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Nine Grants For Feline Health Studies

Winn Feline Foundation

Vicki Thayer DVM, DABVP (Feline)
Executive Director
888-963-6946, extension 702
Media Info

Steve Dale, CABC
Media Contact and Winn Board Member
888-963-6946, extension 703
Media Info

For Immediate Release

Wyckoff, NJ, March 1, 2013: The Winn Feline Foundation is pleased to announce the award of nine feline medical research grants funded through the generous support of private and corporate donations from around the world. Winn Board President Vicki Thayer, DVM, DABVP (feline) commented, “We had a very large pool of grant proposals this year, and were impressed by the scope of studies and commitment of the researchers. The review committee considered 59 proposals and, based on a number of criteria including the quality of the science, impact of results and available funding, selected the top nine studies by consensus. This year we awarded $176,752 in grants for studies on a variety of diseases including asthma, FIP, cardiomyopathy in Norwegian Forest Cats, ringworm, pain management, kidney disease and tear disorders of the eyes.”

Grants were awarded for the following research studies:

In vivo efficacy study of virus protease inhibitors against feline coronaviruses in a mouse model

(W13-020) Bria Fund. Principal Investigator: Yunjeong Kim; Kansas State University; $19,920

Despite the importance of FIP as the leading infectious cause of death in young cats, there is no specific treatment approved for FIP. Therefore, it is highly desirable to develop antiviral drugs for FIP to prolong the length and quality of life for cats affected by this devastating disease. The feline coronavirus uses protease enzymes for virus replication. These researchers recently discovered novel inhibitors against the feline coronavirus 3CL protease, and these inhibitors potently inhibited the replication of feline coronaviruses in cells. The goal of this project is to test the antiviral activity of protease inhibitors in a mouse model.

Host immune response of feline kidney cells to pathogenic and non-pathogenic feline coronavirus strains: Developing biomarkers for FIP
(W13-019) Bria Fund. Principal Investigator: Yvonne Drechsler, PhD and Pedro Diniz, DVM, PhD; Western University of Health Sciences; $25,000

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a devastating disease cause by a coronavirus that is almost always fatal, especially in young cats. It causes subtle onset of signs such as persistent fever that does not respond to treatment, weight loss, and sometimes fluid accumulation in the abdomen and chest. FIP remains one of the most difficult diseases to definitively diagnose in feline medicine. There is also very limited information on how the immune system of an infected cat responds to the virus. The feline coronavirus occurs in two different forms, one infecting the gut causing only mild symptoms (FECV, feline enteric coronavirus) and the second one causing the fatal disease (FIPV). There is currently no method to distinguish between those two forms and no information on the difference in immune response to these viruses. The goal of this study is to investigate the immune response of various feline cells infected by FIPV and FECV to identify markers that can be used to distinguish between the two virus forms in order to better understand the immunity of infected cats. These results will enable researchers to develop better diagnostics and improved treatments for FIP.

Phenotypic characterization of feline cardiomyopathy in Norwegian Forest cats using echocardiography, plasma biomarkers and histopathology

(W13-029) Breed Study Norwegian Forest cats. Principal Investigator: Virginia Luis Fuentes; Royal Veterinary College, University of London; $23,577;

Norwegian Forest cats (NFC) are at risk of an inherited form of heart muscle disease (NFC cardiomyopathy) that can result in heart failure and early death in young cats. The diagnosis can be confirmed by necropsy. Mild thickening of heart muscle may be present in less severely affected cats despite an outwardly healthy appearance. The disease usually goes undetected without special diagnostic tests, as most affected cats are normal on a physical exam. An ultrasound exam of the heart (echocardiogram) is the standard test used, but must be carried out by trained, experienced cardiologists for accurate results, thus limiting the availability of this test. Preliminary studies suggest that even for trained cardiologists, NFC cardiomyopathy may be particularly difficult to identify with a heart ultrasound test in the early stages. New blood tests (biomarkers) are showing promise as a means of identifying early heart disease in cats, and could be particularly useful in NFC cardiomyopathy. This study will compare the results of a heart ultrasound with the newer blood tests (‘NT-proBNP’ and ‘hsTnI’) as a means of identifying cats with NFC cardiomyopathy. DNA samples will also be stored from each screened cat to be used in genetic studies looking for the inherited mutation responsible for NFC cardiomyopathy. Identifying the underlying genetic mutation could lead to a blood test or even cheek swab test for identifying cats with NFC cardiomyopathy, thus making it easier for breeders to exclude affected cats from the breeding population.

