Southwest Association for Education in Biomedical Research - SwAEBR

When Animals Help Animals

It may surprise some people, but when horses get hoarse or man's best friend's health goes to the dogs, the animals take many of the same medicines as their owners do. People and animals share a number of the same diseases, ranging from asthma and epilepsy to high blood pressure and cancer. Therefore, they benefit from many of the same treatments as humans. For example, a number of medical treatments and vaccines used to treat animals were originally developed for humans through animal research. In addition, veterinarians now use medical imaging devices commonly used for humans and originally tested on animals to treat pets, livestock and wildlife. Experts say this is precisely what makes learning about animal health so important. The knowledge gained helps humans and animals live healthier lives.

More than 90 medications developed for humans are used to heal pets, farm animals and wildlife.

Animal Research Facts
Health Problems Shared By Animals & People
Medical Benefits That Benefit Animals

Human Healthcare & Veterinary Medicine
Biomedical Research Helping Animals - NEWS REPORTS


Imagine a world without animals. Your dog wouldn't be there when you get home from school. Your cat would not be curled beside you while you watch TV. No cows would graze on the farmland. No horses to ride. No eagles soaring above. Life without animals would be empty and lonely.

Though it is hard to imagine a world without animals, that is the kind of world we could live in if there were no research. Decades of studies of animals have led to vaccines, medicines, surgical techniques, and reproductive knowledge that have kept animals of all species healthy and alive. Without important discoveries made possible with animal research, many of your dogs and cats, as well as birds, horses, livestock and wildlife, would die of diseases, viruses and injuries.

Many people believe that animal research is done only to benefit humans. What you may not realize is that most of the same research benefits animals. As you receive vaccines against deadly diseases, so do they. As you take antibiotics for your sickness, so do they.

In fact, people and animals share about 50 of the same diseases. Ranging from asthma and epilepsy to high blood pressure and cancer. Doctors and veterinarians share almost 100 of the same medicines to heal humans and animals.

There is a misconception among some people that animal research is unnecessary. But without it, the prognosis for millions of animals would be simple„they would develop diseases or contract viruses that would be untreatable, they would suffer, and eventually they would die. To prevent this situation from happening, animal lovers must support animal research.

Animal Research Facts:

Health Problems Shared by Animals & People:

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Deafness
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart Disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Reproductive problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Leukemia
  • Lyme Disease
  • Rabies
  • Ringworm/roundworms
  • Tetanus
  • Tooth & disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Ulcers

Medical Advances that Benefit Animals:

  • Artificial insemination
  • Anti-convulsants for epilepsy
  • Hip and artificial joint replacements
  • Bone grafts & implants
  • Skin grafts for wounds
  • Treatment of fractures
  • Dental care
  • Antibiotics
  • Anesthesia
  • Pacemakers
  • Blood Transfusions
  • Neonatal care
  • Laser surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Heart Surgery
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Kidney transplants
  • Allergy treatments
  • Ultrasound
  • CAT scans
  • Hearing aids

Human Health Care and Veterinary Medicine

Nobel Prize for Medicine Exemplifies Connection Between Human Health Care and Veterinary Medicine

American Veterinary Medical Association -- The impact of veterinarians on human health care was highlighted by the awarding of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Medicine on October 8 to Dr. Peter C. Doherty, a veterinarian. Dr. Doherty's research, conducted with partner and co-recipient Dr. Rolf M. Zinkernagel, revealed how the human immune system recognizes cells that are infected with a virus.

The implications of this breakthrough in biochemistry may affect the development of vaccinations and treatments for a wide variety of human diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, certain forms of diabetes and possibly A.I.D.S.

"I used veterinary medicine as a starting point for my research. I was very interested in immunology -- the approaches to animal and human research are very similar. I don't think I've ever left veterinary science," said Dr. Doherty.

As a practitioner, Dr. Doherty focused on cattle and chickens in his native Australia and the United Kingdom and later, sheep in Scotland. "I was always interested in the scientific aspects of veterinary medicine in animal production. I wanted to analyze food-producing animals for altruistic reasons -- to feed the world," said Dr. Doherty.

Another example of the cross-over between human and animal medicine is the work that takes place at the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in Indiana. Veterinarians at the Center work alongside human health care researchers to develop treatment for afflictions such as spinal cord injuries. Director Richard B. Borgens has described the collaborative efforts of researchers at the Center as a "unique partnership between basic scientists and veterinarians." Dr. Leininger said those at the Center "lay the groundwork for advances in human health care."

(American Veterinary Medicine Association press release, October 21, 1996 )

Biomedical Research Helping Animals -News Reports

Veterinary Oncologist Searches for Cancer Cure

Kansas State University -- Researching and caring for animal cancer patients may help the search for cancer cures in humans.

Dr. Ruthanne Chun, veterinary oncologist and assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University, is searching for new developments in the fight against cancers. She says the many similarities between animals and humans with the disease can help in finding a cure.

"If animals are developing cancers from something from the environment we can learn how to more effectively use animals as sentinels, and what it might be in the environment that's causing the cancer," Chun said. "Animals also get many similar tumor types as people, and for some tumor types, animals get them more frequently and the natural course of the tumor is much faster than it is in people.

