Student’s Fulbright project tackles potential epidemics in Trinidad and Tobago

pFrom the stray-strewn streets of Trinidad and Tobago to cow-covered pastures of rural New York dairy farms, Miguella Paula-Ann Mark-Carew has journeyed far in her quest to understand and combat disease epidemics across the world. Ever since she came to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine through a veterinary summer program when she was 17, Mark-Carew wanted to return as a full-time student. While attending Dartmouth College, she spent two respective summers  conducting epidemiological research with Drs. Paul Bowser and Ted Clarke, and her positive experiences with Cornell faculty further sealed her aspiration. In 2007 she came to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine as a doctoral student in the field of comparative biomedical sciences.

An aspiring epidemiologist, Mark-Carew studies Giardia parasite infections at the group and population levels to help understand and control potential epidemics. Giardia protozoa infect the small intestine of humans and other animals, causing stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, fever, nausea, and vomiting for two to four weeks. It commonly spreads via water contaminated by raw sewage or animal wastes. It can also spread between individuals, quickly putting populations at risk. Mark-Carew’s Giardia studies took her from the New York Watershed to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago to study the parasite’s prevalence and genetic makeup in dairy cattle and other mammals.

tr
After receiving a Fulbright grant funding an independent epidemiological project, Mark-Carew returned to the Caribbean state of Trinidad and Tobago to take on a growing health concern facing her family’s homeland. Her Fulbright project involves efforts to quantify, manage, and control the population of thousands of stray and free-roaming dogs in streets across the country. These dogs can carry Giardia and other diseases humans can catch, posing a serious potential public health risk, according to Mark-Carew. Beyond its medical and epidemiological significance, the project involves sociological surveys with political potential. Mark-Carew interviews residents and tourists about their perspectives on several concerns, including stray dog issues, testing to identify parasites, and the value of continuing her efforts to count the number of strays, all with the hope of inspiring policy changes to address the stray problem.

“I adopted three puppies when they were a month old from an active dog abandonment site,” Mark-Carew mentioned. “One is with me now in Ithaca, and the other two are scheduled to fly home with me after my visit this coming January. I literally brought my work home with me!”

 

Other Projects

Mark-Carew has also been involved with a project called “Caring Collars Loving Leashes” that was started by her mother, Marlene Mark, to promote the human-animal bond.

“We encourage owners to walk their dogs and obtain ID tags for free collars we give out so they can find their dogs if they get lost,” said Mark-Carew. “Over 150 collar and leash sets were split between the two branches of the Trinidad and Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TTSPCA). We’d like for it to be an annual campaign during May, National Pet Month in the US.”

 

Inspired by a talk Mark-Carew gave at Cornell about her project, five Cornell students have visited Trinidad and Tobago to lend a hand. Sophie Tilitz, a rising freshman undergraduate interested in animal science, helped for six weeks from February to April 2011. In January 2011, second-year veterinary student Jasmine Bruno and third-year students Sarrah Kaye, Erin Lashnits, and Sarah Dumas spent two weeks on the islands with Mark-Carew collecting parasite samples from dogs, cattle, and water buffalo, processing samples in the lab, counting roaming dogs in the streets, and volunteering in an intensive marathon spaying and neutering event.

(Read more about their adventures.)

 

Future Plans

Mark-Carew hopes her career will allow her to assist the World Health Organization or similar entities to navigate an increasingly globalized world through which pathogens can spread quicker than ever before. She aims to understand how diseases differ across the world and species and hopes to work on projects concerning public health and animal health, particularly dealing with waterborne diseases in developing countries.

“I plan to return to Trinidad and Tobago during January 2012 break and Summer 2012,” said Mark-Carew. “This project means a lot to me and I plan to devote several years to seeing that something is done to control roaming dogs and promote responsible dog ownership in Trinidad and Tobago. I am looking for additional Cornell students to help with the roaming dog assessment project, and can be reached at mpm26@cornell.edu.”

 

For more on Mark-Carew’s Fulbright project, visit her blog: http://halfbrightfulbright.blogspot.com/

—–

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

Oct. 26, 2011

By Carly Hodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carly Hodes is a writer at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

—–

Original press release:

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine news

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

 

Media hits:

Cornell Chronicle

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

US Ag Net

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

News from Planet Earth

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High Beam Research

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

Media Newswire

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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

How ‘promiscuous parasites’ hijack host immune cells

Sept. 19, 2011

By Carly Hodes

Toxoplasma gondii parasites can invade your bloodstream, break into your brain and prompt behavioral changes from recklessness to neuroticism. These highly contagious protozoa infect more than half the world’s population, and most people’s immune systems never purge the intruders.

