Category Archives: research

A biological trigger for canine bone cancer?

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine have identified the biological mechanism that may give some cancer cells the ability to form tumors in dogs.

Yurtie, a canine cancer patient, in the UW Veterinary Care oncology ward.  Photo: Nik Hawkins

Yurtie, a canine cancer patient, in the UW Veterinary Care oncology ward.
Photo: Nik Hawkins

The recent study uncovered an association between the increased expression of a particular gene in tumor cells and more aggressive behavior in a form of canine bone cancer. It may also have implications for human cancers by detailing a new pathway for tumor formation.

The findings of the research have been published  in the journal Veterinary and Comparative Oncology and may eventually provide oncologists with another target for therapy and improve outcomes for canine patients with the disease.

The researchers examined cell lines generated from dogs with osteosarcoma, a common bone cancer that also affects people, with the intent of uncovering why only some cells generate tumors. After the dogs underwent tumor-removal surgery, cells from the tumors were grown in the lab.

This led to six different cancer cell lines, which were then transplanted into mice. The researchers then looked to see which lines developed tumors and which did not and studied the differences between them.

“We found several hundred genes that expressed differently between the tumor-forming and nontumor-forming cell lines,” said Timothy Stein, an assistant professor of oncology. However, one protein called frizzled-6 was present at levels eight times higher in cells that formed tumors.

“It’s exciting because it’s kind of uncharted territory,” says Stein “While we need more research to know for sure, it’s possible that frizzled-6 expression may be inhibiting a particular signaling pathway and contributing to the formation of tumor-initiating cells.”

The team’s genetic research will continue on dogs and be extended to humans.

Source:  University of Wisconsin-Madison media release

Infection control guidelines for animal visitation

The use of dogs in hospitals and other therapy institutions is on the rise, as more medical professionals acknowledge the positive effects of dogs on human patients.

New expert guidance by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) outlines recommendations for developing policies regarding the use of animals in healthcare facilities, including animal-assisted activities, service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation in acute care hospitals.

The guidance was published online in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of SHEA.

“Animals have had an increasing presence in healthcare facilities,” said David Weber, MD, MPH, a lead author of the recommendations. “While there may be benefits to patient care, the role of animals in the spread of bacteria is not well understood. We have developed standard infection prevention and control guidance to help protect patients and healthcare providers via animal-to-human transmission in healthcare settings.”

Guidance is grouped by the role of animals – animal-assisted activities (i.e., pet therapy and volunteer programs), service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation. Select recommendations include:

Animal-Assisted Activities

  • Facilities should develop a written policy for animal-assisted activities. An animal-assisted activity visit liaison should be designated.
  • Allow only dogs to serve in animal-assisted activities, such as pet therapy.
  • Animals and handlers should be formally trained and evaluated.
  • Animal interaction areas should be determined in collaboration with the Infection Prevention and Control team and clinical staff should be educated about the program.
  • Animal handlers must have all required immunizations, restrict contact of their animal to patient(s) visited and prevent the animal from having contact with invasive devices, and require that everyone who touches the animal to practice hand hygiene before and after contact.
  • The hospital should maintain a log of all animal-assisted activities visits including rooms and persons visited for potential contact tracing.

Service Animals

  • The policy allowing service animals of patients and visitors into the facility should be compliant with the Federal Americans for Disability Act (ADA), other applicable state and local regulations and include a statement that only dogs and miniature horses are recognized as Service Animals under federal law.
  • If an inpatient has a service animal, notification should be made to the Infection Prevention and Control Team, followed by discussion with the patient to make sure the owner of the service animal complies with institutional policies.
  • Healthcare providers or staff may ask the patient or visitor to describe what work/tasks the dog performs for the patient, but may not ask for a “certification” or “papers.”

Personal Pet Visitation

  • Pets should, in general, be prohibited from entering the healthcare facility.
  • Exceptions can be considered if the healthcare team determines that visitation with a pet would be of benefit to the patient and can be performed with limited risk. Even then, visitation should be restricted to dogs.
  • The patient must perform hand hygiene immediately before and after contact with the animal.

The authors of the guidance also note that as the role of animals in healthcare evolves, there is a need for stronger research to establish evidence-based guidelines to manage the risk to patients and healthcare providers.

This guidance on animals in healthcare facilities has been endorsed by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), the leading professional association for infection preventionists with more than 15,000 members.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Previous blogs about therapy dogs include:

Happy faces/sad faces

This is the experimental set-up used to test whether dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces.  Photo by Anjuli Barber, Messerli Research Institute

This is the experimental set-up used to test whether dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces. Photo by Anjuli Barber, Messerli Research Institute

Dogs can tell the difference between happy and angry human faces, according to a research published recently in the journal Cell Biology.

The discovery represents the first solid evidence that an animal other than humans can discriminate between emotional expressions in another species, the researchers say.

Previous attempts had been made to test whether dogs could discriminate between human emotional expressions, but none of them had been completely convincing. In the new study, the researchers trained dogs to discriminate between images of the same person making either a happy or an angry face. In every case, the dogs were shown only the upper or the lower half of the face. After training on 15 picture pairs, the dogs’ discriminatory abilities were tested in four types of trials, including (1) the same half of the faces as in the training but of novel faces, (2) the other half of the faces used in training, (3) the other half of novel faces, and (4) the left half of the faces used in training.

The dogs were able to select the angry or happy face more often than would be expected by random chance in every case, the study found. The findings show that not only could the dogs learn to identify facial expressions, but they were also able to transfer what they learned in training to new cues.

“Our study demonstrates that dogs can distinguish angry and happy expressions in humans, they can tell that these two expressions have different meanings, and they can do this not only for people they know well, but even for faces they have never seen before,” says Ludwig Huber, senior author and head of the group at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna’s Messerli Research Institute.

