The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and the ensuing Persian Gulf War, left behind half a million unexploded land mines. Today, Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams are still working to clear out those mines.
Less critical, but still a serious health concern, is the residue left from exploded ordnance. Soil across Kuwait is contaminated with TNT and other explosive compounds. If inhaled in dust, or ingested through ground water, TNT residue can cause dermatitis, kidney disease, anemia, and even cancer. Traditional soil cleaning methods like incineration are expensive and mar the environment. OSU Professor Morrie Craig has a better idea: Send out the sheep.
As a toxicologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Craig discovered that the multiple stomach chambers in a sheep contain bacteria that break down alkaloid toxins in plants. This makes it possible for them to eat all kinds of nasty weeds that make other animals sick.
When the U.S. military heard about his research, they suggested Craig test sheep bacteria on a synthetic alkaloid toxin: TNT. Used in the manufacture of bombs for the U.S. military since World War II, the military was looking for cost-effective ways to clean up TNT-contaminated sites in the U.S. and around the world.
In 2011, Craig and researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture fed sheep TNT for three weeks and found that it broke down in the sheep’s stomach so completely there was no trace of it in their feces. When coupled with Craig’s earlier research on the use of grasses to suck contaminants out of the soil, these new findings gave Craig a plan for bioremediation of explosives residue: Plant grass in contaminated areas then graze sheep on those fields.
After testing his plan on soil at a military base, Craig estimates a flock of 20 sheep can completely clear an acre of explosives residue in less than three years. Now he is working with the Kuwaiti government to help them adapt his discoveries to a plan that will work in their country. They are currently testing warm-season grasses for TNT uptake, and they are investigating the possibility of using camels as well as sheep. Funding for the projects comes from a tax on Iraqi oil as part of a United Nations settlement to compensate Kuwait for damage done by the Persian Gulf War.
In December, Dr. Craig will be the keynote speaker at an international seminar in Kuwait on The Environmental Impact of Explosive Remnants of War.
OSU’s International Veterinary Students Association made their annual trek to Nicaragua in August, creating a free clinic in the jungle for a rural community that has no veterinary care available. In just six days they treated 623 animals, providing spay and neuter surgery, dental care, disease treatment, and health education. Thirty-two veterinary students, four veterinarians, and three certified veterinary technicians volunteered their time to the mission, which relies on charitable donations for supplies and travel expenses. Read more.
Woody was rescued from an abusive owner when he was just a puppy. Adopted by Mari McGovern and her family, the gentle Golden Retriever was able to blossom on their ranch in the Willamette Valley, and his difficult start in life was followed by many happy years of kids, Frisbees, and exploring the forest.
Then in 2010, Woody was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that is more common in dogs than people. McGovern’s vet referred her to the oncology unit at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH). There, doctors told her that, in order to stop the spread of the cancer, Woody’s left rear leg would have to be amputated. They were heartbroken, and to make things worse, it was just a few days before Christmas. “They took him in on Christmas eve and performed the surgery that saved his life,” says McGovern.
When her family returned to the hospital on Christmas day to see how Woody was recovering, they were amazed when he came running out with his usual happy face!
Osteosarcoma is challenging to treat, in both humans and dogs (it tends to resist chemotherapy), so Woody’s prognosis was not great: another year at best. Fortunately, the VTH had just agreed to collaborate on a research project on osteosarcoma that offered more hope for Woody.
Developed by Drs. Charles Keller and Lara Davis at the Oregon Health & Science University, the Osteosarcoma Research Project enrolls OSU dogs for clinical trials of a new approach to treatment: Instead of choosing chemotherapy drugs based on a best guess of what would work, doctors took a sample of Woody’s cancer cells and sent them to OHSU where a large selection of the latest cancer drugs were tested on cell cultures developed from his tissue. The drug that had the biggest impact was selected for Woody.
“We try to increase the chances of hitting the right drug at the start, rather than doing a shotgun approach, “ says VTH Dr. Shay Bracha. “Before, if you had 100 patients with osteosarcoma, they would all get the same drug because the assumption was that bone cancer all behaves the same. But we know for many years now that the cancer of each individual is very different.”