Toxoplasma gondii
Toxoplasma gondii parasites, green, multiply inside an immune cell that lives in the brain.

Cornell researchers recently discovered how T. gondii evades our defenses by hacking immune cells, making it the first known parasite to control its host’s immune system. Immunologists from the College of Veterinary Medicine published the study Sept. 8 in PLoS-Pathogens, describing a forced partnership between parasite and host that challenges common conceptions of how pathogens interact with the body.

Eric Denkers
Dr. Eric Denkers

“Toxoplasma is an especially promiscuous parasite,” said Eric Denkers, professor of immunology. “It infects nearly all warm-blooded species, most nucleated cell types and much of the human population. Although it lives in vital brain and muscle tissues, it usually causes no obvious reaction. Infection can seriously harm people with weak immune systems, yet most hosts experience no overt symptoms because Toxoplasma has found a way to coerce cooperation.”

Famous for its manipulative powers, T. gondii has been shown to alter the brain chemistry of rodents so that they fearlessly pursue cats. Cats eat the rodents, delivering the parasites to their breeding ground in feline intestines. Similar manipulations have surfaced in human studies linking T. gondii infections to behavioral and personality shifts, schizophrenia and population variations, including cultural differences and skewed sex ratios. Denkers’ study maps T. gondii’s newfound ability to manipulate cells in the immune system at the molecular level.

Toxoplasma parasites
Toxoplasma parasites forming a walled cyst in a mouse brain, where they release chemicals that can affect behavior.

“We found that Toxoplasma quiets its host’s alarm system by blocking immune cells from producing certain cytokines, proteins that stimulate inflammation,” said Denkers. “Cytokines are double-edged swords: They summon the immune system’s reinforcements, but if too many accumulate they can damage the body they’re trying to defend. An unregulated immune response can kill you.”

When immune cells meet intruders, they release cytokines that summon more immune cells, which produce more cytokines, rapidly causing inflammation. T. gondii must allow cytokines to trigger enough of an immune response to keep its own numbers in check and ensure host survival. But too many cytokines cause an overwhelming immune response that could damage the host or eliminate the parasites.

cytokine production in uninfected immune cells
Green stain highlights cytokine production in uninfected immune cells. Cells infected with Toxoplasma parasites, orange, cannot make cytokines.

“Toxoplasma hijacks immune cells to enforce a mutually beneficial balance,” Denkers said. “Until recently we thought it walled itself away inside cells without interacting with its environment. It’s now clear that the parasite actively releases messages into cells that change cell behavior.”

To prove this, Barbara Butcher, a senior research associate working with Denkers, exposed immune cells in the lab to bacterial factors that typically stimulate the release of inflammatory cytokines.

“Cells infected with Toxoplasma produced no messages to trigger inflammation,” Denkers said. “Our colleagues at Stanford University found that Toxoplasma produces a specific protein called ROP16 to suppress inflammatory responses. Collaborating with parasitologists at Dartmouth Medical School, we found that Toxoplasma sends ROP16 to infiltrate communication channels in immune cells, causing them to lower cytokine production.

“We are excited to have found the first non-bacterial pathogen able to exert this kind of control,” said Denkers. “If Toxoplasma can do this, maybe other parasites can too. This is the first case where the whole process of immune system manipulation is close to being completely mapped out at the molecular level.”

That map may help steer future investigations into how pathogens interact with hosts, unveiling the inner workings of a spectrum of infectious diseases.

Carly Hodes ’10 is a communication specialist at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

—–

Original Press Release:

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine news

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

Media Hits:

Cornell Chronicle

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

Answerclopedia

http://answerclopedia.com/promiscuous-parasites-hijack-host-immune-cells.html

Medical Xpress

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-09-promiscuous-parasites-hijack-host-immune.html

MyScience

http://www.myscience.cc/news/promiscuous_parasites_hijack_host_immune_cells-2011-cornell

Times of India

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health/Promiscuous-parasites-make-you-reckless/articleshow/10079594.cms

NewKerala

http://www.newkerala.com/news/2011/worldnews-72626.html

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http://www.labspaces.net/113581/Researchers_discover_how__promiscuous_parasites__hijack_host_immune_cells

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http://www.topnews.in/health/promiscuous-parasites-can-make-you-reckless-213177

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http://www.indiatalkies.com/2011/09/promiscuous-parasites-reckless.html

Amwayagent

http://www.amwayagent.com/researchers-discover-how-promiscuous-parasites-hijack-host-immune-cells.html

