What we learn from animals

From stem cell therapy to infectious disease, the research being conducted at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has as many implications for humans as it does for animals.

The college is a trailblazer in regenerative medicine, conducting extensive stem cell research for various diseases and injuries using sheep, horses and rodents. While treating animals for various conditions, the school conducts clinical studies that often translate to new human cures and treatments.

The nationally known school has a research budget of about $54 million, with most of that coming from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CVMBS employs 1,289 scientists, researchers, professors, graduate students, post-doctorate students, lab techs, and undergrads.

Though 80 percent of funding comes from the federal government, smaller private entities also play a role. The Gates Foundation has been an increasing source of support for research that benefits Third World countries.

“We have a strong program in infectious disease; quite a number of grants from the Gates Foundation have been related to infectious disease, like tuberculosis,´ said William Farland, CSU’s vice president for research.

People from all over the world bring their animals, sick with cancer, to the world-renowned Animal Cancer Center, advancing cancer research that is also useful in human cancers.

“We are known for our cancer work. People literally come from around the world to bring their companion animals to the best animal cancer center in the country. About 3,300 cancers come through that facility annually and it allows us to do the equivalent of human trials,´ said Farland. “We experiment with therapies, drugs and treatment techniques, much like a clinical hospital would do clinical trials for human treatments.”

Currently, the Equine Orthopedic Research Center is studying whether the use of stem cells is effective in managing arthritis in race horses. Stem cell therapy is already being used to treat injuries race horses sustain while racing and training, but there have been few official studies to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment and why it may work.

“There is initial evidence that there is a benefit,´ said Susan Vandewoude, associate dean for research and graduate education, CVMBS. “Now we’re looking at ‘why?’ What is it about the stem cells that causes the improvement of condition?”

Sheep, having physiological similarities to humans, are being used to research ways to implant stem cells in tendon injuries, heart implants or muscular-skeletal problems. Scientists are working to cure renal disease in cats and liver disease in dogs, also using stem cells.

“These are treatments that they are starting to use in people based on our findings,´ said Vandewoude. “They take the stem cells out of a person [or animal], they grow them in a culture and put them back in the place of injury.”

The Microbiology, Immunobiology and Pathology group is studying weapons of bioterrorism, plague, the encephalitis virus, outbreaks of epidemics and potential vaccines. They study containment of diseases that are transferred from animals to humans or livestock, such as malaria, tuberculosis, West Nile virus and chronic wasting disease.

“Many diseases people get come from animals. We have a group in Senegal, Africa right now studying how we might be able to control the ability of mosquitos to transmit diseases like malaria to people,´ said Vandewoude.

Chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological disease that can result in death, and is related to Mad Cow Disease, is currently found in 25 percent of Colorado deer and elk. The MIP group is studying how it is transmitted, how it might be eliminated, and whether the virus can be transmitted to domestic livestock and into the food supply.

The department has made a breakthrough in tuberculosis treatment, discovering a weakness in the cell wall coating and finding a class of drugs able to breach the wall coating so the disease can be treated more rapidly. Previously, it took six to nine months for TB drugs to make their way through the cell barrier and provide the patient with relief. Researchers believe these new drugs will speed the process dramatically.

At the school of reproductive physiology, scientists have been developing in vitro fertilization techniques, removing the eggs from a valuable older mare and placing fertilized eggs into a less valuable younger mare. This protects the older breed mare from the strain of pregnancy, while still producing the desired offspring.


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