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Winn Awards $190,649 In Eleven 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
Media Info

For Immediate Release

Wyckoff, NJ,
April 28, 2015: Winn Feline Foundation is pleased to announce the award of eleven feline medical research grants funded through the generous support of private and corporate donations from around the world. Winn Board President Glenn Olah, DVM, PhD, DABVP (Feline) stated, “This year we awarded $190,649 in grants for studies on a variety of cat health issues including tests for ringworm, diagnosing and treating Tritrichomonas foetus, kidney disease, liver disease, urethral obstruction, heart disease in Birman cats and four FIP projects. In addition, Winn renewed its support for continued mapping of the cat genome.  Winn’s Grant Review Committee remains impressed by the scope of studies and commitment of the researchers who submit proposals each year. It is always very competitive as we select the studies that will receive funding. The committee considered 47 proposals and, based on a number of criteria including the quality of the science, impact of results and available funding, recommended the top eleven studies by consensus.”

Winn awarded grants for the following research studies:


Comparing a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test with fungal culture for ringworm.
Principal Investigators: Linda Jacobson, BVScMMedVet, PhD, Lauren McIntyre, RVT, BScH; Toronto Humane Society; $15,375

Ringworm is currently diagnosed by culturing infected hairs and skin scrapings and observing for growth of fungal colonies. If ringworm is confirmed, the animal needs two negative cultures to confirm a cure. Even if the first culture is negative, the cat needs to be held back from adoption for 2 or 3 weeks while waiting for the result. IDEXX Laboratories® has recently developed a rapid test for ringworm that identifies ringworm DNA in hair samples and skin scrapings. The PCR test results are available within 3 business days thus cats could potentially be confirmed ringworm-free, or cured, a full 11-18 days sooner. The goal of this study is to compare the IDEXX Laboratories® PCR test with fungal culture in an animal shelter, to see if the PCR test could replace fungal culture for early diagnosis of ringworm and for showing that the animal has been cured after treatment. This could save the lives of many shelter cats.

Diagnosis and treatment of feline Tritrichomonas foetus through target surface antigens. (W15-011)
Principal Investigators: M. Katherine Tolbert, DVM PhD, DACVIM, Emily N. Gould DVM; The University of Tennessee; $16,000

Tritrichomonas foetus (Tf) is a protozoal parasite that is a prevalent cause of chronic diarrhea in domestic cats globally. No rapid, bedside assays are available to diagnose this infection. Moreover, only one drug is available to treat feline Tf and this drug is associated with increasing treatment failure and unacceptable side effects. As feline Tf closely resembles other intestinal infections of cats, it can be challenging for veterinarians to rapidly diagnose and treat Tf infection. This research group has previously demonstrated that cat and cattle Tf share common strategies for infecting their hosts. Two surface markers (1.15, 1.17) on bovine Tf participate in establishment of infection and induction of clinical signs. Thus, the aims of this study are to evaluate the expression of 1.15 and 1.17 in feline Tf and to determine if these markers play a role in injury of the intestine. A vaccine against 1.17 is commercially available against bovine Tf. The ultimate result of this study could lead to the development of a novel therapy and/or diagnostic strategy for cats infected with feline Tf.

Transdermal mirtazapine as an appetite stimulant in cats with chronic kidney disease. (W15-018)
Jessica Quimby DVM, PhD, DACVIM; Colorado State University; $10,000

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common progressive disease in elderly cats and inappetence is frequently reported as a clinical sign. Mirtazapine is an appetite stimulant that a previous Winn study demonstrated it to be useful in the management of appetite and weight in cats with CKD. Since poor body condition is associated with a poor prognosis, maintaining nutrition is a key goal of medical management. The medication is currently available in pill form, which presents a problem for cats resistant to pill administration, and potentially interferes with the bond between owner and pet. The purpose of this study is to assess the efficacy of transdermal mirtazapine in stimulating appetite in cats suffering from inappetence associated with CKD.

Feline liver organoids for the study of liver disease. (W15-037)
Principal Investigators: Bart Spee, PhD, Hedwig Kruitwagen, DVM; Utrecht University; $25,000

Liver diseases such as fatty liver disease and inflammatory liver disease are common in cats. Adult stem cells from the liver can be successfully isolated from cat livers and cultured in the laboratory as organoids. These organoids have the same function as the liver and can therefore be used to study diseases and test the effects – and possible side effects – of newly developed drugs. This proposal aims to establish and fully characterize feline liver organoid cultures and test their application to study liver diseases. This study has the potential to greatly advance feline health as these organoids can be used to test new drugs before their application in the clinic.

Effect of Prazocin on recurrence of feline urethral obstruction. (W15-042)
Principal Investigators: Kayla Hanson, DVM, Andrew Linklater DVM, DACVECC; Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists; $9,000

Urethral obstruction (UO) is a common emergency in male cats, having many causes, and although life-threatening, is treatable with appropriate care. There is a high percentage of recurrent urethral obstruction (rUO), defined as the presence of a non-expressible bladder or observed as non-productive straining to urinate as documented by a veterinarian.  Most cases of rUO occur within 2 weeks of discharge and can lead to the need for reconstructive surgery or euthanasia. Prazosin is one of several bladder relaxing drugs used by veterinarians to help treat rUO but there are no controlled clinical studies evaluating the drug in management of feline UO and its use is not considered standard of care at all institutions. This study is a clinical trial evaluating rUO rates in cats treated with a standardized protocol, receiving either prazosin or a placebo (inactive drug) for 7 days following initial presentation. The goal of this study is to provide valuable information regarding the role of prazosin in prevention of short-term rUO and will help guide its use in future cases, perhaps reducing the need for reconstructive surgical procedures and euthanasia.