InfectionControlToday

http://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/news/2011/09/researchers-discover-how-promiscuous-parasites-hijack-host-immune-cells.aspx

ScienceDaily

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110921120056.htm

NewsWise

http://www.newswise.com/articles/researchers-discover-how-promiscuous-parasites-hijack-host-immune-cells

Science Codex

http://www.sciencecodex.com/researchers_discover_how_promiscuous_parasites_hijack_host_immune_cells

MedicalNewsToday

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/234798.php

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http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112386702/researchers-discover-how-promiscuous-parasites-hijack-host-immune-cells

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News Medical

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20110922/Cornell-researchers-identify-how-T-gondii-controls-hosts-immune-system.aspx

http://happinessbeyondthought.blogspot.com/2011/09/brain-parasite-in-most-of-us-prompts.html

Viral quality controls could halt herpes’ spread

Sept. 13, 2011

Herpesviruses are thrifty reproducers — they only send off their most infectious progeny to invade new cells. Two Cornell virologists recently have discovered how these viruses determine which progeny to release.

herpes simplex virion
Recently enveloped herpes simplex virion in the perinuclear space of an infected cell.

The College of Veterinary Medicine researchers report in the Aug. 23 (108:34) issue I of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the mechanisms of this quality-control system, which helps streamline viral reproduction to optimize its spreading.

The virologists identified proteins in the nuclear membranes of infected cells that control which viral products exit. This map could be used to identify new targets for future drugs that would hamper viral reproduction by clogging inspection pathways to trap viruses in the cells they first infect.

“When a herpesvirus hijacks a cell, it turns the nucleus into a viral production factory,” said Joel Baines, the James Law Professor of Virology, who co-authored the study with postdoctoral research associate Kui Yang. “It makes protein shells called capsids, stuffs them with viral DNA and ships them out of the nuclear membrane to infect new cells. But errors in the assembly line leave some capsids empty, without DNA, and shipping these is a waste of resources.”

When capsids bud from the nuclear membrane, they take pieces of it with them, forming protective lipid envelopes that let them move to new cells. Empty capsids can’t reproduce, so the virus only allows capsids with DNA through. How the membrane could determine whether the capsid had DNA or not was a mystery until Yang and Baines mapped its method.

Joel Baines
Joel Baines

“We found clamplike proteins on the surface of herpesvirus capsids that hold them together and keep them from bursting when they’re stuffed full of DNA,” said Baines. “Those with DNA have far more of these than empty capsids. We also found a protein complex living in the host cell’s nuclear membrane that binds to these structural support proteins, selecting DNA-filled capsids to pull through the membrane. Thus the virus releases only its most infectious particles.”

This streamlining process has helped herpesvirus species spread prevalently and permanently across all animal species. Eight of the 25 known viruses in the herpes family regularly infect humans, posing a leading cause of human viral infection.

Once in a body, herpesvirus stays for life. It can flare up at any time, causing symptoms and diseases, ranging from infected sores to brain inflammation, birth defects and cancers of the nose, throat and lymphatic system. Though usually not fatal, herpes can prove dangerous to patients with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or infants who contract HIV/AIDS from their mothers.

Various species of Herpesvirus
Various species of Herpesvirus

There is no cure for herpes, but Baines’ map illustrates a viral reproduction system that can be subverted.

“Take away either component, the capsid’s clamplike proteins or the membrane’s inspector proteins, and nothing escapes the host cell,” said Baines. “This opens the door to developing drugs that could block the interactions between these protein complexes, covering the binding sites to clog the system so that no viral particles get through. This would significantly slow or even stop the virus’s spread between cells. Our lab is now working on even more detailed maps of these proteins’ exact interaction sites that will help drug developers pinpoint precise targets to thwart viral reproduction.”

The research was supported, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

Carly Hodes ’10 is a communication specialist at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

—–

Original press release:

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine news
http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/herpes.cfm

Media hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Sept11/HerpesMap.html

MyScience

http://www.myscience.cc/wire/discovery_could_lead_to_ways_to_halt_spread_of_herpesvirus-2011-cornell

Bionity

http://www.bionity.com/en/news/134351/study-uncovers-how-herpesvirus-spreads.html?WT.mc_id=ca0067

MedicalXPress (PhysOrg)

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-09-discovery-ways-herpes.html

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http://www.ecnmag.com/News/Feeds/2011/09/blogs-the-cutting-edge-discovery-could-lead-ways-to-prevent-herpes-spread/

Futurity

http://www.futurity.org/health-medicine/how-to-stop-herpes-from-going-viral/

Herpes Pain Relief

http://www.herpespainrelief.info/4349/cornell-chronicle-study-uncovers-how-herpesvirus-spreads/

Simple physics predicts how guts grow

Growing embryos face a tight squeeze when it’s time to pack internal organs. A new study published in Nature Aug. 4 shows how simple mechanical forces between neighboring types of tissue help organs take shape and grow.

gut
The looped shape of an intact gut tube with its anchoring dorsal mesentery. Separation of the dorsal mesentery causes the gut tube to untangle and form a straight tube, as seen in the surrounding tube.