"For instance, if a dog develops a bone tumor, it's very similar to the development of bone tumors in humans," she said. "But humans, maybe 2,000 new cases are diagnosed per year, whereas in dogs maybe 10,000 new cases are diagnosed per year, so we can get a lot of information about that particular tumor and how it responds to therapy in dogs, and then move that therapy information over into humans."

Chun's current research focuses on clinical trials and looking at new chemotherapy drugs, or drugs that have been used in people for a long time, but researchers don't know what the effects are on dogs and cats.

"My main goal is recruiting cases, making sure that regional veterinarians know that I'm here and that I would love to help them out with their cancer cases," Chun said. "I would also like to do some basic research and my main area of interest is with new blood vessel ingrowth into tumors.

"For a tumor to grow it needs to have nutrients, and for nutrients to get there, the tumor has to induce new blood vessels to grow," she said. "It's a huge area of research in human medicine and a lot of other veterinarian oncologists are looking at many different aspects of it."

The tumors Chun is interested in treating are bone tumors in dogs, vaccine-associated sarcomas in cats and mast cell tumors, which are a common skin tumor in dogs.

"I guess with my cancer research in particular, what is really exciting about it is that if we can stop the ingrowth of new blood vessels, we might not have to use chemotherapy," Chun said. "So it's possible that the drugs that we might use to stop blood vessels from growing would be much less toxic than chemotherapy and maybe much more helpful than chemotherapy.

"And if we can use that effectively in dogs and cats, it's possible that they can use that effectively in humans, so that's my longest term goal," she said. "I think realistically, I'm not sure that we're ever going to ever really be able to stop cancer, or at least not in my generation, but the more we understand it, the more we can control it." 

Pacemakers Feasible for Older Dogs

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign -- Putting a pacemaker in a dog may sound high-tech and far-fetched, but the practice is neither as uncommon nor as costly as you might think. As pacemakers for human beings have become fairly routine, lower prices and increased availability have made them an option that can extend some animal's lives for several years.

"Between 100 and 200 pacemakers are implanted into animals--mostly dogs but some cats and horses--in the United States each year," notes Dr. David Sisson, a veterinary cardiologist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana, where the procedure is done 6 to 20 times a year.

Dr. Sisson knows what he's talking about. For the past 5 years, he has served as the director of a pacemaker registry started in the late 1980s by the Cardiology Specialty of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, an organization of veterinary medical specialists who have completed special training and passed a certifying exam. There are about 70 veterinary cardiologists in the United States.

"Pacemakers can correct the same abnormalities in dogs that they do in people," he explains. Normally the body sends an electrical charge to stimulate the chambers of the heart to contract and pump blood through the body. In a condition known as sinus node dysfunction, or sick sinus syndrome, an abnormality of this electrical charge causes a very slow heart rate (bradycardia).

Heart block is another condition that may be treated with a pacemaker. It occurs when the top chambers of the heart, the atria, receive the electrical charge but the impulse doesn't make it to the lower half of the heart, or ventricles, because of a blockage.

"The main symptom of these disorders is a slow heart rate that cannot be accounted for by other reasons, such as hypothyroidism or other underlying metabolic problems," says Dr. Sisson. "Some dogs with a slow heart rate will also exhibit fainting episodes that last 10 to 15 seconds and may occur as often as ten times a day."

Dogs who need pacemakers--like their human counterparts--are typically older. The average age is 9 years. "The best candidates have hearts in reasonably good shape and have no systemic illnesses, such as cancer, that would unnecessarily shorten their life span," says Dr. Sisson.

"A pacemaker is made up of a pulse generator and wires," he explains. "The pulse generator, which is about the size of a silver dollar but thicker, contains an energy supply and a tiny computer that monitors and controls the rhythm of the heart. Wires called leads transmit electrical impulses between the pulse generator and the heart. When the pacemaker detects that the heart's electrical activity has failed, it sends an appropriate stimulus to get the heart going at the correct rate."

Twenty years ago, pacemakers were always implanted surgically. Surgeons cut through the chest wall to attach the leads to the heart. The leads were brought through the rib spaces and connected to the pulse generator, which was implanted on the animal's flank. This is still the standard procedure used with cats.

A less invasive approach was developed in the early 1980s. In this procedure, a lead is threaded through a vein in the neck until it reaches the heart. A tiny retractable screw built into the lead attaches it firmly to the heart muscle and keeps it in place until scarring anchors it there. The pulse generator is inserted under the skin at the back of the dog's neck. This technique--which may require only one day in the hospital--is less risky for older dogs who may not withstand major surgery.

The prognosis for dogs with pacemakers depends largely on how healthy the dog is other than having an abnormal heart rhythm. A pacemaker often extends the life of the dog 3 to 5 years. Young dogs that receive pacemakers because of congenital heart blockage typically do very well.

For owners, this treatment is not too taxing. "The dog is essentially cured and there are no pills or injections to administer," Dr. Sisson points out. "All owners have to do is bring the dog in for a checkup once or twice a year to make sure the pacemaker is functioning correctly. The cost of the procedure is about the same as the cost of bone plating--surgical repair of a fractured leg in a dog."

