Notebook: March 2020

News briefs from around the industry. Headlines this month include: Annual benefit survey results from SHRM; artificial intelligence helps diagnosis; new research finds better way of calculating dogs’ real ages; colleges partner to improve veterinary education; noninvasive cancer imaging technique to help in early detection; exercise reduces artery stiffness; toxic workplace culture costs billions; SBA modifies method to calculate revenues; report studies workplace disability inclusion.

Report Studies Workplace Disability Inclusion

A new report on workplace disability inclusion found many HR professionals and hiring managers are ill-prepared to hire, retain, or advance individuals with disabilities. The report, from the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation and the Workplace Initiative by Understood, traced this knowledge gap back to a lack of workplace training on disability inclusion programs and low awareness of the value that people with disabilities add.

Nearly all HR professionals (97%) and people managers (92%) say that employees with disabilities regularly perform the same as or better than their peers without disabilities. Yet, the report states, 61% of managers and 50% of HR professionals have never participated in disability inclusion training. Less than 15% of organizations invest in disability inclusion initiatives at work. Fifty-two percent of HR professionals do not know or say their organizations do not train managers on disability awareness or disability sensitivity.

“Hiring people with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business,” said Patricia Toledo, vice president of the Workplace Initiative by Understood. “Companies of all sizes can realize significant cost savings from disability inclusion, through tax benefits, reduced turnover, and improved productivity.”


Toxic Workplace Cultures Cost Billions

One in five Americans has left a job in the past five years in response to bad company culture. The cost of that turnover is an estimated $223 billion, according to a new Society for Human Resource Management report on workplace culture.

The report, “The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture,” uncovered a seemingly critical skills gap at the management level. The Society for Human Resource Management found employees hold managers—more than leadership or HR—most responsible for culture. They also say their managers often lack the soft skills needed to effectively listen, communicate, and ultimately, lead.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly half of employees (49%) have thought about leaving their current organization, while nearly one in five has left a job because of culture in the past five years.
  • Turnover due to culture may have cost organizations as much as $223 billion over the past five years.
  • 76% of Americans say their manager sets the culture, yet 36% say their manager doesn’t know how to lead a team.
  • 26% of workers say they dread going into work.

NB_02.pngArtificial Intelligence Helps Diagnosis

A new artificial intelligence technique could eventually help veterinarians quickly identify Cavalier King Charles spaniel dogs with Chiari-like malformation (CM), a chronic disease that causes crippling pain. The same technique identified unique biomarkers that inspired further research into the facial changes in dogs affected by CM.

Cavalier King Charles spaniels are predisposed to CM, a disease that causes deformity of the skull and the cranial cervical vertebrae and can lead to spinal cord damage called syringomyelia. Whereas syringomyelia is straightforward to diagnose, researchers report that the pain associated with CM is challenging to confirm.

In a paper published by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, researchers from Surrey’s Centre for Vision, Speech, and Signal Processing and School of Veterinary Medicine detailed how they used an automated image-mapping method to discover patterns in MRI data that could help identify dogs who suffer from CM-associated pain. The research helped identify features that characterize the differences in the MRI images of dogs with clinical signs of pain associated with CM and those with syringomyelia compared with the MRI images of healthy dogs.

Michaela Spiteri, MSc, PhD, lead author of the study from the Centre for Vision, Speech, and Signal Processing, said, “The success of our technique suggests machine learning can be developed as a diagnostic tool to help treat Cavalier King Charles spaniels [who] are suffering from this enigmatic and terrible disease. We believe that AI can be a useful tool for veterinarians caring for our four-legged family members.”


New Research Finds Better Way of Calculating Dogs’ Real Ages

The notion that we can convert dog years into human years by estimating that one dog year equals seven human years has been called into doubt in recent years. Now, a team of researchers led by Trey Ideker, PhD, a geneticist at the University of California, San Diego, has developed a more accurate method of calculating a dog’s age and translating it to human years.

The investigators explained the method in a paper published online ahead of print at bioRxiv. It involves looking at how subtle chemical shifts in the body affect gene expression over time, a process known as DNA methylation. These chemical modifications play a key role in human aging, and they are also present in animals.

The researchers noted that dogs share our environments and often receive similar medical treatments for health issues, making them excellent candidates for comparing biological aging. The study focused on Labrador retrievers, which allows more accurate comparisons between dog and human years by eliminating possible differences in aging among different dog breeds.

The team searched for changes in gene expression patterns in 104 Labrador retrievers aged between 4 weeks and 16 years, then compared these patterns with those in humans. They found that in both, certain gene expression mutations occur in similar ways among genes that play roles in developmental processes. Based on this observation, the team believes that some aspects of aging are likely part of the developmental process.

