Conservation in action

First Indonesian to receive major fellowship will help save world’s rarest rhinoceroses

Deep in the Indonesian rainforest on the island of Java roam the last of earth’s most critically endangered large mammal species: the Javan rhinoceros. Once Asia’s most widespread rhinoceroses, these secretive forest-dwellers disappeared altogether from the continent’s mainland in October 2011, when the last individual was found dead in Vietnam with its horn chopped off by poachers. A single population of just 40 rhinoceroses survives in the western half of Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park, cramped into a corner of the island that has reached its carrying capacity.

The Indonesian government recently endorsed a daring plan to expand the range of their emblem species by establishing a second population with more room to grow. Yet a major concern remains. The plan involves moving some rhinoceroses from the isolated westernmost tip of Java to the eastern side of the park—an area surrounded by 19 agricultural villages whose inhabitants rely on water buffalo to work their rice paddies. No fences limit the wanderings of these loosely managed buffalo, which regularly pass into the park and could spread diseases that would quickly decimate the rhino’s population.

Cornell postdoc Dr. Kurnia Khairani has received a Fellowship Training Grant from the Morris Animal Foundation to address this problem. With the help of faculty and students at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Khairani is combining fieldwork in Indonesia with labwork and training at Cornell to improve the health and outlook of Javan rhinoceroses. It is the first time an Indonesian has received this prestigious award, and the first time a Cornell fellow will be trained in conservation medicine.

“Of the five rhinoceros species the Javan is the rarest, and Khairani’s work is critical to its future,” said Dr. Robin Radcliffe, director of the Cornell Conservation Medicine Program, one of the world’s foremost experts working in rhino conservation. Radcliffe oversees the project and is excited by its possibilities. “Khairani herself is a major investment for conservation efforts in this region: she will take her Cornell training back to Indonesia and become a decision-maker in her own country. Cornell is involved in real-world conservation, training people who will use what they learn here to tackle new problems in the race to preserve biodiversity.”

A postdoc in the laboratory of immunologist Dr. Julia Fellipe, Khairani will work under the joint mentorship of Fellipe and Radcliffe. Additional mentorship from epidemiologist Dr. Daryl Nydam and microbiologist Dr. Pat McDonough will round out Khairani’s skills.

Conducting a preliminary health survey of village buffalo, Khairani found several diseases of concern to rhinoceroses, including blood parasites, salmonellosis, and leptospirosis. With highly infectious diseases such as SARS, West Nile Virus, and Avian Influenza making worldwide headlines for crossing species barriers and ecosystems, it is critical to get this historic move of the rarest rhinoceros right the first time. Khairani’s ongoing survey will focus on hemorrhagic septicemia, a bacterial disease linked to four recorded die-offs of Javan rhinoceroses in the region. Khairani will determine the prevalence, distribution, and risk of contracting septicemia faced by the buffalo population; conduct questionnaire-based interviews with buffalo owners to determine management factors that might contribute to the regional epidemiology of the disease; and propose possible interventions.

The project also involves outreach, educating local public health officers and villagers on septicemia diagnosis and management through hands-on training. It has also opened doors for Cornell veterinary students to gain valuable hands-on international experience, and several have already conducted internships in Indonesia with Khairani through Cornell’s Conservation Medicine Program with funding by Expanding Horizons.


“Knowledge of the region’s diseases will help veterinary officers improve the health of buffalo, a resource crucial to the region’s economic vitality,” said Khairani. “Healthier buffalo will enhance the well-being of local villagers while reducing their impact on the park. Improving our understanding of animal health in the area will help reduce the risk of disease transmission from livestock to rhinoceroses. This is essential to establishing a second habitat and population of the rare Javan rhinoceros, a crown jewel of Indonesia’s amazing biodiversity.”

