Notebook: December 2020

News briefs from across the industry and beyond. This month’s articles include: Texas Tech begins accepting student applications, skull injuries in companion animals, human-animal bond expert shares insights, organizations partner to release new resource for veterinary workplaces, veterinary women’s health month, VetCompass tool aids diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome in dogs, an active lifestyle reduces fearfulness in dogs, sled dogs are closely related to 9,500-year-old ancient dog, birth of cloned Przewalski’s foal offers genetic diversity, veterinary college scientists pinpoint genes that drive ovarian cancer, and Tufts University to lead $100 million program to reduce risk of zoonotic viral spillover.

Texas Tech Begins Accepting Student Applications

Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine has received a letter of reasonable assurance of accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education and will proceed with accepting applicants for the first class, to be enrolled in fall 2021. The letter of reasonable assurance of accreditation is expected to be followed by provisional accreditation within the next year and then by full accreditation by the time the first class graduates in 2025.

The Texas Tech program will be centered in Amarillo, 120 miles north of the main campus in Lubbock. A 185,000-square-foot, two-story academic building is under construction in Amarillo, and a large-animal facility is located two miles away. About 30 faculty and staff members have been hired to date.


Sled Dogs Are Closely Related to 9,500-Year-Old “Ancient Dog”

Dogs play an important role in human life all over the world—whether as family members or as working animals. But where the dog comes from and how old various groups of dogs are is still a bit of a mystery.

Now, light has been shed on the origin of the sled dog, also known as the sledge dog. In a new study published in Science, researchers from around the world show that the sled dog is older and adapted to Arctic conditions much earlier than originally thought.

“We have extracted DNA from a 9,500-year-old dog from the Siberian island of Zhokhov, which the dog is named after. Based on that DNA, we have sequenced the oldest complete dog genome to date, and the results show an extremely early diversification of dogs into types of sledge dogs,” said one of the two first authors of the study, PhD student Mikkel Sinding of the GLOBE Institute.

Until now, it has been the common belief that the 9,500-year-old Siberian dog, Zhokhov, was a kind of ancient dog—one of the earliest domesticated dogs and a version of the common origin of all dogs. But according to the new study, modern sled dogs such as the Siberian husky, the Alaskan malamute, and the Greenland sledge dog share the major part of their genome with Zhokhov.

“This means that modern sledge dogs and Zhokhov had the same common origin in Siberia more than 9,500 years ago. Until now, we have thought that sledge dogs were only 2,000–3,000 years old,” said the other first author, Associate Professor Shyam Gopalakrishnan of the GLOBE Institute.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

—Warren Buffet


Birth of Cloned Przewalski’s Foal Offers Genetic Diversity

In August 2020, the world’s first successfully cloned Przewalski’s horse was born in Texas at Timber Creek Veterinary. The foal, born to a domestic surrogate mother, is a clone of a male Przewalski’s horse whose DNA was cryopreserved 40 years ago at the San Diego Zoo Global Frozen Zoo. The colt represents the first time this species has been cloned, and scientists indicate it could provide an important model for future conservation efforts.

The new cloned foal was named Kurt, in honor of Kurt Benirschke, MD, who was instrumental in founding the Frozen Zoo and the conservation research program at San Diego Zoo Global. The foal, who will be moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to be integrated into a breeding herd of his species once he is older, was cloned from a cell line stored in the Frozen Zoo since 1980. The original stallion was born in 1975 in the UK, was transferred to the US in 1978, and lived until 1998. As the new clone matures and successfully breeds, he can provide a valuable infusion of genetic diversity for the Przewalski’s horse population, the zoo reports.

“This colt is expected to be one of the most genetically important individuals of his species,” said Bob Wiese, PhD, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global. “We are hopeful that he will bring back genetic variation important for the future of the Przewalski’s horse population.”

Formerly extinct in the wild, the Przewalski’s horse has survived for the past 40 years almost entirely in zoos around the world, and all of the surviving horses are related to 12 Przewalski’s horses born in the wild. While ongoing reintroductions since the 1990s have established several wild herds on grasslands in China and Mongolia, maintaining genetic variation is likely to be an important part of ensuring the species’ survival in the future.

“This new Przewalski’s colt was born fully healthy and reproductively normal,” said Shawn Walker, chief science officer at project partner ViaGen Equine. “He is head butting and kicking, when his space is challenged, and he is demanding milk supply from his surrogate mother.”


Organizations Partner to Release Suicide Resource for Veterinary Workplaces

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association, in partnership with the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association, and the Veterinary Medical Association Executives, released a new resource, After a Suicide: A Guide for Veterinary Workplaces. The free guide will help support veterinary workplaces in the aftermath of an employee’s death by suicide.

