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February Study Successes

A Step Closer to Genetic Cause of Epilepsy:
Epilepsy with an unknown cause (known as idiopathic epilepsy) occurs in all dogs, although some breeds show a higher prevalence. Belgian sheepdogs and Belgian Tervurens have a high prevalence of idiopathic epilepsy, so the disease is considered an inherited condition in these breeds. Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) funding enabled scientists to narrow down the mutation that causes this disease to three chromosomes and to identify the likely regions that are highly associated with idiopathic epilepsy. These findings on the Belgian sheepdog and Tervuren should apply to many dog breeds that experience epilepsy. (D05CA-072)

Potential Asthma Treatment for Cats:
Asthma in cats can be debilitating and occasionally fatal. Identifying allergens that cause allergic asthma in cats is challenging because current skin and serum tests aren't reliable. Scientists are investigating a treatment called rush immunotherapy (RIT), which has shown promise in turning off the abnormal immune response to an allergen. Results indicate that both intranasal and injected RIT are safe and effective in relieving asthma symptoms in cats. Even more exciting is the finding that a subpopulation of study participants appears to have reverted to being non-asthmatic-they seem to be cured. Final results are anticipated later this year. The study has also provided valuable research experience to two MAF veterinary student scholars. (D06FE-017)  

Prevalence, Treatment and Prevention of PSSM:
Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), also known as tying-up, is a painful muscle disorder that is heritable in quarter horse-related breeds and some draft horse breeds. Scientists determined the true prevalence of PSSM type 1 in these breeds and also discovered a second form of PSSM (type 2). Veterinarians can now accurately test to determine whether a horse carries this genetic defect, allowing them to provide genetic counseling to their clients and prevent future foals from acquiring the disorder. In addition, scientists determined that horses with the specific genetic form of PSSM type 1 can often be successfully treated with high-fat diets and regular exercise protocols. (D07EQ-041)  

Identifying Parasitic Link to Brain Infection:
Protozoal brain infection, caused by the Sarcocystis neurona parasite, is a major cause of death in southern sea otters. This same deadly infection also causes mortality in horses. A postdoctoral fellow confirmed that the parasite infecting sea otters and horses is genetically identical to one that is seasonally shed by opossums living in the area. Knowing this link alerts veterinarians and marine mammal rehabilitators working with sea otters, or other susceptible marine mammals, to a particular season during which they should be extra vigilant in monitoring for signs of infection. The findings also indicated that preventing opossums from accessing equine food and water sources during the spring and early summer months could significantly reduce equine infections. (D06ZO-417)

Promising Therapy to Help Clouded Leopards Breed:
Wild and captive clouded leopards are in crisis. Artificial insemination (AI) is used to help breed these animals in captivity, but current techniques result in very low pregnancy rates. Controlling domestic cats' estrous cycles with artificial hormones, called progestins, before AI improves their pregnancy rates. Researchers evaluated these hormones in female clouded leopards and identified, for the first time, a hormone regimen that successfully stimulates the ovary in a uniform and predictable way. Although none of the inseminated females became pregnant, results were encouraging: those treated with progestins had the best ovulation rates ever seen in this species. These results provided a strong foundation for a large in vitro fertilization clinical trial that is now under way. The researchers will continue to work with the clouded leopard Species Survival Plan and zoos in Thailand to improve natural breeding success in range countries. (D06ZO-107).

New Information May Prevent Brain Disease:
Brain inflammation, known as meningoencephalitis, occurs naturally in dogs and is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The disease has a grave prognosis when the cause is unknown, and unfortunately, the cause is unclear in 75 percent of cases in dogs. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are used to definitively diagnose causes of human meningoencephalitis. This study uses PCR to identify suspect microorganisms in dogs. So far researchers have identified two bacteria (Mycoplasma spp. and Bartonella spp.) that may be associated with specific forms of canine meningoencephalitis. This knowledge should provide for better diagnoses and allow for specific therapeutic interventions, thereby improving survival rates for affected dogs. (D07CA-152)

Vaccine Shows Promise for Controlling Feline Contraception:
The uncontrolled reproduction of feral cats is a substantial cause of cat overpopulation and euthanasia. Although surgical sterilization is highly effective, it is also expensive, labor intensive, highly technical and limited in scale. In a previous MAF-funded study, researchers tested a single-dose vaccine that successfully prevented pregnancy in 73 percent of female cats during the two-year observation period. This study expanded the observation time to five years, at which point 27 percent of the cats remained infertile. The median duration of the vaccine's effectiveness was three years. The lead researcher was appointed to the initial scientific advisory committee of the Michelson Prize and Grants program of the Found Animals Foundation in Los Angeles, which has earmarked $75 million for the development of nonsurgical sterilization options for cats and dogs. (D07FE-019)

Posted by MAFon March 1, 2010.

Categories: Animal health, Animal studies, Animal welfare, Canine health, Cat health, Dog health, Equine health, Feline health, Horse health, Wildlife health


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