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Cornell’s satellite animal hospital enters second year

Cornell University Veterinary Specialists extends advanced clinical capabilities and education to NY Metro area

January 14 marked the first birthday of Cornell University Veterinary Specialists (CUVS), the College of Veterinary Medicine’s satellite referral and emergency hospital in Stamford, CT. In less than a year, CUVS has served the medical needs of more than 2,500 animals referred from over 400 veterinarians across the region for advanced diagnostics and treatment in emergency and critical care, cardiology, internal medicine, orthopedic and soft tissue surgery, and oncology.

As collaborations and caseloads continue to grow, CUVS, the nation’s largest academically affiliated veterinary center, is broadening its impact on pet-owners and the veterinary community across the Northeast with multiple educational initiatives.

“CUVS has become a leading veterinary referral center in the NY metropolitan area,” said Dean Michael Kotlikoff. “As a College we are engaging in academic referral medicine in the same way that the strongest medical colleges’ academic medical centers lead human medicine. In the absence of an academic footprint in the NY metropolitan area, we have added a previously unavailable option to access specialty services and continuing education.”

Monthly continuing education lectures for area veterinarians, held in the center’s 45-seat classroom, enable practitioners to stay up-to-date on important clinical topics while earning nationally-approved professional credits.  Regularly held education sessions for local pet owners, led by CUVS specialists, have covered topics as diverse as pet adoption, first-aid, and geriatric care. Partnering with Mercy College’s programs in veterinary technology, CUVS also offers frequent labs, lectures, and clinical externships for students and professional technicians.


In Fall 2011 CUVS held its first all-day continuing education event for referring veterinarians. More than 100 veterinarians attended the sold-out program entitled The First 24 Hours: A Multifaceted Approach to the Emergency Patient at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich, CT. Faculty members from the College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca joined CUVS specialists to lecture on a range of topics in emergency medicine and guide labs that offered hands-on experience.

Veterinarians choosing the CPR lab practiced resuscitating a robotic virtual dog under the guidance of its creator, Dr. Daniel Fletcher, assistant professor in the section of emergency and critical care. Dr. Margaret Thompson, section chief of imaging at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, led the computer-based laboratory in emergency radiology of the thorax and abdomen.

“Feedback from attendees was very positive, and we all enjoyed meeting local veterinarians face-to-face,” said Dr. Susan Hackner, Chief Medical Officer of CUVS, and a double-boarded specialist in Internal Medicine and Emergency & Critical Care. “The veterinary field is a small community, and we do refer cases back and forth, but we don’t often get a chance to meet as a group to get to know each other. Putting faces to names helps us forge stronger bonds with our referring veterinarians, and we look forward to holding more events like this.”

Educational opportunities at CUVS are also available to Cornell’s veterinary students, who are eligible to complete observational externship rotations at the specialty referral center, as several have already done.

Collaborations between the College and CUVS extend to faculty and clinicians.

“The College’s faculty help read our imaging studies, and College clinicians have used our services for consulting,” said Hackner. “Dr. Meg Thompson is training us to get the most out of CT scanning, and we are working with Dr. Wakshlag in Nutrition to open CUVS to nutrition resident rotations. Dr. Marta Castelhano has helped us to set up an active research site collecting samples for the College’s nationally recognized DNA Bank.  We look forward to further deepening these collaborations.”

Quick facts:

  • An advanced diagnostics and treatment center for pets with serious or emergency health issues.
  • Specialty referrals and 24/7 emergency and critical care
  • Six specialists, two part-time specialists, three emergency veterinarians
  • Specialties include emergency & critical care, orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery, internal medicine, cardiology, oncology, and a recently added ophthalmology service
  • 20,000-square-foot facilities include:
    • Intensive care unit; emergency room; three surgery suites with interventional radiology and fluoroscopy; imaging suites with CT scanner, digital radiology, echocardiography, ultrasound; 45-seat classroom auditorium; onsite apartment for visiting faculty and externs
    • Visit www.cuvs.org to learn more

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

Reverse genetics better vaccines

Cornell-Israel collaboration works backwards to fight virus threatening livestock trade worldwide

