubling trend as an oncoming wave of retirement threatens to leave a human deficit in its wake. As the College races to find new talent to fill the impending gap, it faces an unprecedented opportunity to shape the course of its future for years to come.

“The faculty body is healthy when it has a balanced age demographic,” said Judy Appleton, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in charge of academic appointments at the College. “To maintain a healthy dynamic we need to maintain continual intake. During my first year as Associate Dean in 2007 only one person retired. This year four will retire. It’s the beginning of a wave.”

A demographic swell has been building across the University since a brief hiring boom in the late 1980s. Since then the proportion of University professors aged 55 and above has doubled from 25% in 1982 to 50% in 2010. Numbers at the College climbed even more sharply, from 21% then to today’s unprecedented 57%. For the University and especially for the College, hiring strong new faculty has become more crucial than ever before.

“This is the perfect time to strengthen our faculty base,” said Appleton. “It’s a buyer’s market in the wake of the recession. Universities haven’t been hiring, there’s a backlog of post-docs searching for positions creating an extremely competitive pool. At the same time, we are competing with other universities in the same situation, vying to attract the cream of the crop.”

This year the College embarked on three new faculty searches for positions in the Department of Clinical Sciences. Each position attracted between 140 and 190 applications. According to Appleton, the applications were extraordinary, and competition with other universities grew heated as we bid for the best of the best.

“Recruitment in the sciences is extremely expensive,” said Appleton. “A new researcher needs significant startup funds to establish a lab, buy equipment, and hire students and assistants. Finding startup funds is our most significant challenge. The rest of the university is trying to hire pre-fills in anticipation of retirements. Because of high startup costs in our field, it’s all we can do to keep up with retirements as they come.”

This summer, department chairs across the College will convene to form a “five-year faculty needs forecast”.  They will determine the College’s hiring needs, set up search committees, post positions, and interview this fall. Next fall will see a new incoming class of College faculty that will shape the next generation of our academic leaders.

“This will be the most important thing we do,” said Appleton. “It is a great responsibility, and very challenging in the current financial climate. It is also a fantastic opportunity that will set the course of the veterinary college for the next 100 years.”

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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

The Francis H. Fox Scholarship

How Fox’s friends and former students gave the prankster his best surprise yet

What comes to mind when you think of Francis H. Fox? If you were one of the legions he trained, you might remember lively lectures offset by mischievous humor, or rolling up farm roads for firsthand lessons in large animal medicine. Perhaps you’ve only heard his name in the College’s legends: rumors of preternatural diagnostic powers, or elaborate pranks exchanged with students. If you’ve ever driven down Route 366 near the College, you may think of his name in white paint, infamously emblazoned on the side of an old bridge over the road and accompanied by a public birthday counter.

This symbol has become a lasting tribute to the strong bonds between one of the College’s most well-known professors and the generation of veterinary students he trained, challenged, inspired, and befriended. That close camaraderie roused a large group of Fox’s former students and fast friends to unite and establish a scholarship in his honor, gathering supporters happy to give their mentor a legacy that would continue his passion for helping veterinary students for years to come.

“When I was a student I spent a lot of extra time with Dr. Fox,” said Dr. Pete Malnati ’52, who spearheaded the project. “He would call up interested students to go out on special cases with him. He was an exceptionally committed teacher, happy to share his knowledge and experience and sense of humor. I appreciated what he did for me, and for my fellow students, and we wanted to give back.”

The Friends of Francis Fox had no trouble getting support from enthusiastic peers. More than 200 people contributed over $22,000 in the first year alone. When Fox entered the Centennial New York State Veterinary Medical Society meeting in Rochester, NY in Fall 1990, he was surprised with a formal announcement establishing the endowment in his name.

“We are honoring Dr. Fox for his contributions to veterinary medicine in the field of large animal medicine and ophthalmology, especially as a teacher, clinician, and advocate of the art of physical diagnosis,” said Malnati. “He has given many of us this basic foundation in veterinary medicine. Thus we owe him this measure of gratitude as a friend, teacher, and fellow veterinarian.”

The selection criteria reflect Fox’s interests and ideals, seeking students highly motivated to serve the large animal sector, and those showing a gift mirroring Fox’s famous talent for physical diagnosis.

“It was all done behind my back,” said Fox. “I never expected such a thing, and felt very humbled. I hope it will help students who love the profession, and feel a calling to medicine because of their love of animals and satisfaction in working with them.”

The Francis H. Fox Scholarship fund has grown substantially since its inception in 1990, with continual support from hundreds of contributors. It aids two to four students in need a year, and has supported a total of 29 to date. Should you have interest in contributing to the Francis H. Fox Scholarship, please contact Amy Robinson in the Alumni Affairs and Development Office at amy.robinson@cornell.edu or (607) 253-3742.


