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UF veterinarians: Dolphin may be ideal model for the study
of human cervical cancer
BY SARAH CAREY
A after testing dozens of samples from marine mammals, University of Florida aquatic
animal health experts say they have found the ideal model for the study of cervical
cancer in people.
"We discovered that dolphins get multiple infections of papillomaviruses, which are known
to be linked with cervical cancer in women," said Hendrik Nollens, D.V.M., Ph.D., a marine
mammal biologist and clinical assistant professor at UF's College of Veterinary Medicine Feb.
18 at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. "Dolphins
are the only species besides humans that we know of that can harbor coinfections, or infections
of multiple papillomavirus types, in the genital mucosa."
There are approximately 100 types of human papillomaviruses, and multiple-type infec-
tions of up to eight HPV types have been reported in humans, he said.
"Even more surprisingly, some virus groups have shown the ability to cross the marine-
terrestrial ecosystem boundary from sea to land," Nollens said. "We have demonstrated at
least one case of genetic recombination between viruses of human and marine mammals. So
while it's exciting that dolphins can provide a unique window into the role of coinfection in
human cervical cancer, we can't rule out that the next high risk virus, such as SARS, or West
Nile, might actually come from the marine environment."
The presence of coinfections is believed to be one of the biggest risk factors for the
development of cervical cancer in humans, Nollens said, although he added that there is no
evidence that dolphins develop the disease.
Dr. Hendrik Nollens and his colleagues at UF's Marine Ani-
mal Disease Laboratory have embarked on a large-scale col-
laborative research project to catalogue previously
unrecognized and emerging viruses of marine mammals, both
in collections and in the wild.
"Why do people develop the disease, but dolphins don't? If we can figure out why, the
human medical community might be very interested in how that information might be applied
to human strategies for preventing the disease," he said
Of all creatures that inhabit the ocean, dolphins and other marine mammals are the closest
relatives of humans, but scientific knowledge of infectious diseases, particularly viral diseases,
affecting these animals is limited, researchers say. No animals are harmed during collection of
cell and tissue samples, although some are obtained from animals that have died of natural
causes in the wild.
In hopes of shedding more light on the nature, prevalence and potential of such diseases to
be passed to humans, Nollens and his colleagues at UF's Marine Animal Disease Laboratory
have embarked on a large-scale collaborative research project to catalogue previously
unrecognized and emerging viruses of marine mammals, both in collections and in the wild.
Over a four-year period, some 1,500 blood, tissue and fecal samples taken from dolphins
have been analyzed at different laboratories across the United States, Nollens said.
"Some 90 percent of what we do in the laboratory is molecular analyses," Nollens said.
"Because of advances in molecular medicine since January 2006, we've found more than 40
new viruses in dolphins alone. When the last textbook came out in 2003, only 19 were noted."
All viruses found in the laboratory and suspected of having pathogenic potential are
further evaluated to assess the impact each virus could have on the health of individual
dolphins, he added. The potential impact on collection animals as well as free-ranging dolphin
populations is assessed, with information then used to generate guidelines for disease outbreak
Since 2006, Dr. Hendrik Nollens and his colleagues at UF's Marine Animal Disease Laboratory have
discovered more than 40 new viruses in dolphins alone. The work was part of a large-scale
collaborative research project to catalogue previously unrecognized and emerging viruses of marine
mammals, both in collections and in the wild.
management and prevention strategies.
"This process helps us understand disease and disease prevention," Nollens said, adding
that for more than a decade, scientists have been looking for cures to human diseases, includ-
ing cancer, among marine invertebrates.
"Maybe there will be a similar story with dolphinpapilloma viruses and prevention of
cervical cancer in humans," he said. "It wouldn't be the first time we've come up with useful
information from looking at marine animals."
Teri Rowles, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, added, "The
discovery of new infectious diseases and viruses in marine mammals is important for conserva-
tion as well as for scientific understanding of the connections between our oceans and our-
"This work allows us to be better stewards of healthy oceans and coasts, healthy marine
mammal populations and healthy people," Rowles said.
Story coverage includes NPR interview
NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow featured Dr. Hendrik Nollens, clinical assistant
professor with UF's Aquatic Animal Health Program, and Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson of
the National Marine Mammal Foundation in a discussion about dolphins as a model of
Check out the transcript of the interview here, and click on the embedded link to
listen to the radio podcast:
Phi Zeta Research
Feb. 8, 2010
Photos by Mark Hoffenberg
Dr. Charles Courtney with Dr. Maureen Long, recipient of the new Fern Audette Professorship, and Dr. John
Dr. Charles Courtney and Dr. David Barber, winner of the Pfizer Animal Health Award for
Dr. Charles Courtney and Dr. KelleyThieman, winner of the Excellence in Master's Studies
Dr. Charles Courtney and Dr. Antonio Pozzi, winner of the FVMA Clinical Investigator Award.
