Cornell Feline Health Center

Supporting Cat Health with Information and Health Studies.

2020 - 2021 Funded Research Projects

Vibrational spectroscopy to detect chemosensitization in feline cancer cells 

Cancer is diagnosed in approximately four million cats every year, and for many advanced cases, chemotherapy is the only treatment option.

Unfortunately, many types of solid tumors do not respond well to chemotherapy, and there is currently no way to distinguish which cases will respond to chemotherapy from those that won’t beforehand.

The use of a drug called salinomycin has been shown to have anti-tumor properties in pre-clinical testing against feline cancer cells, and to improve the effectiveness of doxorubicin, a common chemotherapy drug. This improvement is believed to be caused by structural and functional changes in the cell membranes of cancer cells.

This study will determine whether the use of a novel technology called metasurface-enhanced infrared reflection spectroscopy (MEIRS) can be used to detect salinomycin-induced membrane changes in feline cancer cells. If this is the case, MEIRS may ultimately provide important prognostic information about whether doxorubicin is likely to be an effective treatment in cats diagnosed with a variety of cancers.

Investigator: Kelly Hume DVM, DACVIM

Machine learning of feline GI disorders using abdominal ultrasound images

Abdominal ultrasound (AU) is a vital tool in the initial evaluation of feline gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, including two very common feline conditions that afflict cats, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and GI lymphoma.

IBD generally carries a favorable prognosis, while the prognosis for GI lymphoma is guarded to poor (depending upon a number of factors); and the treatment for these two conditions is different.

Unfortunately, AU cannot accurately distinguish IBD from GI Lymphoma in cats via human interpretation. The only way to do this currently is to obtain a biopsy of the GI tract, which requires general anesthesia and is associated with increased risk, patient discomfort, and cost.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of computer science involved with the development of “smart” machines that can “think” in a manner similar to the way humans do, thereby providing them with a sort of “intelligence”. AI has previously been used to diagnose human diseases by applying it to the analysis of medical images, but, to our knowledge, it has not previously been used to diagnose feline diseases.

This cutting-edge study will investigate the application of AI analysis of AU images in cats with biopsy-confirmed diagnoses of IBD and GI lymphoma to determine whether it can be used to improve the ability of AU to distinguish these two important diseases of cats.

Investigator: Parminder Basran PhD, FCCPM

Determining the interplay of feline coronavirus with macrophages during FIP

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a systemic inflammatory disease that is a leading cause of death in cats worldwide. The cause of FIP is a mutant form of a relatively benign coronavirus that normally resides within the feline GI tract (FCoV) and that is believed to leave the GI tract to become a systemic infection via interaction with a type of white blood cell called a macrophage.

Understanding the mechanism of this macrophage-mediated movement of the FIP form of the virus from the GI tract to the rest of a cat’s body is a vital step in identifying potential strategies to treat and prevent FIP.

This study continues the ground-breaking FIP-focused work of Dr. Whittaker’s laboratory by investigating the specific molecular interactions between the FIP form of the virus and the feline macrophage.

Investigator: Gary Whittaker PhD

Defining the Metabolic and Fecal Microbiome Signatures of Hyperthyroid Cats

Hyperthyroidism is the most common endocrine disease of cats, and although there are good treatment options available (radioiodine therapy, oral anti-thyroid drugs), there is evidence that even once a hyperthyroid cat’s thyroid status has been successfully returned to normal with therapy, persistent metabolic abnormalities that may predispose to and overlap with other health problems may persist.

In spite of this fact, the effects of hyperthyroidism on feline metabolism and on populations of gastrointestinal microscopic organisms (the microbiome) have yet to be well described, both before and after successful treatment for hyperthyroidism.

This unique study uses novel molecular biologic techniques to better characterize the effects of hyperthyroidism on the feline metabolism and microbiome, both before and after successful radioiodine therapy.

Its results will provide important insight not only into the effects hyperthyroidism itself, but also into how this common condition may interplay with other important feline diseases.

Investigator: John Loftus, DVM, PhD, DACVIM

Are commercial natural diets putting cats and owners at risk from “superbugs”?

Perhaps no feline topic is as controversial as that of raw foods for cats. With strong proponents both for and against the feeding of raw commercial foods, issues of concern regarding this practice include the potential for illness caused by infection by bacteria and parasites of cats and their owners, the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, and the veracity of statements by commercial pet food companies regarding the meats used in formulating raw diets.

This unique study is using cutting edge molecular biologic techniques to characterize the bacterial and parasitic populations (including antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria) and the sources of meat used in a variety of commercially available raw cat foods to help quantify the potential risks of feeding commercially available raw foods to cats and to investigate whether their ingredients list accurately represents the meats used in their production.

Investigator: Laura Goodman PhD