Medical, political advancements are within reach, leaders say.Veterinary leaders have high expectations for the industry in 2012. While the gap is increasingly narrowed between human and veterinary medicine, researchers discuss further medical and political advances for the profession.Veterinarians See Successes Ahead in 2012 By: Jessica Tremayne-Farkas
Veterinary leaders have high expectations for the industry in 2012. While the gap is increasingly narrowed between human and veterinary medicine, researchers discuss further medical and political advances for the profession.
Clients’ growing response to medical options for their pets means an enhanced need to provide solutions for potentially fatal maladies, degenerative and quality of life issues. But on a more basic level, one veterinarian says political action by practitioners can help veterinarians tend to animals’ medical needs when finances prevent veterinary interventions.
“Some veterinarians feel they’re too busy to take time away from patient care to listen to ways their state veterinary medical associations can help them care for more animals in need,” says Barbara Monaghan, DVM, of Kelley Animal Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., and president of the Alabama VMA Foundation. “Being active in the state foundation means actively raising money to facilitate surgeries for clients with financial difficulties. Similarly, veterinarians need to be more proactively involved in state legislation when it pertains to animals. There are only about 80,000 veterinarians in the country. In order to have any impact, we will have to work together.”
Dr. Monaghan says she sees the changing face of veterinary medicine including veterinarians having better interaction with each other and stakeholders. She says veterinarians working together could eliminate economic euthanasia and promote issues important to the industry.
“I believe in 2012 we will start to see more vets going out into public forums and talking about the great work veterinarians do,” Monaghan says. “Veterinarians don’t need to be the tip of the spear; they just need to get off of the sideline. People are very receptive when it comes to helping animals, yet veterinarians aren’t proactively involved in helping animals outside of their clinics.”
Ilana Reisner, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVB, owner of Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting in Media, Pa., says being more proactive in animal behavior issues includes protecting the integrity of veterinarians’ authority on the issue through practice laws. She says discussing how the pet fits in with the family during visits will also be a necessity moving forward.
“We can’t just focus on vaccine protocols anymore,” Dr. Reisner says. “I’m hoping veterinarians will be more proactive in discussing pets’ behavior before it results in relinquishment. We know behavior is the No. 1 reason animals are taken to shelters, yet we don’t do anything to triage these cases. We can’t practice well if we don’t do anything to educate clients.”
In addition to discussing how an animal’s behavior affects its humans, the way human behavior affects animals is in need of more attention by veterinarians, says C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, a professor at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
“We’re starting to learn more about how animals interact with their diet and environment,” Dr. Buffington says. “There’s strong evidence to support that when indoor cats’ environment is enriched, the diet is less important. The way cats are housed is just like zoo animals. We’re all zoo vets and don’t know it. The difference is, zoos today work to create a more natural environment for the animals and even hide food to make it more of a challenge.”
Buffington says zoo animals used to live in cages on concrete slabs with a door at the end. In this environment, animals experienced an increase of diseases, behavior problems and reproductive issues. Similarly, studies conducted by Buffington have revealed a correlation between cats’ response to their environments and chronic lower urinary tract disease.
“Multimodal environmental modification, or MEMO, showed a significant reduction in lower urinary tract signs in cats,” Buffington says. “MEMO was found to have a positive effect on some aspects of the cat’s behavior, and on signs referable to some other body systems.
“These changes are consistent with reductions in the output of the stress response system of cats, which has been found to be abnormal in cats with feline interstitial cystitis, a cystoscopically defined subset of idiopathic cystitis,” Buffington adds.
Buffington also says MEMO can be helpful in controlling other areas of concern in feline health. It could reduce or prevent obesity issues, urinary stones and potentially reduce the onset of numerous other diseases and beneficially alter behavior.
“If a client says all the cat does is hide under a chair all day, the client should make simple changes to the environment like putting the litter box in a quiet place, putting the food and water dishes in a low-traffic area and putting a seat near a window for the cat,” Buffington says. “Soon the client may see the cat is looking out the window instead of hiding.