The pacemakers used for dogs are the ones made for people. Manufacturers often donate unused pacemakers when several months have expired from the shelf-life of the power source, making it undesirable for use in human beings. Receiving a pacemaker powered for 5 instead of 7 years in not a problem for dogs, since they have much shorter life spans than people do. Sometimes dogs receive a secondhand pacemaker from a deceased person.

As director of the pacemaker registry, Dr. Sisson contacts manufacturers to request donations of pacemakers, matches donated pacemakers with needs nationwide, and collects data from board-certified veterinary cardiologists about the conditions and outcomes of all pacemaker surgeries. He's currently working on article that will report on 5 years of data from the registry.

Dr. Sisson advises owners considering this procedure in their dog to seek a board-certified surgeon or cardiologist who is trained to do appropriate programming of the pulse generator. These specialists can make sure the computer is sensing and pacing the heart correctly. 

Bone Cancer Research for Dogs May Benefit People

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign -- Medical research carried out at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana may one day benefit you as well as your pet. Dr. Nicole Ehrhart, veterinarian and surgical oncology specialist at the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital, is studying bone growth and repair in dogs receiving chemotherapy. Her research is finding new alternatives to amputation and intravenous (IV) chemotherapy and improving the accuracy of prognosis following the treatment of bone cancer.

When dogs get bone cancer in a limb, the traditional treatment is amputation and chemotherapy. Alternatively, the limb can be saved with a "limb-sparing" technique by transplanting donor bone from a cadaver. A new form of limb-sparing, known as bone transport, grows new bone in the gap left after bone tumor removal.

With the bone transport technique, a cross-sectional piece of the remaining normal bone is cut and moved a short distance from the area it was removed from. The body recognizes this as a fracture and begins to heal it. A device called an Ilizarov, named after the Russian scientist who developed it, holds the cut piece of normal bone in place and allows it to be moved a short distance each day. As the cut piece is moved further and further away from its original site, new bone grows behind it.

The advantage of bone transport over the use of a donor bone is that the patient's own bone is growing. Cadaver bone is both expensive and susceptible to infection. Until the body establishes a blood supply to it, the new bone is a high-risk environment for bacterial infection. About 35 percent of these patients get infections. Bone transport patients always have a blood supply to the growing bone, which allows the immune system to take care of any infection.

"This method has been used successfully in people with bone loss from trauma, such as motorcycle accidents. It has never been done with chemotherapy. Bone cancer has to be treated with chemotherapy. Nobody knows the effect of chemotherapy on bone that grows as you transport the bone," says Dr. Ehrhart. "We are researching this limb-sparing option for dogs, but it may also benefit humans. Bone cancer affects children more often than adults, and children are still growing. This technique would allow new bone in kids to grow out to equal length as the opposite limb."

If it turns out that chemotherapy hinders new bone growth, Dr Ehrhart's research should be able to find out why. By comparing groups of control dogs and chemotherapy dogs, she hopes to isolate proteins responsible for bone growth. The next phase will be to give these proteins to the chemotherapy group to see if it stimulates bone growth.

"We are also studying an alternative to IV chemotherapy," says Dr. Ehrhart. "We are one of only two institutions with USDA permission for clinical use of a biodegradable polymer sponge that dissolves over time when implanted in the body, providing a slow-release chemotherapy." In preliminary trials this method has been shown to work as well as IV chemotherapy. The slow-release chemotherapy has the potential to control local recurrence of the tumor as well as metastatic disease (spread of the tumor). This method of chemotherapy is less toxic than IV chemotherapy and requires fewer doses. Clinical studies will begin here this fall on dogs with cancer.

"Another study we are doing will enable us to make more accurate prognoses for animals with bone cancer," Dr. Ehrhart says. "There is evidence that the amount of bone-specific alkaline phosphatase in the blood before and after cancer surgery is a good indicator of post-surgical survival time." Patients with higher than normal levels of this enzyme in their blood before they have surgery have a poorer prognosis than patients with lower levels. Also, if the amount of this enzyme in the blood does not return to normal after surgery, then the patient has a lower chance of survival and a lower remission-free interval than normal. This finding is independent of the stage, the location, and the amount of cancer present and of metastatic disease, but it is correlated with survival time. This information will provide a more accurate prognosis than before. Patients with higher bone-specific alkaline phosphatase levels can be treated more aggressively with chemotherapy after surgery in order to achieve the same survival rates as patients with lower levels.

"Animal research and human research are very intertwined," says Dr. Ehrhart. "Usually disease is induced in animals to provide research models for human medicine. Our research is with naturally occurring bone tumor patients. We work to improve the animal's quality of life, and the information we get is helping to improve the quality of life of people with bone cancer, too." 

Cancer In Pets Is Not Uncommon

Kansas State University -- Cancer is an often life-threatening disease that many people think affects only humans. So it comes as a shock to many pet owners when their pet is diagnosed with cancer.

Dr. Ruthanne Chun, assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, says cancer in animals is not uncommon and it is very similar to cancer in humans.

"It can either be genetic, environmental or just a random mutation, so it's very similar to cancer in people," Chun said. "The common types of cancer that we see may be more common because we can detect them more easily.

