Gerlinde Van de Walle, DVM, PhD
Seeking ways to treat cancer, fight viruses and to improve wound healing
A main focus of Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle’s research is exploring novel treatments for animal diseases. Currently, her lab is focused on finding drugs suitable for eliminating mammary cancer and ocular herpevirus infections in small companion animals, and evaluating the effectiveness of stem cell therapies for treating skin wounds in horses – all of which may also be used in humans and other animals.
- Identifying new treatments for canine cancer. In an attempt to identify new drugs to treat mammary cancer in dogs and cats, Van de Walle and her colleagues study the effects of human epigenetic cancer drugs on tumors in dogs and cats. Based on promising results using dog and cat mammary cancer cells grown in the lab, the next steps include the evaluation of these drugs in rodent models of canine and feline mammary cancer and to evaluate the safety of these drugs in healthy dogs and cats. These steps are necessary to push these drugs along to eventual use in treating canine and feline mammary cancer in the clinic.
- Identifying novel drugs for feline ocular herpesvirus infections. Feline herpes virus 1 (FHV-1) is a frequent cause of eye infections in cats, but the drugs available to treat these infections must be applied multiple times a day and there is scant scientific evidence to support their use. To predictively test the efficacy of novel antivirals, the Van de Walle lab has developed a cornea model system and used this successfully to show that antiretroviral drug raltegravir, commonly used in humans to treat HIV infections, is also effective against FHV-1 infection. Next steps now include to test the efficacy of this drug in cats with FHV-1 eye infections, and to use the cornea model system for identifying additional drugs against common ocular pathogens in cats.
- Stem cells to help horse wound healing. Horses are prone to lacerations on their lower legs. These wounds heal slowly, and may lead to “proud flesh”, lumpy overgrowths of tissue that are susceptible to uncontrolled bleeding and bacterial infection. These wounds appear to be similar to the prominent scarring that can occur in humans after surgery. The Van de Walle lab has been testing stem cells to determine whether those could aid the wound healing process in tissue samples in the lab. Their results show that the substances secreted by stem cells can prevent the scarring (proud flesh) from forming and also reduce the severity of existing scars. Van de Walle plans to carry the work forward to testing in horses, and to examine how those treatments may be used in other animals, including humans.