Usually the average survival time for a dog diagnosed with osteosarcoma is about a year. Woody lived for nearly three years. When you consider that this is one-fifth of a dog’s life span, it was quite a dramatic result and very inspiring for the doctors collaborating on the project. “It was an impressive remission,” says Bracha.
In his favor, Woody’s disease was diagnosed before there were signs of cancer in his lungs. This rarely happens; by the time most dogs see a vet, x-rays show the osteosarcoma has spread to the lungs. This was the case for another patient in the osteosarcoma study: a big, furry German Shepard named Nuit.
Nuit is currently receiving the same personalized treatment that Woody had, but Nuit already showed tumors in his lungs by the time he came to the VTH. He was given a matched drug and in less than a year, two of the masses in his lungs had disappeared completely. “Usually, when you can see lung masses, the progression of the disease is very fast – three months and they are dead,” says Bracha. “He is a year out and doing fantastic.” In fact, last month his x-ray was completely clear.
Most of the dogs in the osteosarcoma project have had equally good results, but not all. “We still need to figure out many things,” says Bracha, “but when it works, it is phenomenal.
Osteosarcoma is also a devastating disease in children – in fact, although it only accounts for 2% of cancer cases, it is responsible for 10% of all pediatric cancer deaths. The information gathered in the joint OHSU/OSU osteosarcoma project will benefit human treatment also. “They are doing some of these trials in children as well, but we can learn a lot from the dogs,” says Bracha. “Statistically, there are many more dogs with this disease than children. Because the progression of the disease is very, very similar in the dog, it makes sense to study the disease in both species.” Another benefit: Dogs have shorter lifespans so the study can collect data fast.
OSU has completed the pilot phase of the study. Currently, Dr. Bracha and another OSU researcher, Dr. Milan Milovancev, are fundraising to finance the next phase. “We still have a lot of data to collect,” says Bracha. “We have to get a large number of patients from different institutions – that is always the gold standard to do a multi-institutional study with big cohorts of patients to have statistically significant findings.”
Dr. Bracha has been treating dogs with cancer for nearly ten years. “We get very, very attached to our patients. We see them on a weekly basis for months, years sometimes. They become a big part of our lives so it is devastating when we lose them, and it’s a huge celebration when they surpass the average survival rate and do better,” he says. “Then they come and they wag their tail.” Despite the emotional roller coaster, Dr. Bracha views oncology as his mission. “It’s a privilege to do something that may change the survival or prognosis for dogs and for people,” he says.
Woody died last spring. Although they miss him very much, his family will always remember the contribution he made to science. “We were so fortunate to be given the opportunity to be part of the program,” say McGovern. “The experimental drugs allowed us two-and-a-half more years with him, and for that we will be eternally grateful. We hope the information gathered from Woody’s case study will be helpful to children and teens facing this terrible disease. Woody would have wanted it that way!”
Kanip is a three-foot tall, fluffy alpaca with big brown eyes. Physically, she doesn’t stand out from the crowd of 26 alpacas and 6 llamas that live on Mary Warbin’s farm in LaCenter, Washington, but Kanip is not an average alpaca.
For one thing, she is unusually vocal; she grumbles, clucks, and screeches. And when she is anxious or unhappy, she really let’s it rip. She may be curly and cute, but her screams are ear-splitting. “We got her from a farm in Ohio and they had named her Conniption Fit,” says Warbin. “I thought, ‘Who in the world would name an alpaca Conniption Fit?’ Well, it describes her perfectly.”
After the birth of her first baby, Kanip was a reluctant mom. She refused to nurse, so Warbin had to bottle-feed the newborn. “Every time I touched the baby, Kanip would scream at me.” One morning, after many nights sleeping in the barn, feeding the baby, Warbin woke up to find Kanip snuggled at her feet. Then the new mom got up and started nursing her baby. “Since then I am her best friend,” says Warbin. “We are now very close.”
Last year, Warbin went out to the pasture and was surprised when Kanip didn’t come to greet her. She soon realized that something was very wrong. “She could not get up,” says Warbin. “I called the vet but by the time he arrived, she was up and walking normally.”