Longitudinal evaluation of effects of mesenchymal stem cells in feline chronic allergic asthma: Phase II

(W13-002) Principal Investigator: Carol Reinero, DVM, DACVIM, PhD, University of Missouri, $24,983

Asthma is a common breathing disorder in cats, decreasing quality of life and sometimes causing death. Currently asthma is managed using corticosteroids, which have many unpleasant side effects or may not be appropriate for cats with concurrent diseases like diabetes. Importantly, these medications only suppress inflammation and do nothing to reverse the underlying abnormal immune response that triggers the asthmatic syndrome. There is a need for new safe and effective treatments for feline asthma. Pilot data from an earlier Winn-funded study indicates that stem cells can be administered safely and alter some aspects of the immune response initially after administration. Other exciting data suggests the most dramatic response to stem cell therapy occurs months after administration. This study will continue the earlier work with evaluation of the long term effects of stem cells on the key features of asthma, which include airway inflammation and airway constriction.

Detection of dermatophytosis in cats by PCR
(W13-012) Principal Investigator: Stephen Kania, PhD and Linda Frank, MS, DVM, DACVD; University of Tennessee; $10,670

Ringworm is a condition affecting cats that is caused by a fungal infection. Humans and pets can acquire ringworm from infected cats. Shelter cats are at high risk and should be screened before being introduced to other pets. The current method of testing, fungal culture, may take weeks to provide a definitive answer. This study involves the development of molecular techniques to provide rapid diagnosis so cats can be effectively treated, thus reducing the threat of owners and other pets contracting ringworm.

Investigating feline morbillivirus molecular epidemiology in cats in the North Eastern United States and potential associations with chronic kidney disease (W13-042) Principal Investigator: Claire Sharp and Martin Ludlow; Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine; $24,734

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has been described by distinguished researchers as feline enemy number one, since it is very common and associated with high morbidity and mortality. Frustratingly, despite considerable research in the field, we still do not know what causes CKD in cats. Recently, a newly discovered virus, called feline morbillivirus (FMV) was associated with CKD in cats in Hong Kong and China. FMV is related to other viruses that cause serious disease in other species such as distemper virus in dogs, and measles virus in people. Given the potentially huge implications of this virus for cats, this group proposes to further investigate this virus in cats in the United States. The objectives of the proposed study are to attempt to identify FMV in cats in New England and evaluate for a potential association between FMV infection and CKD in cats. Additionally, isolation of the virus will be vital in order to perform future studies evaluating the disease causing potential of this virus.

Novel methods for assessing the tear film and ocular surface in cats
(W13-044) Principal Investigator: David J. Maggs; University of California-Davis; $21,665

In all species, including cats, the surface of the eye is coated by a thin film of tears, critical for comfort, eye health, and vision. The tear film improves vision, provides corneal lubrication, nutrition, and protection from infection, and flushes debris from the ocular surface. The tear film is composed of three layers: an outer lipid layer, a middle aqueous layer, and an inner mucous layer. Abnormalities in these tear layers are associated with rapid evaporation of the tears and drying of the conjunctiva and cornea, which is highly painful and potentially blinding. Tear film abnormalities are an important part of many common feline diseases such as dry eye, feline herpesvirus, Chlamydia and Mycoplasma infections, where they lead to increased discomfort and exacerbate inflammation. Despite this, current understanding of the feline tear film and methods of assessing it are rudimentary.