"They involve the lymph nodes, limbs or skin tumors, so they are visible and easy to see," she said. "There are some tumors in dogs like lung tumors that we might not pick up at all until they're very large and causing the dog to have clinical problems, so it really depends on the type of cancer."

Chun says there are a number of indicators that an animal may have cancer. The best way to detect cancer, she advises, is for owners to feel their animals over carefully once a week.

"Just pet them thoroughly once a week and feel for abnormal lumps, bumps, swellings and any area that's painful," Chun said. "Sometimes animals will have open wounds that are ulcerated that don't heal for a long time, and that would be another potential sign that it's cancer."

There are also very non-specific things like not eating well, weight loss, vomiting or diarrhea, she said. Also, certain breeds are more prone to getting cancer than others.

"Breeds such as boxers, Bernese mountain dogs and golden retrievers are overrepresented in the development of cancer," Chun said. "There have even been studies that have traced the family tree of dogs, and these have suggested a genetic predisposition."

Often the diagnosis of cancer leaves owners feeling that there is no hope for their pet. However, Chun says that many times the cancer can be treated, and the pet can continue to lead a fulfilling life.

"When we treat animals with cancer, we carefully measure how good is the animal's quality of life versus how aggressive should we be with our therapy," Chun said. "We use the same types of drugs that they use in human medicine, but because we really want to maintain a good to excellent quality of life in our patients we tend to use lower doses at less frequent intervals."

Veterinarians have designed their chemotherapy protocols for animals so that pets don't become terribly ill, Chun said. Less than 5 percent of the animals develop severe vomiting, diarrhea or a drop in their blood counts and need to be hospitalized.

"Most of my patients and the owners don't even realize that the animal has had chemotherapy," she said. "Owners always worry about the animal's hair falling out.

"Bald dogs do look pretty different, but it's actually not very common for their hair to fall out," Chun said. "Animals that always have to go to the groomers, those are the ones we worry about losing their hair. But once chemotherapy is over, the animal's hair grows back in."

Cost is a significant factor in deciding to go through with the cancer treatments. For many people, their pets are more than just animals, so the owners want to do everything that they can to prolong their lives and keep them feeling good.

"I know a lot of people say, 'Well $2,000, I don't have that kind of money, I can't afford it,' and I understand and wish we could make things cheaper, but for other people they feel very strongly that it is worth it and they can set aside the funds," Chun said. "If we look at it solely from the animal's point of view, and are able to buy them another eight to 12 months to maybe even a year and a half, that's a very long time from that animal's point of view. So usually from their perspective I think it's worth it." 

Blood Transfusions Saving Lives of Pets

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign -- "A number of animals who come in for emergency care at veterinary clinics wouldn't survive surgery or trauma unless blood was made available for them," says Kristi Stasi, veterinary technician at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital. "The process of collecting and transfusing blood is very similar in veterinary and human medicine."

Blood is species specific-dogs can receive only dog blood and cats can receive only cat blood. In addition, dogs and cats have blood types just as humans have blood types. Cats have A, B, and AB groups with specific factors within these groups that further differentiate them. Dogs have eleven different blood groups; the most important one is the A1/A2 system. Dogs that are A negative are considered universal donors. Cats do not have a universal donor; therefore, it is especially important that donor and recipient are cross-matched.

Multiple transfusions can also be a problem. Even though the donor and recipient may be compatible originally, the recipient's immune system may build up a sensitivity to a specific donor. "Thus, every time you transfuse, you need to cross-match to make sure that your donor and recipient are compatible," explains Stasi.

There are two types of cross-matching tests: major and minor cross-matching. "For major cross-matches, red cells from the donor are mixed with serum from the recipient. We observe to see if there is a reaction; the recipient may attack donor cells and not accept them. If you have a major cross-match incompatibility, unless you are desperate, you shouldn't do a transfusion," explains Stasi. In a minor cross-match, the recipient's red cells are compared with the donor's serum. Usually, in minor incompatibilities, parts of the donor's blood can be given to the recipient but not the blood in its entirety.

The different blood components-red cells, plasma, and platelets-can be separated if need be. "Red cells are given to a patient that may be anemic due to trauma or due to a treatable disease. Plasma is used to build up blood volume in situations when the animal is not making enough or is losing too much protein. Platelet-rich plasma is for those patients whose platelets are depleted or dysfunctional," says Stasi.

As with human blood donors, animal donors are tested to make sure blood values are high enough and no infectious disease is present before blood is drawn. Donors must meet weight requirements-10 pounds for cats and 50 pounds for dogs. Fluid is replaced after blood is drawn, and the body compensates by producing new red blood cells. Also similar to human donors, there must be a waiting period of at least two months before blood is collected again.

Private veterinarians sometimes use their pet dogs or cats as blood donors when emergencies arise. The University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital relies on one of a small number of canine blood banks in the United States to meet the needs of most of its patients. 

Acupuncture as a Treatment for Aching Animals

Kansas State University -- Acupuncture is a treatment that has been used by the Chinese for centuries. More recently, western cultures have begun utilizing it for the treatment of humans and animals. Judy Cox, veterinarian and associate professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University, is a trained acupuncturist who treats animals with this unconventional method of treatment.