Then, last month, it happened again. “She was on the ground screaming,” says Warbin. This time she could not get up so Warbin and her husband carried her into the trailer and drove her to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH). X-rays revealed that both her rear knee caps had dislocated and shifted off to one side.
A knee cap that shifts out of position is known as a luxated patella. The condition is fairly common in dogs, but is rare in alpacas. In most cases, a luxated patella is caused by a congenital deformity in the groove where the patella sits; the groove is not deep enough to hold the knee cap in place.
Dr. Michael Huber, a veterinary surgeon with 33 years of experience, is an expert at handling difficult cases like Kanip’s. “It was challenging because both limbs were involved – she did not have a good leg to stand on,” says Huber. “The knee caps were loose and moving both medially and laterally [to the inside and outside]. Since it is usually just to the outside, this indicates severe instability.”
He explained to Warbin that Kanip’s kneecaps could be fixed with a surgical technique called trochlear recession and soft tissue imbrication. The surgery would deepen the groove in the leg bone where the knee cap sits and tighten the bands of tissue that hold it in in place.
Fourth-year student, Christina Crawford, was assigned to large animal hospital rounds when Kanip first arrived. She provided much of the basic care the alpaca received before and after her surgery. “Kanip was quite shy when she first arrived,” says Crawford. “We moved slowly and talked quietly around her. We discovered that she really enjoyed being petted right behind her ears, and that seemed to calm her.”
The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has the largest group of board certified veterinary specialists in Oregon, so complicated surgeries are often a team effort. For Kanip’s surgery, Huber consulted with small animal surgeon Dr. Wendy Baltzer, who had performed this procedure on dogs. Huber also had the benefit of onsite anesthesiology specialists. “They provided controlled, prolonged anesthesia and monitoring,” he says.
Kanip had some complications, including a shift of one patella due to a post-surgery fracture of the stabilizing bone. Once Huber fixed that issue, Kanip was able to take advantage of the hospital’s extensive rehabilitation unit, primarily used for dogs and cats. “Kanip was the first large animal to have planned physical therapy at the VTH,” says Huber. “Treatment included cold laser therapy, limb manipulation, and electrical muscle stimulation. It had a major role in her recovery.”
As a student, Crawford valued the learning experience of working alongside Dr. Huber’s team and caring for Kanip. “I learned that a case can take unexpected turns, and that you should not give up because they can have excellent results.”
“The students were very important in her recovery,” says Warbin. “They provided the pampering and babying she needs because she is so emotional. Without them, she would not have recovered so quickly.”
Six weeks after her surgery, Kanip is nearly back to normal. “She has been a wonder. She has picked up her pace and is even walking up inclines,” says Warbin. “ One day her baby was startled and landed on Kanip’s back leg. I freaked out but everything held and she was okay.”
Dr. Huber is also pleased with the results. “Kanip was a special patient; very vocal with some ‘human’ responses and emotions. I understand Mary’s connection to her.”
In fact, that connection is now so strong, Warbin has built a new home for Kanip and her baby between the house and the alpaca pens where the rest of the herd lives. “She is part of our family so we built her stall right next to our deck so she can be near us.”
It doesn’t sound very enjoyable, but 18,000 of your fellow citizens have signed up to participate in the American Gut Project ̶̶ before it has even started.
Researchers at universities around country will be recruiting large numbers of people to contribute samples of the microbes that live in their intestines. The goal of the project is to collect a large database of information about these bugs, and they will use genome sequencing to differentiate and identify hundreds of different species.
With the advent of microprocessors in the 1990’s, computers were able to handle massive amounts of information. This allowed scientists to take a small peice of DNA and map the entire genetic code of an organism in a process called genome sequencing. In the last decade, improvements in the technology behind this process have made it more accessible and less expensive, and a whole new branch of biomedical research has resulted: The study of the microbial community in a human intestine.
