Category Archives: Profiles

Stories highlighting a person and his or her role, work, and personality.

Taking a bite out of dental disease

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A conversation with Dr. Santiago Peralta, veterinary dentist, oral surgeon, and
new Lecturer in the Department of Clinical Sciences’ Section of Dentistry.

What path led you to your new position?

I grew up and studied in Colombia, South America, and graduated with a veterinary degree from La Salle University in 1999. In Botoga I worked in private practice for seven years and became interested in dentistry and oral surgery. As my interest grew, I decided to pursue further study in this specialty and completed a 3-year residency in veterinary dentistry at UC Davis between 2006-2009. Returning home, I resumed private practice until coming to Cornell in Summer 2011.

What will you offer as part of the dentistry service?

We offer state of the art dental and oral care for animal patients. Our service deals with small and large animals, and my focus will be small animals, mostly dogs and cats. I also have experience with exotic pets such as rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs, as well as zoo animals including tigers, hyenas, orangutans, and more.

Our most common dental treatments deal with periodontal disease (gum disease), the most prevalent disease of animals.  Other advanced dental procedures we offer include endodontics (root canals) to fractured teeth, orthodontics to correct bite abnormalities, oral surgery following facial trauma or to remove tumors.

What innovations do you bring to CUHA?

I’ve helped move our service from hand instrumentation techniques to more precise rotary root canal instrumentation techniques that provide more reliable results, higher success rates, and lower anesthesia times. These newer techniques come together with safer and more effective materials that allow success rates of therapy similar to that seen in humans.

Do you have research plans?

My main research interest involves tooth resorption, a common cat and dog disease in which the teeth degrade and disappear. Nobody has figured out why, and that is a question I’d like to pursue. I am also interested in research concerning oral tumors and oral radiology.

What do you like about your job so far?

I like the academic culture, and the opportunity to provide real clinical instruction. Interacting with students and other specialists offers a stimulating educational environment where everyone has something to learn. The opportunity to help out the community, clients, and local veterinarians is very rewarding.

Why is dentistry important and how can owners help?

Dental disease can lead not only to oral discomfort and pain, but can dramatically affect the general health of an animal. It can cause inflammation and infection that can spread to other organs or turn the blood toxic through permanent bacterial infection. Pets may stop eating, bleed from the mouth, and show discomfort.

Animals are very stoic in nature; they are good at hiding pain. Owners underestimate dental disease and often don’t realize their pets are suffering from it until it’s too late. Owners can help by bringing pets in for yearly routine oral exams, yearly or biyearly professional dental treatment. Toothbrushing is the only way to prevent periodontal disease. Just like in humans, it should be done every day.

Oral hygiene is very important for pets, and the magnitude of disease is difficult to appreciate until after treatment. The improvement in a pet’s demeanor following treatment can be amazing to see.

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

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

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

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