"Some of the most common treatments are for relief of pain and chronic conditions like arthritis, where perhaps for one reason or another medications aren't the best choice," Cox said. "It works well for almost anything except tumors -- things that respond best to surgery -- and some things where we know we have medications that work very well."

Acupuncture can be applied to most animals, including horses, cows, dogs, cats and even birds, with costs ranging from $25 to $80 per session, depending on the size of the animal. The needles are very small, so discomfort is far less than receiving a vaccination.

"Many animals become very relaxed during an acupuncture treatment," Cox said. "Some of them almost go to sleep.

"Acupuncture causes the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, and so some of those neurotransmitters cause feelings of relaxation and happiness," she said. "Of course we can't ask the animal how they feel, so we can't be sure it's exactly like people, but at least it causes the same physiologic changes in the animals that it does in people."

According to Cox, the concept of acupuncture being applied to animals is not a new one. She says thousands of years ago, the Chinese performed acupuncture on war horses and other animals of value.

"From the western science theory, most of the acupuncture points are located over small neurovascular bundles where there are tiny nerves, blood vessels and collections of cells which are manipulated by the needle insertion," said Cox. "The Chinese believed that there are energy flows below the skin and they follow certain patterns called meridians. "The acupuncture points are along those meridians," she said. "And the Chinese theory is that illness is an imbalance of the body and wellness is a balance of the body, so you select points to put your needles that well help the body return to balance."

Despite many positive results of acupuncture, the biggest criticism is that it has not been as well studied with western scientific methods as conventional western medicine.

"The Chinese did not do the kind of research trials that we do, and in fact we've only done that for the last 40 or 50 years, and this is a very ancient art," Cox said. "So the critics would say that we don't have any proof that it works, and that much of what happens could just be coincidence.

"Now that we're using acupuncture more in the United States, where we tend to study these things very scientifically, I hope we will keep track of cases and do the appropriate studies, so that in 10 or 15 years we'll have the scientific evidence that everybody's looking for," she said. 

Laser Technology Blasts Into Veterinary Applications

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign -- Carbon dioxide (CO2) laser surgery has been used in human medicine for many years in detailed work such as cosmetic surgery. Veterinarians like Dr. Karen Campbell, of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital, are finding other surgical uses for this high-energy source that vaporizes water molecules.

"Living cells are 70 percent to 80 percent water. The laser evaporates the cells at the same time it evaporates the water," explains Dr. Campbell. "The greatest benefit of the laser is that you can vaporize tumors that are difficult to treat with conventional surgery."

For example, Dr. Campbell recently used the CO2 laser to do surgery on a 15-year-old dog with large benign tumors on its ears. "One of the tumors was quite extensive and was becoming infected," she says. "The uncomfortable dog shook its head a lot." Instead of traditional surgery that would remove part of the ear, Dr. Campbell and the owner opted for CO2 laser surgery, which removed the tumor and left the ear intact.

Laser surgery has many benefits. With the CO2 laser most superficial surgeries require only local anesthesia. Stitches usually are not necessary for incisions made with the laser because the incision site heals very quickly. There is less worry about pets chewing or licking the surgery site afterwards. With no stitches and quick healing, the surgery site often heals without scarring, which is one reason the CO2 laser is popular for human cosmetic surgery.

Because the laser cauterizes (seals off) blood vessels, it is useful in areas such as the mouth, which is especially prone to bleeding during surgery. Less blood means better visibility and faster surgery time. The laser also sterilizes as it cuts, minimizing postoperative infection.

"One new application of the laser is in treating transitional cell tumors of the bladder. With the bladder, it is important that you preserve as much tissue as you can while removing the tumor," says Dr. Campbell. With CO2 lasers you can see all the area being cut and you do not destroy tissue below.

The laser vaporizes cells only 0.1 millimeters below the surface. For large tumors, scalpel surgery might be used in combination with the CO2 laser. "We can scalpel the tumor off and use the laser to touch up the bed of the lesion. If there are residual dead cells, the body eliminates them and hopefully has an immune response that will protect it against like tumors developing," adds Dr. Campbell.

The laser is not most advantageous in every procedure. Besides the minute depth at which the laser cuts, cost is also a factor. "The unit we have retails for about $30,000. So many veterinary clinics will not have enough business for laser surgery to be able to afford this equipment. Routine surgery with an experienced clinician is often the best choice," says Dr. Campbell.

Advances in human and veterinary medicine fuel each other. Dr. Campbell views laser technology as an opportunity to help owners give quality care to their pets in many circumstances. For further information about technologies available in veterinary medicine, talk with your local veterinarian. 

Veterinary and Human Cancer Care Advance Together

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign -- At the Cancer Care Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, advances in human cancer medicine are benefiting pets, and studies with animal cancer patients yield findings that help human patients.

Dr. Barbara Kitchell, the veterinarian who heads the clinic, is board certified in both oncology and internal medicine and has studied with cancer researchers at Stanford University. Her ties to human medicine benefit her canine patients. For example, for certain cancers she prescribes gencytabine, a new chemotherapy drug used commonly in human medicine which has gentle side effects. "We are the first veterinary college to use this drug in the treatment of animals, although it is commonly used in human patients for hard-to-treat cancers of the lung and colon," says Dr. Kitchell.