“Supporting veterinary medical professionals in the aftermath of a colleague’s suicide is vital. Because suicide loss survivors can develop significant grief and even physical and mental health issues if not appropriately supported, postvention is a critical step and is actually part of suicide prevention. The appropriate handling of the aftermath of a suicide in a veterinary office can pave the way for a workplace culture that is smart about mental health,” said Christine Moutier, MD, AFSP chief medical officer.

Developed by experts in veterinary medicine and suicide prevention and survivors of suicide loss in the veterinary medical community, the guide includes best practices for how workplace leaders and staff should respond in the immediate aftermath of a suicide, guidance on helping the workplace community grieve and cope in the short- and long-term, tips on working with media and community partners, information on how to safely memorialize employees, guidance on how to identify and support members of the community who may be vulnerable, and ways to reduce the risk of suicide contagion.


New Tool Aids Diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome in Dogs

Researchers on the VetCompass team at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College have developed a tool that can be used to evaluate the risk of Cushing’s syndrome in dogs. The freely accessible tool is designed to be used in practices to support decisionmaking and increase confidence in diagnosis.

Cushing’s syndrome can be difficult to diagnose because the clinical signs are often nonspecific to the disease, the researchers report. Additionally, there is no single, highly accurate test for Cushing’s syndrome and these tests are often overused, making results difficult to interpret.

The researchers developed the tool to be used in practices to assess individual patient risks before confirmatory testing. Using statistical methods, it’s made up of 10 “predictive” factors for Cushing’s syndrome. The tool reports the probability of an individual dog having Cushing’s syndrome based on these factors.

The tool is available as a free download at
rvc.ac.uk/media/default/vetcompass/documents/cushings-prediction-tool.pdf.


Zenithson Ng, DVM, MS, DABVP (Canine/Feline), clinical associate professor of canine and feline primary care at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine

Human-Animal Bond Expert Shares Insights

At the 2020 virtual Purdue Veterinary Conference, the Elanco Human-Animal Bond Lecture featured a Zoom presentation by Zenithson Ng, DVM, MS, DABVP (Canine/Feline), clinical associate professor of canine and feline primary care at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Ng began his presentation, “A Day in the Life of a Service Dog: A Welfare Perspective,” by sharing a documentary clip of interviews with several service dog owners. The full documentary, Pick of the Litter, is available to stream on Netflix. He went on to explain how dogs are chosen for this life of service as soon as they are born and gave examples of the work that service dogs can perform in the special-needs community.

Purdue veterinary medicine researchers, as part of the Purdue University Center for the Human-Animal Bond, also continue to conduct collaborative studies aimed at understanding the effects of animal-assisted intervention for autism.

 


Skull Injuries in Companion Animals

A survey study of traumatic skull fractures (TSFs) in dogs and cats sheds light on the clinical and imaging features of the relatively frequent injury.

Researchers from North Carolina State University used computed tomography to compare neurological deficits, fracture locations, and cause of trauma in 91 dogs and 95 cats. Among the findings, the cranial vault was affected more frequently in dogs, while the face and base of the cranium were affected more often in cats.

Cats experienced multiple fractures more frequently, while all animals with TSFs in the cranial vault were more likely to develop neurological signs, especially when there were depressed fractures. Those with TSFs in the facial region were less likely to have neurological signs.

The study appears in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.


An Active Lifestyle Reduces Fearfulness in Dogs

According to a behavioral survey of nearly 14,000 dogs conducted at the University of Helsinki, the more dogs are engaged in activities and the more diverse experiences and canine friends they have, the less fearful they are in new situations and environments. Genes also play an important part, the researchers report. Dogs who were engaged in activities the most and were actively trained were found to be the least fearful.

The survey indicates that insufficient socialization of puppies to various situations and new environments in particular has a strong link with fearfulness related to novel situations, loud noises, and different walking surfaces, such as slippery surfaces, transparent stairs, or metal grilles. On the other hand, the company of other dogs reduced the occurrence of nonsocial fear. Fear of fireworks and surfaces was more prevalent among the dogs of first-time dog owners, while differences were also seen between rural and urban dogs.
Furthermore, as suggested by prior research, the study demonstrated that nonsocial fearfulness also is more common in sterilized females and small dogs. Being fearful of slippery or otherwise unfamiliar surfaces was also associated with a generally fearful disposition in dogs.

