Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ebola: Can dogs transmit the virus?

iStock_000011963680LargeRecently, there’s been a lot in the news about Ebola and dogs- particularly, about a dog in Spain named Excalibur, who was euthanized on Wednesday, October 8th. Excalibur was the family pet of a nurse’s assistant who is currently being treated after contracting the virus. The question: can dogs carry and transmit the virus?

Wild animals are certainly capable of carrying and transmitting the virus. The World Health Organization recognizes that Ebola is transmitted to people from wild animals, and fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Infection has been documented in wild bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope, and porcupines. However, there are no conclusive studies showing that dogs can transmit Ebola to humans. But there also aren’t any conclusive studies showing that dogs don’t pose a risk, either.

During the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak in Gabon, dogs were exposed to Ebola from eating dead animals that had been infected with the disease. Researchers took blood samples from over 400 dogs, and results suggested that dogs could be infected by Ebola and potentially remain asymptomatic. It’s possible that viral particles could be excreted in urine, feces, and saliva (as has been seen in other animals), potentially putting humans at risk of contracting the virus. But again, no concrete answers. This study shows that the dogs were exposed to the virus and their immune systems responded to it, but it still doesn’t tell us whether or not dogs that have encountered Ebola can shed the virus or not. 

Without conducting specific research into canine infection, at this point, the short answer is that researchers really aren’t sure whether or not dogs can transmit the virus to humans. The decision to euthanize Excalibur has evoked strong emotions and responses, and rightly so. Many are outraged at Excalibur’s death. Some argue that he should have been quarantined and tested to determine whether or not he was a risk to the human population; others are taking the “better safe than sorry” approach. What do YOU think? Should Excalibur have been euthanized? How should companion animals be handled if their owners contract the virus? We’d love to hear your thoughts- please post below.

Infertility hope: Uterus transplant results in a healthy baby boy

pixabay baby holding dad's fingerInfertility is a heartbreaking problem that many women and couples face. There’s nothing worse than wanting a baby and being told that it will never happen, or being given the “one in a million” speech. And while there have been many advances in medicine that have helped women overcome the diagnosis of “infertility,” recent news of womb transplant success gives us a new reason to be optimistic!

For women who were born without a uterus (this affects about 1 in 5000 women worldwide) or have lost theirs to cancer, becoming pregnant doesn’t even seem like an option. But in September, all that changed when baby Vincent was born. Vincent’s mother was one of nine patients who had undergone a uterine transplant over the last two years in this particular study. Out of those nine patients, Vincent’s mom was the first to deliver her baby, and six others are currently pregnant.

While several countries may now start their own womb transplant programs, this is unlikely to become a commonplace technique, as it is expensive and risky. Patients must remain on anti-rejection medication to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted uterus. After birth, the uterus would need be removed to prevent long-term health effects from anti-rejection drugs. But it’s still an incredible advance, and women who had no hope of becoming pregnant may now have a chance.

None of this would have been possible without dedicated researchers worldwide and the animal models that have contributed to the understanding and application of this science. Surgical techniques and anti-rejection drugs have progressed to the point of actually allowing a woman without a uterus to undergo a successful transplant and give birth to healthy baby- and that’s amazing! Read more about it here.

Cat saved by a dog- and you’ll never guess how!

dog and cat lying togetherIt’s a happy ending for Buttercup the cat, but the story didn’t start out that way. When Buttercup’s owner brought him to the vet clinic, he was pretty sick. He was lethargic and his red blood cell count was abnormally low. What he needed was a blood transfusion- but veterinarians didn’t think he had much time left. As donated cat blood wasn’t readily available, vets turned to the next best thing: dog blood.

That’s right- Buttercup the cat received a blood transfusion with donated dog blood! Cats and dogs have blood types, like humans do, but just as there is a universal blood type in humans (if you’re curious, it’s O negative), there’s also a universal blood type in dogs. Buttercup received a blood transfusion from the equivalent of an “O negative” blood donor, and the blood transfusion bought Buttercup enough time to allow his own bone marrow to produce new red blood cells.

Cross-species blood transfusions, also called xenotransfusions, aren’t very common in veterinary medicine. However, in Buttercup’s case, he was lucky that this was a viable option! Thanks to advances in biomedical research and an anonymous greyhound blood donor, Buttercup has a shot at ALL nine lives. 

Read more about Buttercup’s story here.

Breast cancer- could LIGHT exposure affect treatment?

pixabay light through treesNew research is showing that exposure to dim light at night may negatively impact the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments. In a laboratory setting, dim light exposure during night cycles made human breast tumors in rats more resistant to doxorubicin, a standard chemotherapy for breast cancer.

But why? Well, it’s all about melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally by the body during dark periods at night. In this research study, exposure to light at night disrupted rats’ melatonin cycles. Half of the rats, however, received melatonin supplements to make up for this. Researchers found that the tumors grew almost three times faster in rats that did not receive supplements, and their tumors were completely resistant to doxorubicin. It seems that the presence of melatonin helped support higher levels of active doxorubicin in the breast cancer cells, and prevented enzymes from breaking it down and making it less effective.

At this point, researchers aren’t ready to make supplementation recommendations for human breast cancer patients. And if the effects of melatonin ARE similar in humans, recommendations for supplementation would need to be carefully monitored. If disrupting the natural melatonin cycle can cause the body to react to cancer treatments differently, then incorrectly supplementing could also cause undesired effects. However, since this isn’t the first time that dim light exposure at night has been shown to have negative effects, it’s possible that this research could prompt patients to be more aware of light exposure disruptions during night cycles.

Read more about it here: http://www.aacr.org/Newsroom/Pages/News-Release-Detail.aspx?ItemID=608#.VC9VpPldWSo

 

Dogs are providing clues to human breast cancer

pixabay cocker spanielDogs are often called man’s best friend. In this case, dogs are helping humans more than you might think! Dogs can be a great model for understanding cancer, because they develop cancer spontaneously, and in this case, cocker spaniels may be able to help researchers better understand human breast cancer.

Recently, the epigenome of the cocker spaniel has been characterized. Researchers compared dog and human epigenetic changes, and found that when looking at breast cancer, the same regions of DNA are affected in dogs and humans.

So, why is this important? Discovering common mechanisms can help both humans and dogs in future research studies. It’s possible that targeting these epigenetic changes could help slow disease progression, and dogs may be able to help us understand this faster. And ultimately, understanding more about the connection between canine and human cancer will benefit both species.

Read more about this research here: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/ibri-deg100214.php