Dr. Nicole Ehrhart, a surgical oncologist, specializes in procedures such as limb sparing, radical head and neck surgery, and hemipelvectomy. Dr. Ehrhart's limb-sparing techniques have made her world-renown. Certain cancerous limbs can be saved by transplanting donor bone from a cadaver. A new form of limb sparing, known as bone transport, grows new bone in the gap left after bone tumor removal. With the bone transport technique, a cross-sectional piece of the remaining normal bone is cut and moved a short distance from the area it was removed from. The body recognizes this as a fracture and begins to heal it, regrowing healthy bone that replaces what was cut out. She is studying how this technique could be beneficial for children with cancer of their long bones.

Diagnostic equipment developed for use in human medicine is another vital tool in veterinary oncology. The College of Veterinary Medicine has magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) capabilities to help pinpoint the tumors that need to be removed or treated with radiation and chemotherapy.

A cutting-edge treatment modality borrowed from human medicine, hyperthermia, is used in combination with radiation at the Cancer Care Clinic to increase the cancer-killing function of the body. "Hyperthermia creates heat in the tumor about the same temperature as a fever," explains Dr. Kitchell. "This unit has the capability of conforming to the shape of the tumor. Even the depth of the feverish tissue is controllable. This combined therapy reduces the size of the cancerous tissue so surgeons can more easily remove the cancerous area."

Often, the oncologists at the College are allowed access to treatments not yet available in human medicine. Because animals share humans' environment, drugs' effectiveness in pets is often an accurate indicator of how the drug will perform in humans. The oncologists use only drugs that have been well tested. Trying the newest treatments may help cure your pet and at the same time provide valuable information on how effective the drugs may be in human therapy.

"First and foremost is our commitment to improving the quality of life and survival duration of companion animals who develop cancer," says Dr. Kitchell. "The Cancer Care Clinic also seeks to identify strategies of therapy, prognostic factors, or diagnostic tools that can be evaluated in animals with spontaneous malignancies. We hope that ultimately our studies will help transfer technology to human cancer medicine. Companion animals with cancer provide an extremely important resource for the development of anti-cancer strategies that bridge the gap between human cancer patients and findings in cell cultures and rodent models." 

Radioactive Beads Fight Cancer in Cats, Dogs

Kansas State University -- For some people, a string of beads is a fashion statement. For your dog or cat, they may be the difference between life or death.

When surgery can't be performed or isn't enough to remove cancerous tumors, veterinarians at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine are using a new, implantable radiation treatment option. According to Dr. Ruthanne Chun, assistant professor of clinical sciences at K-State, brachytherapy is for dogs or cats that have certain tumors that aren't likely to spread to other parts of their body

"Brachytherapy is something we've tried do more and more of here," Chun said. "There are maybe two or three other veterinary colleges that do it, so we are really riding the edge of that wave in being able to offer this service."

After as much of the tumor as possible is removed, a hollow, sterile plastic tube called an "after-loading tube" is sutured into the tumor bed. After the wound is closed, Chun said the radioactive beads are "essentially strung together on a plastic wire" and "fed" into the after-loading tubes. Once clamped in place, they begin to emit a set amount of radiation into the tumor bed.

"We know from past experience how much of a dose, how much radiation, a tumor needs to be effectively treated," Chun said. "We can calculate roughly how much radiation per day the tumor bed is receiving. After it has gotten its set dose, we sedate the animals, remove the tubes and the beads and they're done with their therapy."

Because the beads provide a continuous, low level dose of radiation, animals must be kept in isolation. Chun said owners are not allowed to visit their pets while they are receiving brachytherapy. The pets may still be allowed to go outside but must be kept away from other animals. They must also be handled only by veterinarians licensed to work with radioactive substances.

Chun said the treatment is, in some ways "much nicer" than conventional forms of radiation therapy. Animals do not have to go under anesthesia multiple times and the duration of the therapy is much shorter than with conventional or external beam radiation therapy.

"For conventional radiation therapy where you use an external beam unit, the animal has to lie still for the radiation therapy; this requires daily anesthesia anywhere from 10 to 15, or 20 times -- depending on what type of tumor it is," Chun said. "And the costs really add up when you have to anesthetize the animal each time and allow time for recovery. It's much harder on the animal than doing the implant therapy."

Chun said not all tumors can receive the implant, but that it is a good treatment option for a lot of different tumors.

"It seems to be as successful as more conventional forms of therapy," Chun said. "But we need two or three years from now before we can say our dogs have survived as long as, if not longer than, dogs treated with other forms of radiation." 

Arthritis in Dogs: Pain Relief Options Expanding

Kansas State University -- It is estimated that one in five of the 44 million adult dogs in the United States suffer from arthritis to some degree, said James Roush, doctor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University.

There are some signs pet owners can look for to tell when dogs are experiencing pain from arthritis.

"First, you will see some sort of lameness or reluctance to get up or move around," Roush said. "Owners will often note that the dog doesn't jump on or off the bed as often. The other things you can see are swelling in the joints, and heat or pain when you touch the joints. The dogs also won't like their legs moved."