Significant differences between breeds were identified in the study, with Cairn terriers among the most fearful breeds and Chinese crested dogs among the least fearful. However, variance was seen between different nonsocial fears in the fearfulness of individual breeds. For instance, Welsh corgi pembrokes expressed a lot of noise sensitivity but little fearfulness of surfaces. At the same time, the latter was common among Lapponian herders, miniature schnauzers, Chihuahuas, and Labrador retrievers, while noise sensitivity was less so.

“The breed-specific differences support the idea that fearfulness is inherited. In other words, breeding choices matter, even without knowing the exact mechanisms of inheritance. However, this study offers dog owners tools and support for previous notions related to improving the wellbeing of their dogs. Diverse socialization in puppyhood and an active lifestyle can significantly reduce social and nonsocial fearfulness,” said Hannes Lohi, PhD, from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki.


UK’s Veterinary Women’s Health Month Highlights Health Topics

The UK-based organization Veterinary Woman (veterinarywoman.co.uk) highlighted a variety of women’s health topics in October. The initiative featured a series of live interviews, articles, and surveys that explored the impact of breast cancer, menopause, infertility, and baby loss on all genders, and how the veterinary profession can better support these individuals in the workplace.

The October campaign included free-access articles and live online sessions with a variety of representatives in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Baby-Loss Awareness Week, World Menopause Day, and National Fertility Week.

Liz Barton, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, editor of the Veterinary Woman site, said, “I have been incredibly moved to see the deep empathy and encouragement amongst veterinary colleagues beginning to open up about the impact of health challenges, particularly at work. When I realized the campaigns in October were topics we need to talk about more as a profession, it seemed right to use this as a platform to tackle some of the hidden, emotive health challenges we bear throughout our life and work.“


Tufts University to Lead Program to Reduce Risk of Zoonotic Viral Spillover, Spread

Tufts University will lead a $100 million, five-year program to understand and address threats posed by zoonotic viral diseases that can “spill over” from animals to humans, such as SARS-CoV-2, in an effort to reduce risk of infection, amplification, and spread, the United States Agency for International Development announced.

Strategies to Prevent Spillover (STOP Spillover), which builds on Tufts’s expertise in One Health, will involve wildlife- and human-disease experts from the university and organizations across the globe. The program aims to enhance the capacity of local, national, and regional institutions in countries across Africa and Asia to understand factors that contribute to the risk of zoonotic spillover, develop and implement measures to reduce early risk of spillover and spread, and quickly identify and respond to spillover events.

“The transmission of zoonotic viral diseases to humans can cost lives, disrupt economies, and create lasting human health and societal problems, as we’ve seen most recently with the impact of COVID-19,” said Deborah T. Kochevar, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, the STOP Spillover program director and a faculty member at Tufts. “Viral zoonotic disease outbreaks are becoming increasingly frequent. In our approach, it is not enough to know what to do to reduce viral spillover risks. We must also work with partners to institutionalize knowledge in existing systems, adapt learning to the local context, and continuously expand upon newfound expertise,” she added.NB_06.png


Veterinary College Scientists Pinpoint Genes That Drive Ovarian Cancer

Scientists at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine have collaborated on a study that pinpoints which specific genes drive—or delay—high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOC). Researchers report that it is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States, yet little is known about the origins of the disease.

“We’ve taken the enormous collection of genomic mutation data that’s been mined on cancer genetics and tried to make functional sense of it,” said John Schimenti, PhD, professor of genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and senior author of the study, which was recently published in Cell Reports.

Cancer researchers have known for a while that the disease is almost always caused by multiple genetic “hits.” One mutation alone does not turn a cell cancerous; generally at least two or three are required, and often, different combinations of genes can cause the same cancer. To address these complexities, the researchers wanted to test combinations of possible genetic suspects and then parse out which of the many associated mutations were sparking the cancer.

The group used the Cancer Genome Atlas, an international collaborative database that compiles the genetic information from patient tumor samples and the mutated genes associated with them. They took a list of 20 genes known to mutate in HGSOC and, using CRISPR gene-editing technology, created random combinations of these mutations in cultured cells from the ovary surface, including regular epithelial cells and epithelial stem cells, to see which cell type was more susceptible to the mutations.

The study revealed what the team had originally suspected—that ovarian surface stem cells were more apt to become cancerous when hit with mutations. They also unexpectedly discovered genes that had the opposite effect. Knowing which are the cells of origin and which genes are necessary in initiating this highly aggressive form of ovarian cancer can be powerful information, for both ovarian and other types of cancers, researchers said.

Photo credits: lightcatcheristockphoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus, JanMengr/iStock via Getty Images Plus, photo courtesy of Zenithson Ng, nico_blue/E+ via Getty Images, alexei_tm/iStock via Getty Images Plus, tatianazaets/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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