European livestock beware: bluetongue virus is coming your way, and it’s deadlier than ever. Once limited to warmer climes, the insect-borne virus’s new highly pathogenic strain has been spreading northward since 2006, reaching farther into Europe than ever before. Bluetongue’s rise threatens ruminants and the industries depending on them. Sheep and deer suffer most, developing dangerously high fevers, swollen mouths, and occasionally the disease’s signature blue tongue. Most infected sheep and deer die; other ruminants (cattle, goats, camels, buffalo, and antelopes) show milder symptoms but can carry the disease, further enabling its spread.

Illnesses, deaths, and international trade restrictions due to bluetongue have cost the world economy billions, including the United States, whose more benign strains still hinder livestock-related exports to bluetongue-free countries. Vaccines work weakly at best: with 25 separate strains each needing yearly updates, the quickly-evolving bluetongue virus seems to defy defense.

In the arms race between virus and victim, human knowledge is catching up. Dr. John Parker, virologist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Baker Institute for Animal Health, has joined Israeli microbiologist Dr. Marcelo Ehrlich of the University of Tel Aviv to learn what makes bluetongue tick, unlocking the inner workings of its deadliest strain with discoveries that could help in designing a lasting universal vaccine.

“No one thought bluetongue would spread this far, and with current vaccines even the most watchful countries can’t protect themselves from it,” said Parker. “Insects carrying bluetongue don’t respect national borders, and climate change has let them expand their range. Meanwhile this new strain is especially virulent: good at bursting through cells to infect new ones. If we can learn how bluetongue kills cells and why this strain is so good at it, we may be able to better control its spread.”

When bluetongue invades a cell it creates a protein called NS3, reproduces, and eventually bursts through the cell. All strains produce NS3, but the more virulent strains produce an altered form. When experiments in Israel suggested NS3 helps degrade cells so the virus can escape, Ehrlich contacted Parker, a former collaborator, who studies cell death.

The pair has created a novel plasmid-based system to discover exactly what NS3 does using reverse genetics. While standard “forward” genetics start with a trait then look for the genes influencing it, recently developed “reverse” genetics systems manipulate specific genes to look for their effects. Parker and Ehrlich are making mutant bluetongue viruses that alter NS3 to see what it does in a cell.

“Reverse genetics has become the gold standard for doing molecular virology,” said Parker. “It’s particularly useful for studying specific proteins. But until recently it was very difficult to develop these systems for reoviruses, the family to which bluetongue belongs.”

In 2006 one of Parker’s collaborators created a new reverse genetics system that uses plasmids, easily copied pieces of bacterial DNA, to insert viral mutants directly into cells, skipping steps that once impeded the study of reoviruses.

“The majority of Cornell’s microbiology labs do this every day: they take plasmid DNA, mutate it, and study the effect on a protein,” said Parker. “It’s much more convenient and makes transferring genetic material between labs easier, enabling better collaboration. In Israel, where virulent bluetongue is common, Marcelo will conduct experiments that for biosecurity reasons could never be conducted in the US, where strains are relatively benign.”

The researchers took an unusual route in constructing the mutant viruses they will study: hiring a company to synthesize them from scratch.

“These days you can make a pathogen by putting in an order,” said Parker. “It was first done for Polio virus, and more and more researchers are taking this approach. It’s cheaper and faster than paying grad students to spend months cloning genes. People used to learn PCR—nowadays my lab staff learn how to place an order, making sure the DNA sequence they ask for is right.”

“Viruses are often seen as mysterious and dangerous things that are hard to control. There’s some truth to that, but we are making significant progress in our abilities to manipulate viruses in ways that help us understand them better in order to develop better vaccines and treatments.”

Their work is supported by the US-Israel Binational Agricultural Research Development (BARD) Fund, which funds collaborative research to solve agricultural problems.

