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Innovative Research for the Animals in Our Lives

Through the Humane Scholars Program, selected veterinary students develop and disseminate solutions-driven science that has a direct impact on the health and welfare of companion animals. Students participate in 8-12-week scientific research projects and are matched with leading academic and scientific faculty mentors who will oversee their research, providing a unique opportunity to contribute to scientific research benefiting animals.

The 2013 Humane Scholars

2012 Humane Scholars

2011 Humane Scholars

Colorado State University: What Influences Treatment and End-of-Life Decisions for Lymphoma-Affected Dogs?

Humane Scholar:

Julia Brombeck

DVM Candidate

Sponsor: American Humane Association

Lymphoma is the most common hematopoietic (blood) cancer in dogs. With medical advancements in treating canine cancer, it has become increasingly important for owners and clinicians to consider not only what is possible for therapy, but also what is compassionate. With support from American Humane Association, this study surveyed owners of dogs treated at the CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center. Owners of 45 dogs representing 28 breeds were surveyed. Approximately one-third of the dogs were male and two-thirds were female, with dogs ranging in age from 4 to 14 years. Owners were given 12 factors of potential importance to assess when considering a treatment plan for their dog. Most (84%) of owners judged their dog’s quality of life to be the most important. Factors that also ranked high, which influenced end-of-life decisions, were pain (76%), inability to do activities that owners perceived their animal to enjoy (56%), and not seeming happy (40%). Interestingly, only 24 percent of owners had discussed end-of-life decisions with their veterinarian in the early stages of treatment, suggesting that frequent communications between owners and veterinarians may be essential when planning for cancer therapy, and also when assessing an animal’s quality of life throughout treatment

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Utah State University: Heartworm Disease Incidence in Dogs in a Northern Utah Animal Shelter

Humane Scholar:

Jessica Crozier

Sponsor: ASPCA

Heartworm disease in dogs is a serious, and sometimes fatal, disease. Because there is concern that the incidence of heartworm disease is increasing in Utah, this study was designed to 1) determine a more accurate infection level of heartworm disease in northern Utah shelter animals and 2) provide the Humane Scholar with more experience in field research. With support from American Humane Association, this student tested samples from 131 shelter dogs and found an infection level of 1.5%. The samples were taken to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Logan, Utah, with all samples tested using the DiroCHEK Canine Heartworm Antigen Test Kit. Such information is important for shelters as they evaluate the health of dogs to be adopted, as treating heartworm disease in the early stages is often successful.

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Western University of Health Sciences: Histology of the Equine Digital Cushion and Anatomical Measurements of the Distal Limbs

Humane Scholar:

Mailie Fanning

DVM Candidate

Sponsor: Frank & Susan Mars

This study, supported by American Humane Association, was designed to gain additional information about the anatomical components of the equine distal limb, including bones, nerves, tendons, ligaments and the composition of the equine digital cushion in animals of differing breeds and ages. In foals and yearlings, the digital cushion is composed of fibro-fatty soft tissue which hardens as the horse ages. By understanding changes that occur as an animal ages, perhaps veterinarians can better address those changes that might lead to career- or life-threatening injuries. Tissue samples were obtained from the forelimbs of 33 horses humanely euthanized for reasons unrelated to this study. Tissue samples are currently being analyzed for digital cushion changes, along with measurements involving the distal limb bones, nerves, tendons and ligaments. Each measurement will be analyzed by a statistician for any correlation in the digital cushion and corresponding anatomical structures to the age and breed of horses in the study.