The work is among the first to uncover how an embryo develops from groups of cells into distinctly shaped organs. Though the research largely focuses on the mid-gut in chicken embryos, the findings are relevant to other vertebrates and the formation of other organs, including the heart. Such insights into how organs form could aid efforts to diagnose and prevent birth defects and diseases.

The research reveals how a vertebrate digestive system — a tube up to five times longer than the frame housing it — fits inside the body by packing itself into an organized bundle of intestinal coils. This formation, the researchers report, hinges on the growth of the dorsal mesentery, a bridge of artery-packed tissue anchoring the gut tube.

Natasza Kurpios
Dr. Natasza Kurpios

“Until now the dorsal mesentery seemed to offer only structural support; no one talked about its possible functions,” said developmental biologist Natasza Kurpios, assistant professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine and a first author with Thierry Savin and Amy Shyer of Harvard, where Kurpios conducted the study before she came to Cornell in 2009. “In adults, it’s a thin piece of tissue suspending the intestines and guiding arteries to them. But in embryos, we found that its properties aid construction by pulling back the gut and forcing it to loop.”

Using tiny surgical scissors Kurpios separated the looping gut tube from the dorsal mesentery.

“The gut instantaneously un-looped into a straight tube and the mesentery contracted like a relaxed rubber band,” said Kurpios. “Clearly the mesentery was under tension and the gut-mesentery connection had exerted tension on both that affected each other’s shape. We measured the organs’ growth rates throughout development and found that the gut tube grows far faster than the mesentery: nearly four-fold in chickens. The gut wants to grow, the slower mesentery holds it back, so the gut loops.”

At Harvard, Savin built a simple physical model using a latex sheet (to act as the mesentery) stitched to a rubber tube (to act as the intestine) to mimic the mechanical forces that create the gut looping. Experimenting with different physical properties in the two materials, Savin and colleagues developed a formula predicting the looping patterns based on the thickness and elasticity of the latex and the radius of the rubber tube.

Kurpios and her colleagues then applied the model to animals, finding that in chickens, quail, zebra finches and mice the model predicted the patterns and properties correctly. “We’ve found a simple physical explanation for what had seemed like a complex biological mystery,” Kurpios said.

By uncovering the basic mechanisms for how organs form, researchers may now begin to understand such developmental deformations as intestinal malrotation — which may cause knotting of tissue that blocks circulation — a birth defect in one in 500 newborns that can lead to death.

With the help of a newly funded grant from the March of Dimes, Kurpios says her Cornell lab is completing new research that identifies a hierarchy of specific genes responsible for gut development. “People have not understood how you can go from groups of cells to the actual shape of organs,” she said. “We are now uncovering that link.”

Dr. Natasza Kurpios
Dr. Natasza Kurpios

Other co-authors include Clifford Tabin and L. Mahadevan, both at Harvard. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the MacArthur Foundation.

Carly Hodes is a writer at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

—–

Original press release:

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine news

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

Media hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Aug11/GutForm.html

R&D Mag

http://www.rdmag.com/News/Feeds/2011/08/general-sciences-study-ids-mechanism-for-how-gut-forms-and-grows/

My Science

http://www.myscience.us/news/simple_physics_predicts_how_the_gut_forms-2011-cornell

Redorbit

http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/2093116/groundbreaking_research_reveals_clues_to_the_formation_of_hearts_intestines/

EurekAlert

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-08/cu-grr080911.php

Newswise

http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/579309/?sc=rssn

Futurity

http://www.futurity.org/health-medicine/how-gut-grows-is-simple-physics/

Graduate student wins veterinary training grant to model economics of epidemics

smithWhere economics and epidemiology collide, graduate student Rebecca Smith, DVM ’05 builds the tools to chart their course. In March 2011 Smith won a specialized veterinary training grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), making her the first student in eight years to win at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Smith will use the $350,000 five-year fellowship to model key cattle diseases and find cost-effective ways of limiting their spread.

