Faculty in the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS) at Texas A&M approach their research with a mind-set that prioritizes innovation—using novel approaches to address issues that impact animals’ lives or even attempting to look at a problem in new ways.
Researchers across both the VMBS’s College Station campus and the Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach (VERO) campus in Canyon offer examples of how these approaches are being used to improve the health and welfare of animals.
The nationwide Dog Aging Project led by VMBS professor Dr. Kate Creevy and University of Washington scientists is working to define, for the first time, benchmarks that will help characterize how well a dog is aging and determine whether a drug commonly used to prevent kidney transplant rejections may improve canine longevity and health.
The $22 million National Institute on Aging–funded project has enrolled > 40,000 US citizen-scientists who submit physiological information about their dogs over a 10-year period; some also submit biological samples for DNA and other analyses.
“Genes, environmental factors, nutrition, and the microbiome affect how organisms age. These factors may change how the genes are expressed, which is why even identical twins have slight differences,” Creevy said. “While this is generally accepted to also be true in dogs, there is not yet extensive scientific evidence of this. Precisely how these changes in DNA physically affect the dog is not clear.”
For their double-blind, placebo-controlled Test of Rapamycin in Aging Dogs (TRIAD) study, researchers are evaluating the effectiveness of rapamycin in middle-aged large-breed dogs. The drug has been shown to increase life span, improve heart and cognitive function, and reduce age-related disease in laboratory species.
“We all want to help our companion dogs live long and well,” Creevy said. “Through the data we’re collecting and TRIAD, we have the potential to greatly enhance healthy longevity for both people and our pets.”
Because this is an open-data project, the team is sharing the massive amount of data being generated with scientists around the world, who can use those data for a variety of studies.
Early findings from the project include correlations—not yet determined to be causations—between the following:
Once-daily feedings and better health in dogs.
Physical activity and better cognitive health in dogs.
At VERO, located in the heart of one of the most productive animal agricultural regions in the world—the Texas Panhandle—VMBS researchers are working with livestock producers to identify critical challenges that have animal health and welfare implications, as well as economic implications.
“One-quarter of the fed beef supply is produced within a 2-hour radius of here, and there are about 600,000 lactating dairy cows in the region,” said Dr. Paul Morley, VERO Director of Research. “In 2019, that equated to > $2 billion in milk production.”
VERO researchers employ cutting-edge technology such as molecular biology and super computers to study animal genomics and gene expression, examining the overall health of animals.
“We are using state-of-the-art sequencing technology to investigate the microbiome in relation to infectious diseases by focusing on one particular bacterium,” Morley said. “By using these cutting-edge techniques, we have new insight on problems that have plagued animal production and veterinary medicine for 50 years.”
Among the wide range of topics being tackled at VERO are the following:
Nine US Department of Agriculture–funded studies on bovine respiratory disease, a problem that is critical to Texas agriculture and the state at large.
An FDA-funded study examining whether using lower amounts of antibiotics can be equally effective in preventing liver abscesses.
As a land-grant institution, Texas A&M is dedicated to improving the lives of both animals and people not only through research, but also through its teaching and outreach missions.
Because of the inextricable links between these missions, ensuring that VMBS students have opportunities to engage in these kinds of research projects also ensures that the school will fulfil Texas A&M’s promise to the state for decades to come.