File:Map of molecular epidemiology of bluetongue virus in Europe.gif

The molecular epidemiology of bluetongue virus (BTV) since 1998: routes of introduction of different serotypes and individual virus strains. 

Map Source

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

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

Cornell China Dairy Institute teaches second crop of food-animal veterinarians from across China

For four weeks this past fall over two dozen dairy veterinarians converged on a private farm in Sanhe City, 37 miles east of Beijing. Here in China’s Heibei province, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has partnered with Huaxia Dairy as well as local Chinese educational, government, and agricultural institutions to lead an international collaboration that is benefiting animal health and food safety in China and beyond.

Cornell China Dairy Institute has provided hands-on continuing education to approximately 70 Chinese veterinarians and veterinary technicians since its launch in September 2010. During the four-week program, participants from across China attend morning lectures at Sanhe City Vocational Education College followed by afternoon hands-on training at the Huaxia Dairy farm taught by Cornell veterinarians, veterinary students, and lab technicians.

Revenue from the program goes to support the College’s local dairy programs in New York State, including food-animal externships and the highly successful Summer Dairy Institute on which the China program is based.

“This is one of the few international veterinary education programs to offer live hands-on veterinary training as well as lecture-based instruction,” said Dr. Lorin Warnick, associate dean for veterinary education at Cornell. “As agriculture and associated economies become increasingly globalized, the US has a growing interest in international disease management, food safety, and public health. The goals of the program are to advance clinical skills of veterinary staff and improve cattle care and welfare on Chinese dairy farms.  Our faculty and students benefit from seeing the dairy industry firsthand in the world’s most populous country and one in which agricultural practices are changing rapidly.”

Tailored to meet the current needs of the veterinary community in China, content integrates topics such as how to care for sick or injured cows, calf health and heifer-raising, dairy reproduction, and techniques for ensuring high quality milk production.

“The China dairy program is part of the College’s global efforts and will help to transform animal health training in this region of the world,” said Dean Michael Kotlikoff. “The global community is connected in ways that are critical to the health and well-being of animals, people, and the environment everywhere. Cornell is positioned well to help influence the direction veterinary medicine takes, in the United States and around the world.”

The timing is right for this type of initiative, according to Charles Shao, CEO of Huaxia Dairy Farm, who explained that China’s dairy industry is presently in a growth phase.

“There is an intense desire to improve efficiency and production in China and to be able to support increased consumer demand for high quality milk and dairy products,” said Shao. “This collaboration has the potential to have a strong impact on the delivery of veterinary services to dairy farms in China.”

The program also supports goals outlined in the College’s strategic plan, including finding opportunities to influence the standards for veterinary practice followed around the world and providing teaching opportunities for Cornell veterinary students who may be interested in a career in academia.

Josh Boyden ’12 spent two weeks in China as a teaching assistant in October 2011.

“While faculty lectured in the mornings, employees would present us with cases and questions on the farm that demanded immediate attention,” said Boyden, who plans to go into large-animal practice in the Northeast after graduation. “The chance to interact with enthusiastic employees and promote good on-farm practices helped reinforce the importance of basics and offered great perspective and personal satisfaction.”

This year’s teaching team also included teaching assistant Karen James ’12; PhD student Dr. Soon Hon Cheong; alum Dr. Mark Thomas ’97; and Drs. Lorin Warnick, Charles Guard, Daryl Nydam, Robert Gilbert, Rodrigo Bicalho, Gary Bennett, and Michael Zurakowski.

“As the program grows, so do the College’s opportunities for international engagement,” said Warnick. “Most participants are dairy farm staff, but we have also begun to see graduate students attending from the Chinese Agriculture University in Beijing. Feedback has been very positive about the value of the course material.”

Support for the Cornell China Dairy Institute comes from student tuition, Huaxia Dairy, Pfizer Animal Health, the U.S. Grains Council, Alta Genetics, Land O’ Lakes, Sanhe City Vocational Education College, and the Sanhe City government.

‘Scopes Magazine
February 2012

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