Evaluating new drug compounds for treating feline coronavirus. (W15-010)
Principal Investigators: Brian Murphy, DVM, PhD, ACVP; Niels Pedersen, DVM, PhD; University of California, Davis; $14,970

Given successes in antiviral therapeutics for HIV, many researchers studying feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) consider antiviral therapy the brightest hope for successful treatment. In addition, rapidly emerging research into related human-animal coronaviruses SARS and MERS has paved the way for dramatic advances in FIP therapeutics. Through optimizing laboratory methods, drug compounds with demonstrated effects against SARS and MERS will be tested for their efficacy against FIP.  A FIP-specific enzyme will also be isolated and produced to create a more sophisticated screening test for such drug compounds. Although FIP is a great challenge, the intent is to identify drug compounds that will successfully treat FIP.


A feline tumor necrosis factor inhibitor for feline infectious peritonitis. (W15-013)
Principal Investigator: Yunjeong Kim, DVM, PhD, ACVIM; Kansas State University; $23,758

FIP is caused by a variant of a feline coronavirus and cats can develop FIP when their cellular immunity is insufficient to fight the virulent disease. As FIP progresses, lymphocyte loss occurs due to increased cell death impairing the cat’s ability to check virus replication. Lymphocyte loss in FIP is reported to be cause by tumor necrosis factor (TNF) -a. The researcher postulates that combined treatment with specific antiviral drugs that inhibit the replication of virus and direct counteraction of the detrimental effects of TNF-α by an inhibitor may lead to a better clinical outcome. The goal of this study is to evaluate suitable expression systems and biological function of a feline TNF-α inhibitor.

Systemic feline coronavirus and its relationship to FIP. (W15-026)
Principal Investigator: Gary R. Whittaker, PhD; Cornell University; $24,967

A critical determinant of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is the ability of the virus to infect white blood cells. The key differences between the viruses infecting the gastrointestinal tract (FECV), white blood cells, and other tissues and organs (FIPV), however, are still not well understood. The goal of this study is to understand the virus present in blood samples, and to identify the viral mutations responsible for spread in the blood. We expect the work proposed here to advance our understanding of both early and late events in FIP disease and to provide critical information on a diagnostic test currently under development in this lab The researcher also hopes to develop a novel, early, therapeutic interventions for treating FIP in the future.

Using small interfering RNA for treatment of feline infectious peritonitis.
W15-030)  Principal Investigators: Emin Anis, PhD; Rebecca Wilkes, DVM, PhD;
The University of Tennessee;

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a fatal disease that is caused by feline coronavirus (FCoV). Cats lack an effective immune response (IR) to the virus and cats with FIP have a profound reduction in a specific white blood cell type (WBCs) that is important for protection of cats from infection. In this study, it is proposed that death of these important WBCs is due to activation of a response called “programmed death” within the cells. Initiation of this response is thought to be due to an overexpression of two proteins on the surface of the WBCs and the interaction of these two proteins. Preliminary evidence supports this hypothesis therefore the study’s goals are to confirm these findings by testing more samples and to evaluate whether blocking WBCs death will enhance the survival of the white blood cells. If shown to be effective, programmed death pathway blocking could be a useful addition to any therapy that specifically targets the virus.


Improving the Feline Reference Genome with PacBio sequencing, a continuation study. (W15-008)
Principal Investigator: William J. Murphy, PhD; Texas A&M University; $24,910

Sequencing of the cat genome has resulted in numerous breakthroughs in the understanding of feline genetic disease. DNA from the female Abyssinian cat, “Cinnamon”, who was used to create the original reference genome will be used to build a single library and generate 8X sequence coverage on the PacBio instrument. This process will help improve the reliability of the feline reference genome and bring it more in line with dog, human and mouse genomes. As a continuation of a funded project from Fall 2014, the results of this study will significantly increase the quality of the feline genome sequence assembly and also sequence the Y chromosome which is less than 10% complete. This new technology will fill gaps in genes and resolve a large number of duplicated gene regions into their proper structure and copies. The results of this study will significantly improve the quality of the feline genome assembly, and increase our ability to map genes that contribute to traits and diseases in different cat breeds.


Phenotypic characteristic of cardiomyopathy in Birman cats. (W15-044)
Principal Investigator: Virginia Luis Fuentes, VetMB, PhD, DACVIM, DECVIM;
Royal Veterinary College, University of London
; $10,169

Birman cats, primarily in Europe, are predisposed to heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy). A crucial question that must be answered before a genetic mutation can be identified is whether the three forms of heart muscle disease are three different diseases with three different causes or whether they are part of a spectrum of one disease with one genetic cause. The plan here is to study Birmans with cardiomyopathy using a combination of cardiac ultrasound (echocardiography), pathology and pedigree analysis, so that the research team can determine the features of these heart muscle diseases. If there is substantial overlap in their ultrasound and pathology characteristics, or they find families of Birmans with multiple members affected by more than one type of cardiomyopathy, they can be more confident that they are dealing with one disease, and so can proceed to genetic research. 

Sponsorship is easy! Simply pick one of the projects below seeking sponsors ($250 minimum donation). Go to our website http://www.winnfelinefoundation.org for more information on the project and to make your sponsorship donation online or download a donation form to mail to: 637 Wyckoff Ave., Suite 336, Wyckoff NJ 07481.

W15-001: Comparing a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to fungal culture for ringworm

W15-026: Systemic feline coronavirus and its relationship to FIP

W15-030: Using small interfering RNA for treatment of FIP

W15-044: Phenotypic characterization of cardiomyopathy in Birman cats

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 over $5 million in health research for cats at more than 30 partner institutions world-wide. For further information, go to www.winnfelinefoundation.org.

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