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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Customer service from start to finish

Customer service from start to finish

WendyEnglishClient Service Manager helps clients through their Hospital experience.

Pet paraphernalia from grateful clients decks the walls of the Client Service Manager’s office at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. Surrounded by personalized thank you cards and photographs of former patients, Wendy English works around the clock to serve our clients’ needs. As the Hospital’s Client Services Manager, she provides clear communication, counseling for critical financial decisions, and a positive working environment for all around her.

“Good customer service gets clients in the door, keeps them happy, and keeps them coming back,” said English, who began working in the Hospital’s phone room 22 years ago. There she learned the inner workings of the Hospital, the value of excellent customer service, and the need for teamwork.

“Customer service is not just being nice on the phone,” said English. “It involves everyone you work with, from students to coworkers to clients. Every interaction counts. One person alone can’t run a hospital. I like the sports team analogy: it doesn’t matter who’s the owner and who’s the coach and who’s playing what position: everyone needs to work together to win.”

Grounded by firm philosophies and a natural talent for customer service, English rose through the ranks and now oversees 19 employees across the Hospital’s key operational units. From admissions and scheduling to discharge and billing, and all the issues that arise in between, English is there to help, ensuring a positive client experience.

“From start to finish we’re here to serve the clients,” said English. “I work to keep them informed about the status of their animals and to understand their options in choosing and financing care. I speak to every clinician every day about what’s happening with their cases. This helps us keep every case within its estimated cost, update the estimate if the situation changes, and make sure the client remains informed.”

Pet owners often face tough choices and have to weigh conflicting responsibilities. If a client can’t afford care for a pet, English gets involved. “Say you’re a working mother with debt, a husband on disability, and three kids to feed, and then the dog breaks its leg. Do you pay a couple thousand for surgery or do you choose to amputate for lesser cost? Do you pay upfront or apply for care credit? Often people need someone to sit down and talk them through their options. I do a lot of client counseling, I listen to their situations, help list pros and cons, and outline their options.”

Cash-strapped clients seeking financial assistance for pet care can apply to the Hospital’s Patient Assistance Fund. English handles a steady influx of applications and determines, with Hospital Director and Financial Director, who is eligible for support.

English is on call 24-7, every day of the year, and regularly fields calls at hours most people would balk at. “I don’t have free time,” she laughs. “I’ve always been the type of person needing something to do. I can’t sit still for long and hate being bored. I thrive under pressure, I like it. I like the responsibility of knowing that clients and staff clinicians can think ‘I’ll call Wendy; she’ll know what to do.’ I love helping clients and getting them to leave thinking ‘those people are so nice; they really care.’”

Weekends find English in the mud of WNYOA race tracks, where her college-aged son races quads. “I work in his pit crew, down in the trenches, gassing him up, changing his splattered goggles. Some Sundays I’m out there from 5am to 8pm.”

Even mired in muddy trenches on a long Sunday, English will faithfully answer the phone, always happy to help a client in need.

Hospital’s new horse will save patients’ lives

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Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) welcomes its newest permanent working animal, Mike the horse. Mike is a huge 9-year old Belgian weighing over 2000 lbs. His job involves a lot of time off lounging outside. But a few times a year when emergencies strike, Mike will play a key part in saving horse’s lives.

“He was originally an athlete, pulling weights for sport,” said Kalli Anderson, veterinary technician at the Equine and Farm Animal Hospital. “But he was performing poorly, not eating much, and losing weight. His owners brought him to us on March 16, 2010 to find out why. We discovered he had arthritis in his front feet. The pain was probably hurting his appetite.”

The diagnosis put an end to his sport career, but Mike’s visit to CUHA proved to be the beginning of a new career helping the Hospital’s equine patients for years to come. When Mike’s bloodwork revealed that he had the right credentials for the job, the Hospital bought him as its new equine blood donor.

zJoan, the hospital’s former blood donor horse, was 28, and hospital staff had been looking hard to find a good replacement. But horse blood types are even more complex than human blood types, and the search was proving fruitless until Mike came along.

“We were testing blood from horses from the equine park and research projects for years, hoping to find a good donor, but nothing was coming up. “When Mike came in, we got permission to test him. Draft horses have good antibodies, so we were hopeful,” said Anderson. “Mike turned out to fit the bill.”

“He’s still getting used to us, he internalizes and snorts a lot, he’s working through his fears,” said Anderson. “He’s a quiet horse, easy to manage and good for students to learn on.”

You can visit Mike outside most days outside behind C-Barn.

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

TheHorse.com; April 24, 2011

http://www.thehorse.com/