Dr. Charles Courtney and Dr. Linda Hayward, who accepted awards for both Dr. Carie Reynolds
(Excellence in Basic Science Award) and Dr. Joslyn Ahlgren (Charles F. Simpson Memorial
Dr. Charles Courtney and Dr. Melissa Bourgeois, winner of the Excellence in Doctoral Studies
Dr. Charles Courtney and Dr. Clare Ryan, winner of the Excellence in Clinical Science Research
Phi Zeta Research
Emphasis Day at UF CVM
at many levels
2010 Graduate student awards:
Charles F. Simpson Memorial Scholarship: (Plaque and $500) Dr. Joslyn Ahlgren
The recipient of this award ideally is in an area identified with Dr. Simpson animal
p.ihlli .1,-.,, with special emphasis on mehatoprotozoan/cardiovascular related diseases
or hypertension, but other areas of research are also considered.
Aid.,:. ., performed her doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Dr Linda
Hayward in the department of pl'\ ;. '1. ./..:,, sciences. Her work evaluated for the first
time the .. I, of regular, ,.., ..-. 11oo voluntary exercise on the heart and ,.' ., response
to severe hemorrhage. The outcomes of her studies showed that exercise alters the
response to severe blood loss and are the first to demonstrate the role of opiods in the
brain in the shock associated with '4.. in ,
She is now on faculty as a lecturer in UF's department of applied physiology and
kinesiology at UF, where she teaches anatomy/physiology to ,i/,. i.,,,i., /t ,i... but is
also ,. i, i,;I new research techniques related to exercise-induced changes in the
Excellence in Master's Studies: (Plaque and $100) Dr. Kelley Thieman
This award recognizes excellent scholarship of a CVM graduate student either nearing
completion or having completed a master's degree within the past year.
Thieman is currently .p m .in *,: an M.S. .1. ..:. concurrently with residency .,;in,;,:
in small animal ..' ... . Her thesis research involves the mechanics of injury and
repair in the knee joint, for which she received awards at the annual meetings of the
Veterinary Orthopedics Society and the American College of Veterinary So, .. .,
Excellence in Doctoral Studies (Plaque and $100) Dr. Melissa Bourgeois
This award recognizes excellent scholarship of a CVM graduate student either nearing
completion or having completed a Ph.D. degree within the past year.
B. io-. .*.. is plin *..;ii. her Ph.D. under the supervision ofDr. Maureen Long in the
department of infectious diseases and pathology. Her main interest is infectious
diseases, and she has developed i-i,,i,.i i,i/,: skills -. .il,,.:. with disease-,. i.i; ,
. ...I: i,,I.. of public health and zoonotic importance.
Her dissertation research in\v,.titated mosquito-borne virus infectious in the horse,
a natural host, in a model where she helped to reproduce clinical West Nile virus
disease. Independently, B.. i:. .4. perfected the technique for the horse and sequenced
the equine brain's response to West Nile infection and the normal brain's. After
,,I,,,th i,. and .i.i. *., ;:iI,:. results, she created an equine brain chip by selecting
44,000 .... I. for investigating the hypothesis that there are families of..'. ". whose
expression changes in a consistent manner ./to in:. WNV infectious, disease and
recovery from infection.
Presently she is. .. i. ,;,;iin.* how diffir'int i,.. ,. are turned on in various ;. :'i. i,. of
the brain of diseased and nondiseased horses experimentally i,,ll. 1.. I with WNV.
She plans to use this data to develop a new method to predict disease survival from
Excellence in Clinical Science Research: (Plaque and $100) Dr. Clare Ryan
This award recognizes excellence in scholarship of a CVM graduate student either
nearing completion or having completed a graduate degree within the past year that
involves a research topic having significant clinical relevance.
Ryan's dissertation research, conducted under the supervision of Dr Steeve
Giguere, formerly on faculty in the department of large animal clinical sciences,
focused on ,.. i.,ii ;i,: the immune responses offoals to that of adult horses and also
investigated ;.. :l ,i;. ', of cytokineimmune responses in newborn foals. Cytokines are
substances secreted by immune cells that act as i,. ..... ,.-. in immune system commu-
nication. Additional work has inv.stigate'd .ili. i. .. which attempt to modify the
foals' unique immune system in order to prevent Rhodococcus equi pneumonia.
Excellence in Basic Science Research: (Plaque and $100) Dr. Carie Reynolds
This award recognized excellent scholarship of a CVM graduate student either nearing
completion or having completed a graduate degree within the past year that involves a
research topic in basic science.
