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October 25, 2018 - The future for Ridgway’s hawks is brighter today because of an investment in a pilot study that showed how researchers might be able to save this endangered raptor. It never would have happened if Morris Animal Foundation had not been willing to make a calculated investment in a good but-as-yet unproven idea. Pilot studies let research take flight.  

A pilot study is essentially a testing ground to ascertain the validity of new ideas that may help animals live longer, healthier lives through the development of new diagnostic tools, therapies and even cures for serious health issues.

Pilot studies can help inform the design a larger study, letting researchers work out any obvious pitfalls and modify study design as needed.  A pilot study may involve pretesting a hypothesis, helping the researcher see if their idea will work on a larger scale so they can get a clearer sense of cost, time, energy and potential impact and logistics of the research before launching a more complex clinical trial.  

A recent Morris Animal Foundation-funded pilot study tested a novel treatment for botfly infestations in one of the most endangered raptors in the world, the Ridgway’s hawk. For our $10,000 investment, researchers identified a highly successful short-term solution for treating nests that significantly increased a fledgling’s chance of survival; for every 10 nests treated, researchers saved eight nestlings that would have otherwise died from parasitism.

This success led to additional funding from Morris Animal Foundation and the research team now is testing a long-term, more sustainable method to save these extremely endangered birds. From a spark of an idea to a coordinated health management plan, Ridgway’s hawks are slowing growing in population and one of their main health threats, the botfly, is being conquered. 

In addition to the Ridgway’s hawk, we have many other successes. Recent Foundation-funded pilot studies have led to new treatments, the design of new and safer surgeries, identifying genetic mutations that led to disease screening tests, and even linking viruses to cancer.

The challenge for researchers in this exploratory process is finding financial support, especially for scientists in animal health fields where funding options already are limited. Some organizations, with limited funding dollars, may not want to invest in a project unless they are certain of a chance of a successful outcome, essentially a project that only may be a couple of steps away from a vaccine or a new treatment. But who funds the sometimes decades of research to get to that point?  

We do. Morris Animal Foundation is one of the few animal health organizations that is willing to put money up front to see if a great idea can take flight. And, thanks to our generous donors, we have available funding every year to take a few calculated risks to help researchers find and grow the next best idea that may break a treatment barrier or help discover the cause of an elusive disease. 

The Foundation’s average cost for a pilot study is around $10,000 and we fund several projects every year. We invest in these small-scale, controlled studies because pilot studies are the spark that research needs to tackle the enormous health challenges animals face today.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we can fund the whole spectrum of the research process from innovative pilot studies to great life-saving clinical trials for the animals we love. Interested in learning more and supporting this work? 

Donate today and help a great idea take flight.