This research adds to the body of knowledge about the human-animal bond.  The researchers believe it is likely that the dogs associate a smile with a positive meaning and an angry expression with a negative one.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

 

Hear bark or C-Barq?

I’ve just signed Izzy up so we can complete a C-Barq questionnaire for her.

I know what you are thinking:  you don’t ‘see’ barks, you hear them.  Well actually, C-Barq stands for ‘Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire’ and it’s another example of citizen – or participatory – science.

Created by Dr. James Serpell who is a behaviorist at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society (CIAS) in Pennsylvania, the questionnaire is designed to provide dog owners and professionals with standardized evaluations of temperament and behavior.    The Center is based within the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn University medicine

Tested extensively for reliability and validity on large samples of dogs of many breeds,  the current version consists of 101 questions describing the different ways in which dogs typically respond to common events, situations, and stimuli in their environment. It should take about 15 minutes to complete (I haven’t done this yet).

Please pay attention, however, to the sign-in page where questions are asked about your dog’s breed, background, and behavior.  This helps in coding the answers for analysis.

So far, over 80,000 dogs have been included in the study. Dr Serpell says, “There is no other breed or species of animal with such a wide variety of appearance and behavior.”

Between 10 percent and 15 percent of dogs can show very high levels of aggression, Serpell says, while 20 or 30 percent show no aggression.

Pit bulls and Akitas, popular breeds for fighting and guard dog duty, show serious aggression toward other dogs. But the title for most aggressive overall actually goes to tiny dachshunds, which display heightened aggression toward dogs, strangers and even their owners.

Source:  Science Friday on pri.org

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Canine research goes to the Ivy League

Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center has recruited hundreds of dogs for a study into how the dog’s mind works.

In a puppet show-like performance, dogs watch a rat puppet help a hedgehog up a hill.  In another scene, the rat knocks over the hedgehog.  And the researchers want to know what the dogs think about that…

“Similar studies have been done with human infants, and what you find is that human infants — they don’t like the guy who was mean. And so we’re doing the same thing with dogs to try to see — do dogs morally evaluate as humans do?” Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos said.  Santos is the Director of the Center.

So far, the results show that the dogs are wary of the rat.

In another test, the dog sits and watches as their human sits and reads a book. The human puts the book on the floor behind them and, soon after, the book is taken by someone who comes into the room.

“What we’re really trying to see is whether or not dogs know when they’ve missed some information. Can they realize that, first of all, and when they do realize it, are they motivated to help?” Santos said.

Consistently, the dogs not only realize something is wrong, but they also seem to be trying to alert their companions.  Owners regularly give feedback that they believe their dog is observant and knows what they are thinking.  This research seems to back up those (amateur and probably biased) observations.

So far, Yale researchers have tested 300 dogs and found that the dog mind is much more complex than they originally thought.  There’s more work to be done and thousands of dogs on their waiting list…

Source:  CBS News

Can people make their pets happy?

Researchers from Nestlé Purina Petcare are conducting some of the first studies of their kind into how external stimuli can generate joyful emotions in dogs.

While scientific evidence demonstrates that owning a pet can help lower people’s blood pressure, and reduce anxiety and depression, less is known about whether human contact has a similarly beneficial effect on animals’ emotional wellbeing.
A technique being used in this research is thermal imaging:  as blood flow changes to a part of the body, the temperature will also change.

Photo courtesy of Nestle Purina

Photo courtesy of Nestle Purina

Researchers use a thermal camera to measure these temperature fluctuations in pets’ eyes, ears and paw pads.

“Scientists have known for years how to evaluate negative states such as stress and anxiety in animals,” said Ragen T.S. McGowan, Nestlé Purina Petcare behaviour scientist. “Less is known about how to measure positive states such as happiness or excitement.”

“Thermal imaging has been widely used in animal welfare studies, to assess inflammation in racehorses, for example, or to see how certain conditions affect livestock’s stress levels,” she continued.

“This is one of the first times it being used to measure positive responses in pets.”

Source:  Nestlé Purina media release

Pet therapy and how it helps cancer patients

Therapy dogs may improve the emotional well-being of some cancer patients, according to results of a clinical study, the first to document the benefits of animal-assisted therapy in adult cancer patients. The research was published this month in the Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology.

The results show a significant improvement in quality of life for more than 40 patients who took part in a trial at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City, where they interacted with therapy dogs following chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

The study, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, found that patients receiving intensive multi-modal radiation therapy and chemotherapy for gastrointestinal, head or neck cancers experienced increases in emotional well-being and quality of life when they received visits from a certified therapy dog during the course of their treatment.

Increases in emotional well-being were significant over the course of the animal-assisted visits, even as patients underwent marked and significant declines in both physical and functional well-being.

“This study is the first such definitive study in cancer, and it highlights the merits of animal- assisted visits using the same scientific standards as we hold for the cancer treatment itself. It shows the importance of an innovative environmental intervention during cancer treatment,” said Stewart B. Fleishman, MD, principal investigator and Founding Director of Cancer Supportive Services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. “Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved their quality of life and ‘humanized’ a high-tech treatment,” he said. “Patients said they would have stopped their treatments before completion, except for the presence of the certified Good Dog Foundation therapy dog and volunteer handler.”

“Thanks to this rigorously designed study, we now have strong evidence that pet therapy is an effective tool to help cancer patients get through challenging treatments,” said Gabriel A. Sara, MD, Medical Director, Infusion Suite at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The study has been called another piece of ‘mounting evidence’ of how the human-animal bond can enhance emotional and physical health.

If you would like to pass on the journal article to your oncologist/hospital provider,  you can access it here.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

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