The potential for advancements in canine research is greater than ever, and Cornell has a legacy of transformative contributions upon which we can build.

Cornell offers expertise from the very beginning of the research continuum — working from molecular-level discoveries to showing how these findings translate into real-world impact. By covering the full research process, we can test how our research applies to clinical settings — empowering our clinicians to perform cutting-edge medical advancements in our hospitals and clinics.

Explore how the Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center is investing in critical, innovative and collaborative research that will help dogs live longer, healthier, happier lives.

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Congratulations to the seven recipients of our 2022-2023 internal grant awards! Learn more about their projects below.

The  goal of these internal grants is to provide research support for canine health studies across a diverse range of issues — including, but not limited to — aging, behavior, cancer biology, genetics and genomics, infectious diseases, immunology and nutrition.

All phases of research are supported — from basic discoveries and exploratory studies to translational and clinical research. We encourage collaborations that leverage the expertise of the college’s academic departments, hospitals, diagnostic  laboratories, veterinary biobank, the Baker Institute for Animal Health and other university affiliations. 

Selected research proposals can qualify for up to $100,000 per year and span a period of 1-2 years. The 2022-2023 awards were announced in July 2022, and the call for proposals for the 2023-2024 cycle will be announced in early 2023.

Read more about the recently funded research projects:

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Potential of spatially fractionated radiation therapy for treating canine osteosarcomas

As the most common type of leg bone cancer in dogs, osteosarcoma is also highly aggressive. The standard of care for treatment is limb amputation, to remove rapidly-spreading or hard-to-access tumors, followed by chemotherapy. However, amputation might not be an option for dogs with certain pre-existing conditions, such as arthritis or neurological disease, and many patients might not have ready access to a qualified veterinary surgeon either.

This study will investigate an alternative, non-invasive treatment called Spatially Fractionated Radiotherapy (SFRT), which delivers a checker-board pattern of high and low radiation beams to the tumor. In comparative studies with human cancer cells, SFRT shows the potential to kill cancer cells that are adjacent to (but not within) the radiation beams.

The goal of this project is to learn more about how canine osteosarcoma cells respond to a combination of SFRT and chemotherapy, and to push the boundaries of SFRT delivery to try to preserve comfort, limb function and extend life in dogs with this type of cancer.

Principal investigator: Parminder Basran, associate research professor of medical oncology

Co-PI: Margaret McEntee, the Alexander de Lahunta Chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences and professor of medical and radiation oncology

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A diagnostic test for canine hemangiosarcoma using novel miRNA biomarkers

Sometimes referred to as "the silent killer," hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is an extremely aggressive form of vascular cancer that can take root and spread throughout a dog's body with little warning. The most common form of HSA occurs in the spleen, and there, it can grow and spread rapidly. Often, there are no signs of this cancer until the tumor ruptures, and the dog begins to bleed internally, causing them to get extremely lethargic or collapse.

In the emergency room, clinicians can use imaging to identify the location of the mass, but they have no way to determine whether the tumor is cancerous or benign without performing surgery and waiting for the tissue to be biopsied. And the probability that a splenic mass is caused by HSA is a flip of the coin. Not only is surgery expensive, but by the time a splenic mass ruptures, the survival time for dogs then diagnosed with HSA is a matter of months — even with continued treatment. Yet in this emergency, owners are forced to decide between surgery and euthanasia before the diagnosis is confirmed.

The goal of this new project is to develop an affordable diagnostic test that can rapidly differentiate HSA from benign splenic masses — giving clinicians the necessary details to help owners make informed decisions about their dogs' medical care.

In order for the diagnostic test to be a success, the team needs to identify the microRNAs that can serve as reliable biomarkers to indicate the presence of HSA. Then, they will develop a hand-held point-of-care device that can detect these specific biomarkers in a matter of minutes and serve as a critical tool for emergency room technicians. 

Principal investigator: Scott Coonrod, director of the Baker Institute for Animal Health and the Judy Wilpon Professor of Cancer Biology

Co-PI: Roy Cohen, assistant research professor

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Genetic investigation of chronic superficial keratitis in working dog breeds

German shepherd dogs and Belgian shepherd breeds were originally used to help herd livestock, but their high intelligence and trainability mean that they can also become excellent working dogs, guiding people with disabilities and serving in the police or military. However, these breeds are also at an elevated risk for a progressive eye disease called chronic superficial keratitis (CSK), or pannus, in which blood vessels and pigment form lesions in the cornea and then progress over the eye, leading to vision impairment or blindness.

While CSK can be managed with corticosteroids, it requires life-long treatment, and the diagnoses usually occurs when dogs are between 3-6 years old, which is well before a working dog would usually retire. The goal of this project is to help identify the genetic risk factors that lead to the onset of this disease, both in German and Belgian shepherd dogs, as well as in other breeds.