As animal models grow increasingly valuable to biomedical research, so do veterinary investigators with animal expertise. The Special Emphasis Research Career Award (K01 Award) in Pathology and Comparative Medicine is the sole NIH grant available to researchers with DVM degrees. Its funds train veterinarians in advanced research techniques while aggressively moving them toward roles as independent investigators. Smith won through a combination of prior publications, a multidisciplinary mentorship committee, and a research proposal relevant to both animal and human health.

“While many researchers use mouse gene lines to study how human diseases develop in individuals, animal herds can model how diseases spread across human populations,” said Smith. “I study mycobacterial diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, and Johne’s Disease, which can devastate animals and humans alike. They’re hard to manage and diagnose because symptoms usually arise long after infection begins. But if we can successfully diagnose some cases, we can look back and say when infection probably began, how infectious individuals are likely to be now, and how much a herd is at risk.”

With data from dairy herds across the world that suffered outbreaks of bovine tuberculosis and Johne’s disease, Smith will apply advanced statistical techniques in new ways to develop a mathematical model. This framework will estimate transmission rates, measure infection pressure, and evaluate control efforts. It will then generate cost-benefit analyses that will help health organizations decide how to most cost-effectively manage disease.

“A third of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis, according to estimates from the World Health Organization,” said Smith. “Meanwhile, leprosy is almost gone. In an ideal world we might eradicate all diseases entirely, but when economics come into play that’s not always the best option. We must live with a certain level of disease. This model will help us determine how much.”

Smith will work under the mentorship of Dr. Yrjo Grohn, chair of the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, and Dr. Ynte Schukken, director of the Quality Milk Production Service and Professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences.  A committee from across Cornell will provide further mentorship, including Dr. Robert Strawderman, professor of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology; Dr. Loren Tauer, chair of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; and Dr. David Russell, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Smith teaches the graduate-level course “Introduction to Epidemiology” while pursuing her current research and outreach work.

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/Epidemiology.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.

~~~

‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Cornell receives $500,000 to tackle salmonella in tomatoes

tomatoTwo experts from Cornell are teaming up to tackle salmonella contamination in produce, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cornell was one of 24 institutions to receive such grants to reduce food-borne illnesses and deaths from microbial contamination. Craig Altier, a salmonella specialist at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will work with Greg Martin, Cornell professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology and an expert on tomato disease resistance at the Cornell-affiliated Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, to investigate how salmonella interacts with tomatoes with the hope of finding ways to stop its spread.

“My lab explores how salmonella interacts with animal intestinal tracts,” said Altier, associate professor of population medicine and diagnostic science. “Bacteria are very frugal creatures; they turn genes on and off only when they need to. They only turn on the genes that make animals sick when they know they’re in an animal, and we want to know how this process works in plants. We will look at which bacterial genes turn on when salmonella enters a tomato and try to figure out how to intervene.”

salmonellaUnwittingly sharing our food with unseen organisms sends thousands to the hospital each year. Some 50 million Americans get sick every year after consuming food-poisoning pathogens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 3,000 of those cases are fatal. Salmonella bacteria pose the biggest food-borne health threat in the United States. While the quest for cleaner food reduced cases of many food-borne pathogens during the past 15 years, salmonella infections continue to rise.

Altier will grow mutant strains of salmonella in his lab to study how the bacteria affect tomatoes when they lack certain genes. He will take strains to Martin’s lab to test them on tomato plants while Martin studies the plants’ immune responses. After running them through the course of infection, Altier will remove the salmonella from the plants to analyze in his lab.

“A number of recent salmonella outbreaks started with contaminated produce,” said Martin. “My lab studies how the tomato immune system acts against certain bacterial pathogens, and this new project will test whether the plant immune system interferes with salmonella’s ability to survive on leaves and fruits. If it does, we may be able to breed new varieties that suppress salmonella growth, which could have implications for lessening salmonella contamination in many different crop plants.”

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Original Press Release:

College of Veterinary Medicine news

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

Media Hits:

Cornell Chronicle

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June11/Salmonella.html

Bionity

http://www.bionity.com/en/news/133272/cornell-receives-500-000-to-tackle-salmonella-in-tomatoes.html

My Science

http://www.myscience.cc/en/wire/cornell_receives_500_000_to_tackle_salmonella_in_tomatoes-2011-cornell

US Ag Net

http://www.usagnet.com/state_headlines/state_story.php?tble=NY2011&ID=560

South Dakota Ag Connection

http://www.southdakotaagconnection.com/story-national.php?Id=1372&yr=2011

Bionity

http://www.bionity.com/en/news/133272/cornell-receives-500-000-to-tackle-salmonella-in-tomatoes.html?WT.mc_id=ca0265