Reynolds completed her doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Dr Linda
Hayward in the department of'l,i\ .. /. .../.,, l sciences. Her work evaluated the impact
of nicotine exposure prior to birth on sleep vs. wake behavior, as a model of sudden
infant death syndrome ,;ii,: the ).- 11i,: rat as a model.
Her research identified for the first time a sex dependent (males only) alteration
f .ll. 'ini ; nicotine exposure. She presently is ,..i,.h,. i;n,' postdoctoral l,;,int;i:t at
G.. .:. W.:,ii;,,.. 'i, University, investigating the impact of nicotine exposure in the
2010 Faculty awards:
C.E. Cornelius Young Investigator Award: (Plaque and $500) Dr. Heather Wamsley
This award is open to faculty at the rank of assistant and those at the rank of associate for
two years or less as of Oct. 1, for their contribution to an area of biomedical research.
Wamsley, an assistant professor of clinical pathology in the department of lhy.siilk' i-
cal sciences, has conducted research about a new and highly sensitive method to detect
both Anaplasma iii,oir,, l. and Anaplasma ii,,:,... \i.. I .ili, n (an ,i,. .' :,' tick-borne
infectious agent of humans) in infected tissues. The method uses a combination of
molecular and microscopic approaches to detect infection that has not previously been
applied to disease -.,..i:,i,;l,. She also has been involved in .1. I. 1.I '''"i.- new methods of
.i;,.r.i. ,..; of Anaplasma and is investigating the possibility of growing animal infective
forms ofAnaplasma 1.,,11 -*i., 1. in tissue culture.
FVMA Clinical Investigator Award: (Plaque and $500) Dr. Antonio Pozzi
This award recognizes the outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge in
an area of clinical veterinary medicine.
Pozi, an assistant professor of .I I :. in the department of small animal clinical
sciences, has established himself as an international authority in small animal orthope-
dic ....*:. .. His work on injury in the dog knee has put his name at the forefront of
individuals that come to mind when this problems is discussed. He is also one of the
,. ,,..h;i,, individuals with ,. ... ./ to minimally invasive fracture repair and was the .1 i\ in,:
force in .iJ,-,1.;,.1,*,. the Collaborative Orthopedics and Biomechanics Laboratory here
at the CVM.
Pfizer Award for Research Excellence (Plaque and $1,000) Dr. David Barber
This award is intended to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of an established
investigator to the advancement of knowledge in an area of biomedical research.
Barber, an associate professor in the department of 'li i. *1. -*.;,, sciences, has
achieved national and international ;. :...*i. -', for his work on the toxicity of metallic
nanomaterials in aquatic *. .,,i-.i., His use of nanotechnology for aquatic toxicity
research has resulted in grant fii,. 0,,.. peer-reviewed publications, invited research
presentations and national committee participation. Currently he is funded as a PI or Co-
PI by five federal extramural grants. He successfully assembled a collaborative research
team within the department, college and UFfor investigating the fundamental mecha-
nisms of toxicity in aquatic species. His research record provides clear evidence of a
.i. fi.. pi.. -.",,1i focused on basic in. .i; :,i;. i,. of toxins in the aquatic environment.
Fern Audette Professorship in Equine Studies Dr. Maureen Long
This is a new professorship of one-year duration that may be renewed to the incumbent for
additional years or transferred to a new recipient after one year. The professorship includes
a plaque and a research grant to the recipient to support research in one of the following
fields: equine reproduction, nioi ii.ii, lh-.:,, equine protozoal myeloencephalitism (EPM)
Long was .....'i .1 I.for her research on disease ..ni'. i,, infecting the brain and
nervous system of horses.
DV I. graduate student and resident competition \\ winners
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Zoo medicine resident offers unique expertise
in giant panda reproduction
During day-to-day clinics at the
UF CVM, Dr. Copper Aitken-Palmer, a
second-year zoological medicine
resident, might see rabbits, bats,
tigers, snakes, birds or even giraffes.
But an animal she'll never see as a
patient in Gainesville is one Aitken-
Palmer is nationally known for her
expertise in the giant panda.
"Prior to this residency, all day,
every day, it was pandas, she said.
Aitken-Palmer is one of only a
handful of veterinarians in the U.S.
with expertise in giant panda
It's a niche she fell into when she
began her Ph.D. work at the Univer-
sity of Maryland's Department of
Animal and Avian Sciences and the
Smithsonian's National Zoological
Park back in 2003, focusing on panda
As part of her research, Aitken-
Dr. Copper Aitken-Palmer
Palmer spent six months of the year in
China each year for four years,
working with a panda breeding center
and making many contacts there. She also spent time at the National Zoo in
Washington and helped with a semen collection effort involving pandas at the San
Now Aitken-Palmer finds herself in demand when zoological parks that possess
the rare animals face complicated issues relating to their breeding.