In the intestines, billions and billions of microbes, with colorful names like Bifidobacterium infantis and Lactobacillus acidophilus, live and function in a symbiotic relationship with each other, and with your own cells. Many of the critters that live in your gut cannot be grown in a laboratory test tube so their function, or even their existence, was unknown before genome sequencing. Now that scientists know what is there, they are discovering how important these bugs are in digesting our food, building our immune systems, maintaining stable glucose levels, and other jobs that are critically important to good health.
At the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Natalia Shulzhenko is working on the frontier of this new science. Trained as a medical doctor, Shulzhenko became interested in the bugs that inhabit the gut while working at the National Institute of Health. One of her projects discovered a three-way interaction, or crosstalk, between the immune system, the intestinal lining, and intestinal bugs. When this communication was disrupted in mice, it led to poor absorption of fats and malnutrition. “We realized that what happens in the gut is not only about our own cells but about the microbes that live there. They have huge powers,” she says.
Johnny Cash is a gentle giant. He doesn’t play the guitar (not yet, anyway) but he is a favorite with the kids taking Hunter-Jumper classes at Quiet Rein Riding School in Portland.
You would think a 1,400 pound Thoroughbred/Shire cross might scare a child just learning to ride, but he’s so sweet-tempered that trainer Jill McGrady uses him as a demonstration horse in her beginning classes. “He’s a dreamboat,” says owner Jill Taylor. “Not spooky and very safe.” Cash is also a bit of a character and has learned to zip and unzip people’s jackets with his mouth.
Last year, Taylor began to notice some ‘funniness’ in his hind end but it didn’t affect his gait or enthusiasm for events. “He always went great,” she says. However, when a potential new owner put him through his paces and then conducted a neurological exam, he reacted by nearly falling down.
Taylor took Cash to OSU Veterinary Hospital where Dr. John Schlipf did a complete neurological work up. Although he only rated a 1+ on a neurological scale where 5 is the worst, radiographs and a mylogram revealed compression of two vertebral joints in his lower neck. Schlipf thought Cash was a good candidate for Spinal Basket Surgery and explained the procedure to Taylor, who agreed.
The history of Spinal Basket Surgery begins with a famous horse and, remarkably, ends with human medicine. Several decades ago Dr. George Bagby, an orthopaedic surgeon from Spokane, Washington invented “Bagby’s Basket,” a small, hollow metal cylinder with perforated walls. He designed it to restore lost disc height resulting from a collapsed disc. When the basket, packed with bone graft, is inserted into the space between two vertebrae, the graft begins to grow through the perforated walls eventually forming a solid bond that holds the vertebrae in position.
The surgery became well-known in the horse community when Bagby and Dr. Barrie Grant, an equine surgeon at Washington State University, performed the surgery on Seattle Slew, who was diagnosed with “Wobbler’s Syndrome,” a degenerative condition causing serious neck instability. The doctors implanted the metal basket into Seattle Slew’s spine, successfully relieving his pain and saving him from certain death.
After Seattle Slew’s surgery made the news, Dr. Stephen Kuslich, a spine surgeon from Minneapolis, Minnesota converted Dr. Bagby’s design into a basket suitable for human use. Dr. Kuslich’s device was made of titanium and designed for the posterior lower part of the spine. It quickly caught the attention of his peers, and is now commonly used in human back surgery.
Dr. Grant now has a private practice where he consults exclusively on Wobbler’s syndrome and travels all over the country performing Spinal Basket Surgery on horses. The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has brought him to Corvallis several times to operate on horses in their care. “He has probably done more of this procedure than anyone and has truly perfected the technique,” says Schlipf. “Getting the depth and implant placement and alignment correct is critical.”
Cash bounced right back from the surgery. “As soon as we got home, he was back to his sassy self,” says Taylor. “He is moving around so well, you wouldn’t know he had surgery except for his shaved hair.”
Dr. Schlipf advised two months of stall rest for Cash. Taylor knows this will be difficult for the big horse so she bought him some Jolly Balls and other toys and is encouraging everyone at Quiet Rein to give him lots of attention and love. At the end of two months, Taylor will start rehabilitation exercises and hand-walking him.