There are two common reasons dogs develop arthritis. The most common reason is dogs may have skeletal or joint diseases that are congenital, which means the diseased joints form because the dogs inherit imperfect physical traits, Roush said.

Hip and elbow dysplasia, degenerative joint diseases, are examples of common congenital diseases in large-breed dogs. Large dogs have big skeletal frames and grow faster than normal, which can cause stress on the joints, leading to arthritis.

The second most common cause of arthritis in dogs is damage to joints from accidents. Damage to ligaments in knees and shoulders are common joint injuries received from accidents. In time, this can lead to inflamed joints and arthritic symptoms.

There are some treatments available to ease the pain of arthritis. Roush said the treatments have commonly been the same drugs used for arthritis pain in humans, such as aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs.

"With dogs, the mainstay has always been aspirin, buffered aspirin or a trademark called Ascriptin," Roush said. "These have to be given three times a day and they cause some stomach ulceration or gastrointestinal bleeding in a fair percentage of dogs."

Roush said it is important to remember that, while aspirin and buffered aspirin are often used to treat human arthritis pain, there are analgesics used for humans that should never be used to treat dogs' arthritic symptoms.

"Other arthritis drugs used in people, for instance Ibuprofen, can have serious side effects in dogs," Roush said. "Ibuprofen has less side effects for humans, but one full tablet of Ibuprofen can actually kill a dog."

A new drug for arthritis pain in dogs, carprofen or brand name Rimadyl, is an anti-inflammatory that was just approved for use in the United States in early 1997. This drug may be a more effective treatment for arthritis pain in dogs.

"The benefit of the new treatment is that it simply causes less side effects in dogs than aspirin, and it's still as effective, or maybe more effective because we can give it in slightly higher doses," Roush said. "The other advantage is it only needs to be given twice a day. It's a little easier for owners to give it in the morning and at night and not have to give it in the middle of the day."

The average cost of the drug is about 44 cents per tablet. Roush said that, as an example, it would cost from $20 to $30 a month for an 80-pound Labrador retriever to take the carprofen pills. Roush said prices will vary according to the dosage level needed by the dog, which is judged by the weight of the dog.

Roush said that neither carprofen nor aspirin stops the advancement of arthritis. He said analgesics such as these only make the dog more comfortable. In addition to the analgesics, there are some other options that can help dogs with arthritis.

"If dogs have mild arthritis, just like you or I, if we give them an aspirin, they feel a lot better," Roush said. "If they really have a severe crippling disease, other options should be considered. For instance, with hip dysplasia, a total hip replacement will relieve the pain of the dog. For other joints, we can actually fuse those joints, taking away the motion, and eliminate the pain." 

Greyhounds Provide Model for Human E. Coli Poisoning

Kansas State University -- In racing greyhounds, it's called Alabama Rot; in people, E. coli food poisoning or hemolytic uremic syndrome. Both can cause acute renal failure, sometimes death, and both are believed caused by the E. coli bacteria.

Brad Fenwick and Laine Cowan, veterinarians at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, believe the similarity of the diseases between greyhounds and humans will provide a major step in researching the diseases caused by the deadly bacteria Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli. The bacteria is common to the environment and can be found in undercooked or raw ground meat.

"The disease in greyhounds appears to be the best model of the human disease. Using dogs as a model, we will be able to gain a better understanding of the underlying disease process, innovative approaches to treatment, and hopefully ways to prevent hemolytic uremic syndrome. It will allow us to conduct studies that simply have not been possible previously," said Fenwick, associate professor of veterinary pathology.

The greyhound disease was first recognized at a greyhound race track in Alabama, although now it occurs nationwide. Racing greyhounds are fed raw ground meat which makes them prime candidates for E. coli exposure. E. Coli food poisoning in humans also is caused by eating poorly cooked meat. The hemolytic uremic syndrome is a life-threatening disease and the most common cause of acute kidney failure in infants and children. Adults, adolescents and newborns also can be infected.

In research on "Alabama Rot" in greyhounds, Cowan found a striking similarity between the changes in the kidneys of infected greyhounds and humans with hemolytic uremic syndrome.

"In dogs, because the blood supply to the skin also is affected, the disease usually starts with ulcers on the skin. Like in humans, some of the dogs also have kidney failure due to blockage of the blood supply to part of the kidney," said Cowan, assistant professor of small animal medicine. "Humans don't get the skin form, but when the disease advances to the kidney failure stage in both humans and dogs it is almost identical."

The problem with E. coli infection is that there is no cure, Fenwick said. "The toxins produced by the bacteria attack the cell lining of the blood vessels. When people and dogs are infected there is no specific therapy. Only the symptoms such as diarrhea and dehydration can be treated. That's why the discovery of an animal model is so important." Cowan and Fenwick began researching the greyhounds in 1993. Sick greyhounds from around the country were referred to the K-State veterinary clinic for care. Only recently have K-State researchers discovered what was causing the disease in the dogs.

"We found that antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs have no recognizable effect," Fenwick said. "But the good news is, like in humans, the dogs respond to supportive care."