In January, when the Smithsonian National Zoological Park's giant panda
couple Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), the male, and Mei Xiang (may-SHONG),
the female, entered breeding season early, Aitken-Palmer was invited by park
veterinarians to assist. Aitken-Palmer visited the National Zoo for five days that
month and also may travel to another zoological park in March or April on a similar
"Copper helped to monitor the breeding behavior and participated in semen
collection, as well as in the artificial insemination," wrote Dr. Steven Montford,
acting director of the National Zoo, in a letter thanking Aitken-Palmer's administra-
tors for allowing her to help. "Due to her experience in giant panda reproduction
and gamete biology, Copper's participation was critical to the success of the
different procedures. She placed her personal plans and goals aside for several days
to serve the National Zoo and has been invaluable to the panda team."
She added that once her residency at UF is completed, she may or may not
return to panda work exclusively.
"Here I see all kinds of animals, and it broadens my expertise," Aitken-Palmer
said. "That's why I came to UF to broaden my training. I do enjoy the reproduc-
tion side of things, and interest in that area is growing at zoos."
In the United States, pandas can only be found at the zoos in Washington D. C.
and Atlanta, as well as in Memphis and San Diego.
UF veterinarians confirm presence
of distemper in local wildlife, warn
of threat to dogs
U university of Florida veterinarians report p --- /_
that canine distemper virus is on the
increase in local wildlife, meaning unvacci-
nated pet dogs and shelter populations are at
greater risk for contracting the disease.
Veterinarians from Alachua County
Animal Control and UF collected swabs from
the eyes and noses of five raccoons and one
fox, then submitted those samples to a
diagnostic lab to be screened for a variety of
"All of these samples came back positive
for canine distemper," said Julie Levy, D.V.M.,
Ph.D., director of the Maddie's Shelter
Dr. Julie Levy
Medicine Program at UF's College of
"This worries us because the disease is
quite contagious, and once a dog is infected with the virus, there is no effective treatment.
More than 50 percent of the dogs that contract canine distemper will eventually die from it,"
Levy said, adding that frequently the disease is initially diagnosed in shelter populations, and
then later found in wildlife nearby or in the community.
Although no dogs have yet been reported with the illness, the spike in wildlife cases is a
red flag and a reminder that only three years ago, more than 600 dogs in Alachua County died
from a distemper outbreak.
"Infected raccoons are a frequent source of spread to susceptible dogs," Levy said. "When
infected dogs are brought into intensive dog housing facilities, such as animal shelters, the
disease can spread throughout the facility, especially among the more vulnerable populations,
such as puppies."
Hundreds of dog died recently in Orange County, Brevard County and Pasco County due
to distemper outbreaks in those areas.
"The best thing anyone with a dog can do is make sure their
pet's vaccinations are kept up to date. If your dog has not been
vaccinated against canine distemper, call your veterinarian to
schedule that appointment now."
-- Dr Julie Levy
"If there is any good news, it is that the vaccine to prevent canine distemper is extremely
effective," Levy said. "The best thing anyone with a dog can do is make sure their pet's
vaccinations are kept up to date. If your dog has not been vaccinated against canine distemper,
call your veterinarian to schedule that appointment now."
Alachua County Animal Services Director David Flagler said that usually the shelter
receives only a handful of calls relating to sick wildlife, but that such calls had increased
dramatically in the past three months.
"We have such a close relationship with the UF veterinary college that whenever we have
anything unusual, we look at it as an opportunity for their shelter program to become in-
volved," Flagler said. "In this case, UF was tracking distemper cases in other counties, and
wanted to help us verify that what we suspected was true."
At a time when many of Florida's animal shelters have been hit hard with budget cuts,
Maddie's Fund has provided funding to allow UF's program to help out whenever disease
threatens homeless pets. Since the program started at UF in 2008, it has become a resource for
shelters to use for assistance in programs ranging from infectious disease control to vaccination
protocols and management strategies.
"Shelters contact us almost daily with questions about infectious disease control," said
UF's Dr. Cynda Crawford, who manages the shelter consultation service. "If we can't help by
phone or email, we'll often make a trip to the shelter to assess the situation and to perform
diagnostic testing. When we can't sort out the problem, we'll call in the experts from p.1ii. li ,-.,
and microbiology to help."
In addition, UF veterinary students visit the shelter weekly to help care for the animals and
to learn first-hand how shelters operate.
For more information about distemper virus infection, go to www.ufsheltermedicine.com
The Veterinary Page is the UF College of Veterinary Medicine's monthly
S electronic internal newsletter. Please send stories to Sarah Carey at
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