Driven to help horses: UF launches new mobile equine diagnostic program
|By Sarah Carey
No more driving Miss Daisy long distances when she's sick. University of Florida veterinarians are launching a new program that aims to reduce horse owner travel hassle by taking UF's veterinary diagnostic services on the road.
The Mobile Equine Diagnostic Service, known as MEDS, targets equine veterinarians in private practice and will officially kick off in November. The program is believed to be the only service in the United States that offers a collection of sophisticated equipment coupled with the ability to consult in real time with experts at a veterinary hospital.
"The collaboration between modern medicine and digital technology has advanced the field of medical diagnostics, such that diagnoses that previously could be made only in a hospital setting can now occur at a distant location," said Michael Porter, D.V.M., Ph.D., a board-certified veterinary internist. As director of the MEDS program, Porter will respond to calls from referring veterinarians and provide diagnostic services to their clients throughout Florida and southern Georgia.
Porter is committed to promoting the program as a useful tool for veterinarians inasmuch as it will often fill a gap in available diagnostic services, as well as provide needed convenience for horse owners. The comprehensive diagnostic tools MEDS will offer far exceed what most clinicians are able to access without visiting a referral veterinary hospital.
"We'll have all the important diagnostic capabilities, including digital radiology, ultrasound, endoscopy, gastroscopy and echocardiography, plus the ability to share images and data via satellite technology while in the field," Porter said, adding that the additional capabilities MEDS will provide veterinarians will ultimately help them better serve their clients.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Florida is home to 170,000 horses and that the horse industry generates product valued at $2.2 billion annually. The Ocala area ranks as the world's fourth-largest breeding and training area, behind Lexington, Ky.; Newmarket, England; and Chantilly, France. Florida overtook California in 1998 to become the nation's second-largest producer of registered thoroughbred foals.
"I think this program will definitely be beneficial to the referring veterinary community, particularly as a resource to those private ambulatory practitioners who are in business for themselves and not associated with a major clinic or hospital," said Ted Orosky, D.V.M., an equine veterinarian who is the sole owner of an ambulatory practice based in Ocala. "Most of MEDS' usefulness will likely be directed to cases relating to soundness, lameness and trauma."
An example of such a case would be a foal suffering from an acute head or neck injury - a situation in which a private veterinarian would not be comfortable transporting the animal.
Here's how Porter envisions the program will work:
Say Miss Daisy, a 26-year-old mare owned by the same family all her life, is in need of referral-level diagnostic services. Unfortunately, she is two hours from the closest hospital, and her owners and veterinarian worry about the potential stress of transporting Miss Daisy in a trailer for two hours during the hottest days of the year.
Enter the MEDS program and Porter, who communicates directly with Miss Daisy's referring veterinarian and schedules an appointment to perform an abdominal ultrasound and gastroscopy on the horse. One gastroscopy with intestinal biopsies and one abdominal ultrasound later, Miss Daisy is diagnosed with the equine version of inflammatory bowel disease. Her owners opt to begin a medication program immediately, and within several weeks Miss Daisy is doing better.
"We recognize that these days, animals are often regarded as members of the family," Porter said. "The MEDS program ultimately is about helping to preserve that bond by detecting disease as soon as possible, and saving or improving the horse's quality of life." UF's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the clinical arm of the university's College of Veterinary Medicine, admits about 5,000 horses a year for treatment, the overwhelming majority of which are referred by private practice veterinarians.
UF scientists combine experimental therapies to fight gene disorders
By John Pastor
University of Florida scientists have combined stem cell therapy and gene therapy in a new strategy to correct inherited diseases, according to a study published this week in the online edition of the journal Hepatology.
Researchers removed a group of mouse liver cells that has the ability of stem cells to rebuild damaged organs and equipped them with a healthy human gene. The researchers then put the cells back into the mice, where they successfully began to rebuild the liver with cells that expressed the healthy gene.
The special cells are called progenitors, descendants of stem cells and natural builders in the human body, and the gene they delivered potentially would treat a common genetic disease that attacks the liver.
The findings help solve a problem that has hindered the use of adult stem cell therapy to treat genetic diseases - the stem cells rebuild the organ, but with the same flaw that caused the disease in the first place. UF scientists want to use gene therapy to fix the genetic blueprint of the stem cells, making them more viable as a remedy for patients.
"The idea is that if we use a patient's own cells, then we don't have to look for a donor or worry about medications that may be needed to prevent the body from rejecting the therapy," said Bryon Petersen, an assistant professor of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at UF's College of Medicine. "We've got the ability to basically take cells out of the patient, do our magic and put the corrective gene in, and then put those cells back into the patient. I think it goes back to the concept of self healing self."
In experiments, researchers delivered the gene to correct alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which affects about 100,000 Americans. People with a mutated alpha-1 gene often suffer from emphysema and severe liver disease because their livers cannot produce alpha-1 protein.
Scientists removed 70 percent of the liver tissue in mice, setting aside a relatively small amount of the progenitor cells, to which they added the gene to produce human alpha-1 antitrypsin. They returned the cells to the mouse livers and found that new liver tissue grew after 18 weeks. What's more, 5 percent to 10 percent of the liver cells expressed human alpha-1 antitrypsin, suggesting that in people, the disorder that damages the liver would be treated, according to researchers at the UF Genetics Institute and the Program for Stem Cell Biology.
The experimental strategy to plant the corrective gene into the mouse liver cells relies on a molecular vehicle known as the adeno-associated virus, or AAV, which already exists without symptoms in many people.
"This is the first work to show that this virus can be used to deliver genes into liver progenitor cells," said Sihong Song, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of pharmaceutics at UF's College of Pharmacy. "This work gives us real hope that we can do something in terms of delivering genes to modify the cells for the treatment of liver disease."
Jayanta Roy-Chowdhury, the scientific director of the gene therapy facility at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York City, said the strategy is in its early stages but is promising.
"In principle, the idea of taking progenitor cells, culturing them and transplanting them is viable, and I believe people will use it successfully in the future," Roy-Chowdhury said. "Each component of it will need improvement. The main barrier to cross is to show transplanted stem cells will engraft and function to replenish the deficient enzyme for a long time."