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Translating Discoveries for Animals and People

October 20, 2016

Dr. Robert Brosnan's research in anesthesia is pushing the envelope across veterinary and human medicine.

Dr. Robert Brosnan's research in anesthesia is pushing the envelope across veterinary and human medicine.

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is home to a rich clinical and research enterprise that improves the lives of animals and people. Many health issues—cancer, infectious diseases, cardiology, and more—affect both animals and people in similar ways such that treatments and research breakthroughs impact both.

The school leads the nation’s veterinary schools in total extramural contracts and grants funding at $56.6 million; $18.9 million of that comes from the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, the school’s 36 research centers and veterinary medical hospital brings together faculty, clinicians and research scientists to collaborate on species- or discipline-focused health issues. This team approach promotes the sharing of expertise and ideas, caseload material, facilities and equipment for highly effective problem solving and health advances. Discoveries include:

•    Anesthesia breakthroughs – Dr. Robert Brosnan, an expert in veterinary anesthesia, has developed a patent-pending technology that could lead to better, safer and more cost-effective general anesthetics with fewer side effects for use in operating rooms and surgical centers. Anesthesia hasn’t changed markedly since before the U.S. Civil War. Dr. Brosnan’s veterinary research is pushing the envelope across both veterinary and human medical fields, underscoring the advantages of cross-disciplinary teamwork.

•    Stem cell treatment for oral inflammation in cats holds hope for humans – A devastating and painful disease that occurs in cats is similar to oral lichen planus in humans. A clinical trial using stem cell therapy in cats is showing great promise, significantly lessening the inflammation if not completely causing it to disappear. The treatment is intended to jump start the cats’ immune systems to clear up the inflammation. School of Medicine colleagues are seeking grant funding and taking steps to implement a human clinical trial using similar stem cell therapy.

•    Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - A thickening of the walls of the heart ventricles, HCM is the most common form of feline heart disease. This same heart disease is found in humans, and is often the cause of death when a young, seemingly healthy athlete dies on the playing field. HCM affects one in 500 people and one in seven cats. More than 1,500 genetic mutations have been associated with the disease in humans. Since cat populations are less diverse and have a higher incidence of the disease, veterinary scientists are making breakthroughs more quickly. Although there is no cure for HCM in cats, the genetic research is helping to develop better treatment options that will benefit both cats and people. 

•    Cancer: melanoma, lymphoma, glioma—these cancers (among others) affect both dogs and people. For that reason, dogs make excellent models for better understanding not only how cancer forms in humans, but also in developing more efficient treatments. Dr. Michael Kent, a radiation oncologist at the school, oversees a unique clinical trial in an attempt to extend the length and quality of his canine patients’ lives. In collaboration with Dr. Arta Monjazeb, associate professor of radiation oncology at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, and others at the veterinary school, Dr. Kent is examining the use of a three-pronged approach to treating these types of cancer. Based on the success of the canine clinical trial, Dr. Monjazeb hopes to begin safety trials in human patients with metastatic melanoma.

•    Maladjusted Foal Syndrome may provide clues for autism patients – For centuries, horse owners have been puzzled by normal looking foals that detach from their mothers with no interest in nursing. This detachment resembles some of the symptoms in children with autism. UC Davis has formed the Comparative Neurology Research Group—consisting of veterinarians, physicians, epidemiologists and basic-science researchers—to investigate whether abnormal levels of neurosteroids play a role in both disorders. In foals, the neurosteroids keep the foal from galloping in the womb. Once emerged from the birth canal, a biochemical switch must be turned on to enable the foal to recognize the mare, nurse, and become mobile. Veterinary researchers suspect that the physical pressure of the birthing process may be an important signal causing the neurosteroids to return to normal levels. A gentle “rope squeeze” harness developed by veterinary faculty member Dr. John Madigan mimics the pressure normally experienced in the birth canal. After 20 minutes, the rope is loosened and, in initial cases, the foals have responded well, rising to their feet within minutes and bounding over to join the mare and nurse. A study has reported elevated levels of neurosteroids in children with autism spectrum disorder. It’s an interesting theory with potential benefits for both animals and people.

These discoveries and more are being fostered by the Veterinary Center for Clinical Trials into clinical breakthroughs at the school’s veterinary hospital and integrated into the planning for a new Veterinary Medical Center. Between 60-90 clinical trials are in progress at any time, advancing the offerings of the hospital’s specialty services, including surgery, internal medicine, dentistry, genetics, neurology, imaging, reproduction, and neonatology.