Supportive care can involve intravenous fluids, transfusions and dialysis, the same treatment provided to children with hemolytic uremic syndrome. 

Targeted Antibiotic Therapy Proves More Effective

Tufts University -- When your horse gets sick and needs antibiotics, the veterinarian generally prescribes systemic antibiotics that circulate through the entire body. The problem with that kind of therapy is that it doesn't necessarily send the medication to the point of the infection or injury in the desired concentration. And because of a horse's size, it's extremely expensive to achieve that desired concentration.

So researchers have come up with targeted antibiotics, a therapy used in human medicine for more than a decade but only recently in equine medicine.

"The idea behind it," said Dr. Carl Kirker-Head, associate professor of surgery at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, "is instead of introducing antibiotics orally or intramuscularly in large quantities, which has potential drawbacks in terms of cost and allergies, is to introduce large quantities of antibiotics at the scene of the crime -- at the injury site or at the infection site. "Historically, if a horse stepped on a nail, for example, and contracted an infection of the coffin bone, the equine surgeon would go in and clean up the wound, put the foot in a cast and put the horse on systemic antibiotics.

"Now we can take our antibiotic, mix it with a carrying agent and implant it during the surgery," said Kirker-Head, section head of large animal medicine and surgery at Tufts' Hospital for Large Animals. "That mechanism releases large quantities of antibiotics slowly over a period of days and weeks right where we want it."

Kirker-Head mixes the antibiotic in a bone cement called polymethylmethacrylate. The only disadvantage is that the cement generally has to be removed, so researchers are trying to identify a suitable, absorbable carrier that will dissolve over time, negating the need to do the second surgery to remove the cement.

"This system reduces the cost of antibiotic therapy massively, especially when you consider a large horse," said Kirker-Head.

Kirker-Head and his orthopedic surgical team also are pioneering the use of so-called "standing surgeries," which result in a much quicker recovery and lead to a reduced risk of infection.

"In the traditional surgery, you still have to administer general anesthesia, but we are perfecting the use of the procedure in the standing animal with a local anesthesia," Kirker-Head said.

"This is being attempted at only a few institutions." The advantages are clear: Reduced risks associated with general anesthesia and substantially reduced costs. And the procedure is done on an out-patient basis. "We are not only using standing surgeries with arthroscopy but also in other orthopedic surgeries," Kirker-Head said, including osteostixis, in which shin bone fractures are repaired by drilling small holes through the bone to the marrow to improve blood supply to the fracture site. We have been doing this for a few years now, but again, only a few large veterinary hospitals are doing it on the standing horse under a local anesthetic.

"I did the bone-drilling technique on my own horse, Knightly Thunder, who is a Stakes winner," said Kirker-Head, who owns the horse with his wife. "We bred and raised her. She won her first race. Then she developed some problems with her leg, so we treated her here, and she went on to win again."

Equine sports medicine, which integrates clinical care and research on the special problems of performance horses, is one of the signature programs of Tufts' veterinary school. 

FDA Approves First Blood Substitute for Canine Anemia

Tufts University -- A study done at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine has led to the nation's first blood substitute that could dramatically reduce the demand for fresh blood in emergency situations and save tens of thousands of critically injured animals.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave regulatory approval to Biopure Corp., a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass., and the study's sponsor, to market Oxyglobin, the nation's first oxygen therapeutic blood substitute for the treatment of canine anemia. (Clinical trials are ongoing for another Biopure blood substitute that could be used in human medicine.)

"This is very exciting," said Dr. Robert Murtaugh, professor of medicine at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator for the eight-month clinical trial at Tufts. "Oxyglobin is the first alternative to donated blood, so this is really a revolutionary development. The product quickly delivers oxygen into tissue and organs and buys time for the dog's own regenerative red blood cells to come back."

Oxyglobin is created by using purified hemoglobin molecules derived from cow's blood. Hemoglobin in red blood cells delivers oxygen throughout the body, but anemia results if the number of red cells is reduced, as often happens during trauma, starving bodily tissues of oxygen. This potentially life-threatening condition often goes untreated in dogs.

"Anemia is a common condition in dogs that often is not treated because donated blood is either not available or is too labor-intensive to administer," Murtaugh said. "Because Oxyglobin is easily accessible, it will give every veterinarian the ability to treat anemic dogs quickly, effectively and safely."

Oxygen therapeutics offer key advantages over donated human or canine blood. They do not require blood-typing or cross-matching for use; they can be stored at room temperature for up to two years; they can be produced in ample supply; they are derived from controlled donor sources, and the production process eliminates potential bacterial, viral and other infectious agents.

Biopure estimates that the worldwide veterinary market for Oxyglobin will grow to $100 million. The company also has similar blood substitute products for humans that are in advanced clinical trials in the United States and Europe.

Researchers in government and the private sector have been working to develop a blood substitute for use in humans for more than 50 years. Efforts intensified in the early 1980s with the advent of AIDS and the risk of transmitting HIV and other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, via donated blood.

"When the history of 20th-century medicine is written, the development of oxygen therapeutics will be listed among the top 10 advances," said Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General and a Biopure director.

(Foundation for Biomedical Research)


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