Internal Grants Program funds research on brain development, amphibian disease, and canine orthopedics

Three projects have been chosen for funding under the College of Veterinary Medicine’s 2014 Internal Grants Program “Research Grants Program in Animal Health”.

buildingThe primary intent of the program is to provide funding for research addressing animal health and veterinary medicine that will provide definitive answers to hypotheses..

The program also encourages the inclusion of veterinary trainees (including Dual DVM/PhD Degree trainees, interns, residents, postdoctoral associates with DVMs, and Cornell Clinical Fellows) and graduate students to participate in hypothesis-driven research to foster their research career development.

The below projects were chosen by the College’s Research Council for the significance of the problems in addressing animal health research affecting veterinary medicine; the prospect that the proposed research will provide definitive answers to the stated hypotheses; and the strength of the experimental approach and basis for evaluating results.

Dr. David Lin, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, received funding for a project entitled “Single cell analysis of axon guidance.”

During development, billions of neurons extend an axon into their environment to find and synapse with their appropriate partners. Defects in this process of axon guidance and target recognition have been proposed to be important to the etiology of some forms of epilepsy, autism, and schizophrenia. In veterinary medicine, epilepsy is the number one neurologic disorder in dogs. However, in both humans and in animals, how axon guidance defects can lead to epilepsy is poorly understood.

“Understanding the mechanisms that underlie axon guidance during normal development is therefore essential for understanding how these processes go awry in disease,” said Lin. “The particular combination of cues expressed by a neuron is essential for guiding it to its appropriate target. But what combinations are expressed by a given neuron, and how these cues work together to mediate targeting, are still unknown.”

Lin will perform research to identify the complement of axon guidance cues expressed by a given neuron. He will then test the effect of these combinations of cues on neural outgrowth and whether or not cues interact with one another.

“Malformations in cortical development have been associated with epilepsy and autism in humans, and defects in brain formation have also been described in epileptic dogs,” said Lin. “Our studies will be among the first to definitively test how combinations of cues mediate the formation of the brain. This in turn will provide mechanistic insight into how defects in axon guidance can result in disease.”

Dr. Elizabeth Bunting, senior extension associate at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center, received an award  for a project entitled “Evaluation of the impact of chytridiomycosis fungal infection on survival success of captive reared and released Eastern Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis).”

The focus of this project will be to evaluate causes of morbidity and mortality in an existing captive release program for Eastern Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis). The Eastern Hellbender is a species of giant freshwater salamander native to the Mid-Atlantic States. Hellbenders historically have been found in only two watersheds (the Allegheny and Susquehanna) in New York. Surveys conducted over the last decade indicate an overall 40 percent reduction in hellbender numbers with complete loss of the population at numerous sites. Preliminary data indicate a significant proportion of animals are infected with chytridiomyces (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), an environmentally transmissible fungus that is causing extinction of amphibian species worldwide. Because of these issues, the hellbender is classified as a species of special concern in New York, and as endangered or threatened in five of the 13 other states where it lives.

In cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Bunting will use soft release strategy (on-site caging in the watershed) during the summer of 2014 for a subset of captive animals to determine all causes of mortality and to follow the development of any chytrid infection in individuals. Weight and lengths will be taken and cloacal development compared to the captive controls to determine growth and development as well as breeding capacity. Data collected will be analyzed and mapped by GIS and compared to previous studies to determine geographic distribution of strain variation, and evaluation of the impact of infection load and prevalence on survival. Data analysis will be important in the development of the next five year management plan for hellbenders in New York.

Dr. Ursula Krotscheck, associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences, received support for a project entitled “Effect of surgical technique for cranial cruciate rupture on long-term function and stifle loading patterns in the dog.”

Rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is a common cause of hindlimb lameness and osteoarthritis (OA) in dogs, reliably leading to chronic pain and disability if left untreated. The cost of medical and surgical management of this disease was estimated to be over $1.3 billion annually in 2005, and has likely risen since. Three methods used for surgical repair of the injured CCL are extracapsular repair (ECR), tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), and tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA).

The objectives of this study are to evaluate clinical function using force plate gait analysis (FPGA) and joint biomechanics using subchondral bone density (SBD) of dogs having received an ECR, TPLO or TTA over one year prior and to compare these to a normal dog population. Krotscheck will evaluate SBD in 9 areas within the stifle joint (femur and tibia) as well as determining SBD location on the femur and tibia in a total of 70 dogs.

 “We hope to provide veterinarians and clients with guidelines for long-term expectations after the different methods of cruciate surgery; specifically in regards to their ability to re-establish normal intra-articular function and the relation to lameness. This may help determine the ideal surgical procedure for extended excellent function and minimization of subsequent OA,” explained Krotscheck.