According to Dr. Schlipf, seventy percent of horses who have undergone Spinal Basket Surgery improve at least one grade on the neurological scale. Since Cash was rated a 1+ before surgery, his chances for a complete recovery are good. “Will he improve enough to go back to his vocation as a jumper? Only time will tell,” says Schlipf. “It will be twelve to eighteen months before we know what his final neurological status and function as an athlete will be.”
Bear loves to go for walks with his parents, Gary and Marsha Hettman. And, of course, being a retriever, nothing makes him happier than a nice, long swim.
Four years ago, while hanging out in the living room with his family, Bear just fell down for no discernible reason. “Looking back, we had heard him fall several times out of our sight, which we attributed to him slipping on our hardwood floors,” says Marsha. But she was shocked to watch him drop right in front of her. So she took Bear to the family vet, OSU alum Dr. Dan Lewer, who detected a problem with Bear’s heartbeat and immediately contacted the cardiology department at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The following Monday, Bear was in surgery and a pacemaker was implanted next to his heart. The procedure went well and, after several weeks of rest, he resumed normal activity. “He was out running and playing and enjoying life to the fullest,” says Marsha.
Pacemakers are relatively simple devices that consist of a battery, a computerized generator, and a wire. The wire, also called a lead, feeds through a vein connecting the generator to the heart. When sensors on the lead tell the computer that the heart is not beating properly, the generator sends electrical pulses to the heart.
Each year 600,000 pacemakers are implanted in humans. But, despite 78 million pet dogs in the U.S., only 300 pacemakers are implanted in dogs each year.
Veterinary cardiologists are still researching, studying and working on ways to optimize pacemaker procedures in dogs. Bear was about to help them advance veterinary medicine.
Joe Davie is 27 years old and that makes him a senior citizen.
Joe is an American Quarter Horse. Calm, sturdy, and athletic, Quarter Horses are best known for competing in rodeos and riding off into the sunset in western movies.
Just like an old cowboy, Joe is unsentimental and no-nonsense. “He’s not the most affectionate horse,” says owner Julie Davie.” He’s a bit of an independent guy. But he has good common sense, thinks about things and stays out of trouble.”
Davie has been riding Joe for nearly 20 years, exploring the Oregon countryside together. “He’s not spooky; he will go ahead through things. He’s a super trail horse,” she says.
Last year, Joe was off his feed and obviously not feeling well, so Davie took him to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital thinking he had colic. Doctors ordered a series of tests and found cancer cells in his stomach fluid. A clinical pathologist in the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory identified the cells as lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that is rare in horses.
Chris is a veteran of the Gulf War who lives in a converted bus in southern Oregon with her assistance dog, Merlin. She got Merlin from a non-profit organization where he was specially trained to retrieve her inhalers when she is suffering from a debilitating asthma attack. Many Gulf War veterans attribute their post-service asthma to the hundreds of oil well fires that blackened the skies of Kuwait in the early 1990s. Chris also suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Merlin is her only close companion.
Last year, Merlin developed Aspergillus, a fungal infection in his nose and sinuses. Merlin’s veterinarian treated him by flushing his sinuses with an anti-fungal but the infection proved stubborn and repeat treatments were needed. Then Chris went in for surgery and developed a serious bone infection that kept her in the hospital longer than planned. Worried about her dog and with no one to turn to, she called a former neighbor, Kim Haines, and asked her to check on Merlin.
A little, nine-pound cat with a dicey history is trying to give Benny Beaver a run for his money in the mascot department. The cat’s journey from critically-ill stray to Beaver Believer began at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, Oregon.
A unique partnership exists between the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) and the College of Veterinary Medicine at OSU. It began in 2007 with the opening of the Animal Medical Learning Center (AMLC), a full-service animal hospital adjoining the OHS shelter. At the center, veterinary students from OSU live onsite in dorms and take two-week clinical courses in primary care as part of their graduation requirement. They join OSU veterinary faculty and the OHS medical staff, working on everything from diagnoses to surgery. It’s a win-win collaboration and, as the first program of its kind in the nation, has become a model for other universities to follow. The benefits of the program to veterinary students and the Humane Society are obvious but for Pebble the cat, the partnership between OSU and OHS was a life saver.