Although “artificial tear” eye-drops provide temporary relief in such conditions, they require accurate and convenient tests to identify the affected tear film layer and for monitoring response to treatment. Recently, new, non-painful, tests have been developed for diagnosing and monitoring tear film disorders in humans. It is predicted that these tests will have similar value in cats. Therefore, in this study the researchers will establish normal values for these new tests in cats. This information will be of immediate use to veterinarians worldwide because it will allow early diagnosis and treatment of tear film abnormalities in cats, which will minimize ocular pain and the potential for severe or chronic complications.

Pain Management in Cats: Studying the Interaction of Buprenorphine and Hydromorphone with Fentanyl
(W13-046) Principal Investigator: Barbara Ambros; Western College of Veterinary Medicine-University of Saskatchewan; $2878

Opioids are considered the best type of pain medication for moderate to severe pain in cats after undergoing surgery or trauma. Common opioids include morphine, buprenorphine, hydromorphone and fentanyl. When an opioid binds to an opioid receptor, it causes an analgesic (pain alleviating) response. Buprenorphine is deemed preferable over other opioids because its effects last longer and it has limited side effects. Although buprenorphine binds very strongly to opioid receptors in the central nervous system, it does not achieve a maximal analgesic response. Therefore, it may be necessary to supplement use of buprenorphine with a more powerful opioid. However, the unique binding behavior of buprenorphine might leave more powerful opioids, such as fentanyl, relatively ineffective if the two drugs are used together.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the analgesic interaction between buprenorphine and fentanyl in cats. The hypothesis is that pre-treatment with buprenorphine will decrease the pain relieving action of fentanyl. Researchers will also investigate the interaction between hydromorphone and fentanyl. Hydromorphone and fentanyl have a similar binding affinity to the opioid receptor and expect an increased pain relieving effect when these drugs are combined.

Pain relief will be tested using thermal and mechanical pain thresholds as a direct indicator of pain. This method is a humane method of assessing pain and is in accordance with Winn’s humane policies. An increase in pain threshold to a thermal or pressure stimulus will be used to give an adequate representation of clinical analgesia. These findings will be used to guide veterinarians in drug selection for pre-surgical pain management or treatment for trauma in cats.

A Reproducible Protocol to Isolate a Characterized Population of Adult Feline Progenitor Cells – Continuation
(W13-053) Principal Investigator: Mandi J. Lopez, DVM, MS, PhD and Nan Zhang; Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine; $23,325

Adult stem cells have significant promise to fulfill medical needs of feline companions. An earlier Winn-funded study developed a way to isolate enough stem cells from adipose tissue (fat) removed during routine castration for standard treatments. This study will expand upon this success by further improving the technique to isolate those cells that are best for transplantation into cats that are not related to the donor. The ultimate goal is to isolate stem cells from tissues removed during elective castration with the best tissue formation in cats with limited healing capacity due to injury or disease.
Cells will initially be selected based on the presence of stem cell proteins on their surfaces. They will then be subdivided into three groups depending on whether or not they express proteins that allow the immune system to distinguish self from foreign cells. The growth rate and ability to turn into different tissues will be compared among the groups before and after cryopreservation. It is predicted that stem cells that do not express the “self” complexes will have better tissue generation and faster growth rates than those that do.

This study will provide vital information about a “universal” stem cell pool with the best tissue formation and least likelihood for rejection when used to treat feline patients. The results will significantly enhance knowledge surrounding adult stem cell therapies in feline compa

About Winn Feline Foundation
The Winn Feline Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1968 that supports studies to improve cat health. Since 1968, the Winn Feline Foundation has funded more than $4 million in health research for cats at more than 30 partner institutions world-wide. For further information, go to www.winnfelinefoundation.org.