When they compared the rate of DNA methylation in Labradors with that in humans, the researchers were able to match dog ages to human ages. As the researchers explain in their paper, “Approximately 8 weeks in dogs translates to approximately 9 months in humans, corresponding to the infant stage when deciduous teeth erupt in both puppies and babies. In seniors, the expected lifespan of Labrador retrievers, 12 years, correctly translated to the worldwide lifetime expectancy of humans, 70 years.”

In the future, the researchers hope to take their study further, looking at why aging patterns can differ among dogs and breeds, leading to some dogs developing certain health problems much earlier in life than others.


Researcher Finds Exercise Can Reduce Artery Stiffness Associated with Heart Failure

Generally, exercise is considered good for you. However, physicians and medical doctors previously prescribed bed rest to people with heart failure, fearing exercise could potentially lead to additional health problems.

Now, research from the University of Missouri has found exercise can improve the health of blood vessels in the heart for people with heart failure. The finding is based on a study looking at swine, who have very similar blood vessels and heart muscles to those of humans.

Craig Emter, PhD, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, studied three different groups of swine with heart failure: One group was inactive; a second group exercised using intervals with a higher level of intensity for short periods of time intermixed with periods of lower intensity; and the third group exercised with a constant lower level of intensity. Emter found that regardless of exercise intensity or duration, any level of exercise resulted in improved health of blood vessels in the heart.

“People with heart failure cannot do everything that a healthy individual can, so the question becomes how much exercise can they handle and what type of impact will it have on their health,” Emter said. “We found that regardless of intensity level, some type of physical activity was good for heart health compared to no exercise at all.”


Colleges Partner to Improve Veterinary Education

he Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine is one of three veterinary colleges that have received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a two-year project to improve veterinary services in developing countries. The project involves creation of a digital platform to house educational resources and teaching tools for use by veterinary faculty around the world. According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), quality veterinary services are critical to ensure the safety, quality, and availability of animal source foods. The OIE has found gaps in veterinary services in developing countries and has identified quality of veterinary education to be a major contributor to this problem.

Project partners from the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Food Security and Public Health, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine/College of Public Health, and the Massey University (New Zealand) School of Veterinary Science and Institute of Education will work collaboratively to identify and address the issues of quality veterinary teaching and learning. The US-based partners will develop and populate a digital platform with teaching tools and resources. These will align with a number of core competencies that are designated by the OIE as being essential for new veterinary graduates.


SBA Modifies Method to Calculate Revenues

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) modified its method for calculating annual revenues used to prescribe size standards for small businesses. The final rule took effect January 6, 2020.

The SBA changed its regulations on the calculation of annual revenues from a three-year averaging period to a five-year averaging period, outside of the SBA Business Loan and Disaster Loan Programs. The change in the averaging period for calculating annual average revenues from three years to five years may result in firms regaining or retaining their small business status. To assist small businesses with this change, the SBA is providing a two-year transition period while firms subject to the change may choose either a three- or five-year averaging period. For more information, visit sba.gov.


Noninvasive Cancer Imaging Technique to Help in Early Detection

A new cancer imaging technique could significantly improve the ability to diagnose the disease’s spread to lymph nodes in dogs with head and neck tumors. The technique, which involves injecting iron nanoparticles into a dog and then using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect the particles, is being tested by Morris Animal Foundation–funded researchers at Colorado State University. If successful, it could help guide therapeutic decisions for canine cancer patients.

“Cancer is a game of numbers, and if you want to cure it, you have to get rid of 100% of the cancer cells that are in the body,” said Lynn Griffin, DVM, assistant professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and principal investigator on the study. “This method could noninvasively and more accurately determine where cancer is still hiding so we can do something about it.”

The technique would be used during cancer staging. For the study, the team injects nanoparticles—in this case, microscopic bits of iron—into a dog’s bloodstream. The particles are then engulfed by macrophages before moving into nearby lymph nodes. Iron appears black on certain MRI images, so if a completely healthy lymph node is full of the macrophages holding the nanoparticles, it too would appear all black. Cancer cells, though, push macrophages out of lymph nodes. If cancer has invaded even a small portion of a lymph node, that portion should appear white on an MRI. Results would be detectable in less than 48 hours after injection.

In the initial pilot study, the team tested the technique on six dogs, and it was 88% accurate at detecting cancer, which is higher than most previously reported imaging modalities. For the current study, the team opened enrollment for dogs with oral cancers that have the potential to metastasize to the lymph nodes. They hope to enroll 50 dogs with head and neck cancers.

“One of the toughest parts about treating cancer is not knowing if you have been aggressive enough to defeat it, while maintaining a good quality of life. This technique could help solve that problem,” said Janet Patterson-Kane, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, Morris Animal Foundation’s chief scientific officer. “With this diagnostic test, we might be able to improve our ability to help owners make the best decisions for their beloved pets, and that would be a good outcome.”

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/AJ_Watt, ©iStock.com/GlobalP, ©iStock.com/Tempura, ©iStock.com/simoncarter

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