By performing a genome-wide association study, the team plans to identify the variants that are strongly associated with the risk of developing CSK. These details will shed light on how it develops and how scientists can use genetic testing to eventually help eradicate the disease.

Principal Investigator: Jacquelyn Evans, assistant professor of biomedical sciences

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Investigation of cell-free DNA in dogs with hepatocellular carcinoma

Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) are small fragments that circulate in the bloodstream after cells die, and they provide promising evidence for tools that monitor the early detection and progression of diseases like cancer — both in humans and in dogs.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer in dogs, and is often not detected until after it has reached later stages of the disease. While it's possible to use surgery to remove the tumor, that strategy is still limited by the exact location and type of tumor found in the liver.

Currently, there are no definitive enzymes or proteins that clearly signal the presence or severity of HCC. The overarching goal of this research project is to monitor and characterize the cfDNA circulating in dogs with HCC as the disease progresses over time. The team plans to sequence the entire genome of the tumor's DNA and compare it to the DNA in individual dogs affected by HCC to help identify the cancerous mutations. After these mutations have been documented, then they can be compared to those found in the cfDNA.

The long-term objective is to develop a non-invasive blood sampling technique that allows for earlier detection of HCC in dogs — paving the way for better treatment options and improved canine healthcare.

Principal investigator: Jessica Hayward, senior research associate in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and at the Cornell Veterinary Biobank

Co-PI: Kelly Hume, associate professor of oncology in the Department of Clinical Sciences

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Helping more dogs — supplements and drug repurposing for canine lymphoma

Lymphoma is a highly aggressive cancer that affects 1 in 15 dogs. However, up to half of the dogs diagnosed with this disease may never receive treatment because of the high costs associated with multi-drug chemotherapy. If owners choose not to pursue chemotherapy, then veterinarians generally prescribe a drug called prednisone, which works as an immunosuppressant and anti-inflammatory agent.

This new study will enroll dogs diagnosed with lymphoma in the Cornell University Hospital for Animals' Oncology Service and examine the effects of pairing prednisone with another kind of product — either an antibiotic, an oral antineoplastic or a supplement. Clinicians will monitor the dogs' response and prescribe additional medications if the lymphoma worsens.

The overall goal is find ways to provide more treatment options for families of affected dogs — allowing them to make well-informed decisions about how to best treat their dog's condition and preserve their dog's quality of life.

Principal investigator: Kelly Hume, associate professor of oncology

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ATP release pannexin channels are potential pain biosensors for dogs

It can be hard to know exactly how much pain an individual dog experiences — both during injury and throughout chronic illness. For example, a dog's breed, sex, age and unique behavioral traits can all change their expression of pain, and measuring vital signs (like heart rate, blood pressure and breathing) can also be traced to other factors.

The goal of this project is to develop a new method for objectively assessing canine pain and to identify a new molecular target (or biosensor) for delivering medications that relieve pain. A type of membrane channel called pannexins show strong potential for this research because they are already known to release energy-carrying molecules in response to inflammatory, mechanical and neuropathic pain. This study aims to learn more about how these membrane channels are activated and how they contribute toward creating or alleviating painful conditions.

By integrating the basic research skills of the Kawate Lab with the clinical expertise of the Boesch Lab, the team will gather and test samples from canine patients at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals to monitor their pannexin activity. If the results show that the pannexins can serve as a reliable biosensor for pain, then further work will develop unique ways to regulate their response and ideally produce new therapies for dogs experiencing chronic pain.

Principal investigator: Toshi Kawate, associate professor of molecular medicine

Co-PI: Jordyn Boesch, associate clinical professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine

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The next frontier: Generation of novel caninized mouse models in pursuit of novel therapeutics and interventions in canine health

The investigation into human and animal diseases is often limited by gaps in observational and laboratory studies. With the support of rigorous preclinical work, small animal models can help advance the understanding of a particular disease, but the immune systems in mice, for example, still differ from those of dogs and humans, which can lead to misleading or even dangerous outcomes in clinical trials.

The goal of this project is to recreate the canine immune system in mice that lack immunity by transplanting stem cells into their system, thus developing a canine reconstituted immune system (CRIS) in mice. Similar work has already been done to humanize the immune systems in mice, and the successful development of "caninized" mouse models will transform our ability to study canine disease.

Successful development of this model will advance our knowledge of dogs' immune systems throughout all stages of disease progression, and it will provide a safe, well-controlled system to deliver targeted drugs and test new types of treatment. 

Principal investigator: Tracy Stokol, professor of population medicine and diagnostic sciences

Co-PI: Cynthia Leifer, professor of immunology

Co-investigator: Alina Demeter, assistant clinical professor of biomedical sciences