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Five WCVM research teams will investigate horse health issues over the next two years. Photo by Christina Weese.

Funds propel $175,000 worth of pet and horse health studies

Have you ever wondered how veterinarians prepare tiny exotic pets for surgery or thought about how equine clinicians can help horses recover from a tendon injury?

Researchers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) are exploring these kinds of questions — thanks to the support of two research funds dedicated to the health of pets and horses.

The Companion Animal Health Fund (CAHF) and the Townsend Equine Health Research Fund (TEHRF), both established four decades ago, are an integral part of research at the veterinary college. The CAHF supports research targeting the health of companion animals such as dogs, cats and exotic pets, while the TEHRF supports studies focusing on a variety of horse health issues.

This year, the two funds are responsible for supporting 14 different research projects, totalling over $175,000. Nine of the studies, worth $107,062 are focused on pet health issues, and $68,175 supports five studies aimed at horse health-related problems. 

Dr. Elisabeth Snead, the college’s associate dean of research, says these funds are invaluable to the WCVM’s research and graduate studies programs.

 “You can’t overstate their importance in this college — you just can’t in terms of what they allow us to do,” says Snead.

The ability to produce quality research is a deciding factor in the ranking of veterinary schools across North America, not to mention a requirement for American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA) accreditation as a veterinary college.

Snead says the two research funds primarily back clinical research, but ultimately, it’s about supporting researchers, their students and supporting great science. 

“Our primary goal is to fund … excellent science,” says Snead. “Secondary goals are to train residents and graduate students. So, the training aspect is important, but fundamentally, we want to fund excellent science.” 

While the funds can’t support multi-million-dollar grants, competition among WCVM-led research teams is still strong for the annual research funding. To select the successful studies, the college organizes an extensive research grant review process consisting of two steps.

For both funds, the WCVM’s Research Office forms a panel of external researchers and specialists in the field who review the actual science, statistics and methodology of the research grant proposals before ranking their choices.

Once that step is complete, members of each fund’s advisory board conduct a second review to ensure that the proposals not only have scientific merit but address a real need in Western Canada — whether the studies focus on horse health or the health of companion animals.

 Members of TEHRF’s advisory board are equine veterinarians, horse owners and industry representatives, while the CAHF advisory board includes companion animal breeders and pet owners.

 “There’s no perfect way to do grant reviewing, but I think this [process] is very much at arm’s length,” says Snead. “One to two members from each of those panels can be from within the college, but they’re almost all outside experts or advisory board members.”

Snead says she was impressed by the quality of research proposals submitted for this year’s funding available through TEHRF and CAHF.

“I have great colleagues. It’s always actually fun to read other people’s studies and see what interesting research other people are proposing,” says Snead.

Both research funds rely on private donations made by owners, community groups, businesses and organizations. Snead says it’s inspiring to see the diversity of people and organizations that support the WCVM’s research initiatives in horse and companion animal health.

Many of the contributions are made through the funds’ memorial programs, with donations ranging from $10 in memory of a special pet “all the way to people who give very large donations to the fund,” says Snead. “It’s just humbling and it’s inspiring to see that, to be honest.”

2019-20 equine health studies supported by TEHRF

  • “Characterization of equine herpesvirus lytic chromatin accessibility.” Researchers: Dr. Kristen Conn and graduate student
  • “Biochemical evaluation of novel suture patterns for equine tendon repair.” Researchers: Drs. James Carmalt, Michelle Tucker and Margot Hayes
  • “Histamine concentration in unmedicated horses, and following penicillin and guaifenesin.” Researchers: Drs. Tanya Duke and Shannon Beazley
  • “Value of equine endometrial biopsy as a diagnostic tool.” Researchers: Drs. Bruce Wobeser, Claire Card, Tasha Epp and Jane Westendorf
  • “Mass spectrometric identification of biomarkers for the detection of eradication of infection in equine septic arthritis.” Researchers: Drs. Elemir Simko, Roman Koizy, Joe Bracamonte and George Katselis

Click here to read the 2019-20 TEHRF research project summaries. 

2019-20 companion animal health studies supported by CAHF

  • “The effect of irrigation technique on temperature within the vertebral canal during a hemilaminectomy.” Researchers: Drs. Danielle Zwueste and Koji Aoki
  • “Inter-fractional variation in canine head position using a head re-positioning device with or without cone-beam computed tomographic guidance” Researchers: Drs. Sally Sukut, Monique Mayer, Cheryl Waldner, Narinder Sidhu and Celina Morimoto and Dr. Andrew Alexander
  • “Measurement of inter-observer variability in axial size of canine mandibular and retropharyngeal lymph nodes on computer tomographic and magnetic resonance imaging.” Researchers: Drs. Monique Mayer, Lesley Zwicker, Cheryl Waldner, Sheldon Wiebe and Brad Cotter
  • “Evaluation of insulin-like growth factor-2 receptor (IGF2R) expression in canine osteosarcoma.” Researchers: Drs. Valerie MacDonald-Dickinson, Ryan Dickinson, Dale Godson, Charles Bosiclair and Ekaterina Dadachova
  • “The accuracy of three capnograms with different technologies in estimating arterial CO2 in animals less than four kilograms bodyweight.” Researchers: Drs. Tanya Duke and Shannon Beazley
  • “Genetic investigation of golden retriever cystic uveal disease.” Researchers: Drs. Bianca Bauer, Lynne Sandmeyer, Stephanie Osinchuk and Rebecca Bellone
  • “Biomechanical comparison of fibreglass cast and thermoplastic orthotic for temporary tarsal immobilization.” Researchers: Drs. Adrien Aertsens, Kathleen Linn, Cindy Shmon, Maria Podsiedlik, James Johnston and Nima Ashjaee
  • “Is preoxygenation beneficial in birds?” Researchers: Drs. Barbara Ambros, Karen Machin, Isabelle Desprez and Crystalyn Legg-St. Pierre
  • “Investigating a role for pathogenic infection in the pathomechanism of anal furunculosis in dogs, using in situ molecular methods.” Researchers: Drs. Melanie Craven and Susan Detmer

 Click here to read the 2019-20 CAHF research project summaries. 

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