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Louisiana State University: Feral Cats – Understanding Large Colonies, Their Feeders and Impact on the Community

Humane Scholar:

Hye-Yeon Jang

DVM Candidate

Sponsor: American Humane Association

Estimates for the number of feral cats in the U.S. vary greatly, with some researchers suggesting that the number of cats living outdoors approximates the number of cats living indoors with owners. Thus, many citizens have come to the aid of these animals by providing food and medical care. With support from American Humane Association, this Humane Scholar surveyed Baton Rouge residents who care for feral cat colonies, as well as community members from the surrounding area. Most caretakers/feeders were females between the age of 55 and 65 years of age, and had begun caring for feral cats after the age of 50. The cat feeders represented thirty colonies. The median distance traveled to a colony was six miles, with 20 percent of feeders caring for more than one feral cat colony. Seventeen immediate neighbors and/or businesses were also surveyed with 82 percent reporting no problems from a nearby colony. However, almost 30 percent indicated that they were bothered by what the feeders were doing even though only 11 percent had reported a negative experience with a colony feeder. This study is important as we learn how to best care for homeless cats, and also engage and educate community partners in the process.

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St. George’s University: Preliminary Results into the Expression of Selected Danger Associated Molecular Proteins (DAMPs) in Two Types of Canine Tumors

Humane Scholar:

Ekta Rattan

DVM Candidate

Sponsor: Jeanie Kilgour

Cancer has been dubbed a major cause of death in both humans and animals, with between 15 and 30 percent of dogs dying from cancer. This study, with support from American Humane Association, evaluated a group of compounds released or produced in the process of cell death or stress. The expression of four specific compounds (HMGB1, Hsp60, Hsp70 and Hsp90AA1) was evaluated in seven canine sarcomas and seven canine transmissible venereal tumours (CTVT). The expression of HMGB1 was found to be significantly higher in sarcoma tumour samples than in CTVT samples. The over expression of HMGB1 has also been reported for cancers of the mammary gland, gastrointestinal tract, liver and blood system in humans and dogs. Such information might help scientists better understand the mechanisms of cancer, and work toward diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. The Humane Scholar chairs the animal welfare and behavior committee for the student chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and collaborated with international scientists at Cambridge on this study.

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Western University of Health Sciences: Improving the Transition from Shelter to Home Through the A.D.O.P.T Initiative

Humane Scholar:

Desiree Santoso

DVM Candidate

Sponsor: American Humane Association

With support from American Humane Association, an educational web site was created to supplement owners with post-adoption and medical information in an attempt to reduce the risk of returning animals back to a shelter. Several shelters in Northern and Southern California were approached for inclusion into the study. Only one shelter elected to participate in the research, with no significant difference identified for return rates for either dogs or cats before or after the website was made available. The website concept was developed in an attempt to help shelters provide information without burdening staff with additional work. Information on the web site included common post-adoption issues on health, behavior and a list of costs for veterinary wellness and emergency care. Due to the lack of participation from adopters (less than 25% viewed the site) and shelters, results are inconclusive. Going forward, it will be important to target the best outreach strategies for new pet owners and shelters. The results of this study will be important as future research studies are designed on how to best support busy shelters and their clients.

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Colorado States University: Novel Gammaherpesvirus in Domestic Cats – Variations in Prevalence and Predictor Variables

Humane Scholar:

Kathryn Stutzman-Rodriguez

DVM Candidate | Sponsor: Ann Hardy

Gammaherpesviruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus and Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus in humans, are often associated with lymphoproliferative diseases (e.g., Epstein-Barr and mononucleosis; Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus and cancer associated with HIV infection). Recently, a gammaherpesvirus which infects domestic cats has been discovered. With support from American Humane Association, this study developed real-time quantitative PCR assays to identify the virus in cats. In 135 shelter cats tested (California, Colorado and Florida), 15.6 percent were positive and all of the positive cats were adult males. Twenty-eight percent of the cats from a California shelter were positive for FcaGHV 1 (gammaherpesvirus) versus 5.5 percent from the Colorado shelter and 13 percent from the Florida shelter. The gammaherpesvirus in cats appears to be widespread in shelter cats in the U.S. and was found to be associated with Mycoplasma and Bartonella infections. The cause for the predominance in adult male cats remains to be determined. The Humane Scholar suggests that this predominance may be the result of behavioral or physiological differences between males and female cats.

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