“Giving animals options is also good. Put out a couple of types of foods or put food in puzzles near their food bowls,” Buffington continues. “MEMO can reduce the number of idiopathic diagnoses.”
Buffington says the more practitioners educate their clients about MEMO, the more owners will work to enrich their pets’ lives.
“In 2012, we need to be more proactive as a profession,” Buffington says. “My next research project will be looking for the best evidence to get a cat to the veterinary office.”
For the first time, Morris Animal Foundation of Denver has funded a student to conduct stem-cell research to benefit veterinary medicine. Aric Frantz, a DVM student and Ph.D. candidate in cancer biology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, is conducting research in the Comparative and Molecular Biosciences Program.
Frantz is looking for answers to contemporary questions in cancer biology that benefit animal and human health.
“The discovery of cancer stem cells has forced a reconsideration of the way we evaluate cancer therapies,” Frantz says. “I am gathering tumor samples from owned dogs that demonstrate an example of naturally occurring disease. Cancer stem cells from different tumors have similar properties based on their shared gene expression patterns. I have found a single set of conditions in which cancer stem cells from three different cancers (bone, brain and cancer of blood vessel cells) could be maintained.
“I will ascertain the molecular makeup of the cancer stem cells and of the non-cancer stem cells that are present in the three target tumor types,” Frantz continues. “I will use a molecular technology called ‘microarray.’ The microarray quantifies the activity of all known and predicted canine genes by using probes for each of the more than 40,000 unique sequences that comprise the entirety of the dog genome.”
Frantz says the data will provide information about the expression of every individual gene. This data will be used to find similarities in the pattern of gene expression that is unique to cancer stem cells. Frantz plans to publish information from his research.
“We’re moving into an era in which the goal of research will be to make solutions applicable for more than one species,” Frantz notes.
Matthew Allen, Vet MB, Ph.D., an associate professor at The Ohio State University, is working on a formal knee replacement retrieval program for canine patients. This will initiate the first tissue archive program for knee replacement patients and track potential causes for complications.
“Veterinarians have little control over the product and there’s not a structured system over the implant process,” Dr. Allen says. “The whole reason to develop a new implant is because it improves the old one. This research will help veterinarians make good choices, because currently we don’t know what the best option is.”
Allen says his role is to move the science of knee replacement forward. His main interest in the research is to determine if cement is necessary in implant surgery. Since most of the animals with implants die from reasons not related to the implant, the implant is not usually examined at the time of death.
“In 2012, we’ll start clinical trials in which dogs in need of knee transplants will receive a free implant,” Allen says. “I hope to recruit 20 dogs by referral from colleagues in the study, in which half will receive cement with their implants and half will not. The implants will be the same to limit variables.
“Dogs typically receive the replacement surgery after other options have failed—and considering the lifespan of a dog, they’re likely going to have the procedure only once,” Allen continues. “If the animal only has one bad knee and not issues with multiple joints, the procedure could eliminate the need for pain medication” on an ongoing basis in chronic cases.
Patients in the trial will return for evaluation after two weeks, six weeks, 12 weeks and six months, then once a year for the remainder of the animal’s life.
North Carolina State University’s orthopedics department has been working to improve osseointegration options for animals in need of prosthetics using biomodeling techniques for more than five years.
Denis Marcellin-Little, DEDV, Dipl. ACVS and ECVS, professor of orthopedic surgery at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., says biomodeling allows a surgeon to develop a custom orthopedic implant for the treatment of an animal missing all or part of a limb.
“I would say my research moving into 2012 is more of an evolution than conclusion,” Dr. Marcellin-Little says. “We have a long way to go to make things more predictable so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each patient. We want implants to be more durable, ergonomic, sophisticated and have a better interface with the skin.”
Marcellin-Little says he works with polymers and metals that absorb into a patient’s body over time. This process helps larger patients and young patients who are still growing.
Marcellin-Little is working on a study to determine how foot shape influences the gait of dogs with prosthetics. While continuing to reflect on what he’s learned through previous patients with prosthetics, Marcellin-Little says he plans to eventually homogenize the level of care across the country for patients in need of prosthetics.