Smallpox, polio and even influenza-these deadly diseases once ruled the earth, killing by the millions. Today, thanks to scientific research, their impact is far less. The same holds true for animal diseases such as canine parvovirus and feline leukemia. One day, a host of other diseases that affect humans or animals, and sometimes both, may meet the same fate.
When major medical breakthroughs happen, such as the promising bone marrow treatment for humans with sickle cell anemia announced last December, we often don’t realize the time and effort behind a new prevention, treatment or cure. The reality, though, is that medical advancements usually take years, even decades, to come to fruition-and along the way hundreds of ideas are attempted before one of them opens the doors. Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) is committed to finding and funding the next big ideas in animal health research.
We know that a novel idea goes nowhere without proper funding-and funding for the unknown is often tough to come by. The Foundation is one of the few organizations helping cutting-edge scientists gather data and test promising concepts that could one day lead to major health breakthroughs for animals.
Innovative Ideas Take Flight:
Through its pilot-study program, MAF provides funding up to $10,800 for one-year studies that test a new idea and gather preliminary data to determine if the idea merits further investigation. This program provides timely funding for innovative ideas, speeds up scientific discovery and advances the Foundation’s mission to improve the health and welfare of animals.
“Pilot research study grants are designed to support innovative research ideas and early-stage projects where preliminary data may not be available,” says Dr. Wayne Jensen, MAF chief scientific officer.
One benefit to the pilot-study program is that MAF accepts these study proposals multiple times per year rather than through the traditional grant cycle of once per year. As a result, the program helps researchers respond more rapidly to emerging diseases and contemporary questions in animal health research.
Funding for pilot studies is desperately needed to advance veterinary medicine for companion animals and wildlife. Dr. James Moore, chair of the Foundation’s large animal scientific advisory board, explains that most funding agencies only support proposals that already contain a sufficient amount of preliminary data to suggest that the expected outcomes will be achieved. But scientists need funding to gather preliminary data. So it was no surprise that MAF received an overwhelming response-161-to its two 2009 calls for proposals. Yet the Foundation can fund only 12 to 18 projects each year.
“The greater than expected response to the request for proposals for pilot studies suggests that there are a lot of good, untested ideas out there,” Dr. Moore says.
A History of Funding Health Breakthroughs:
The Foundation has a long history of funding breakthrough projects. For example, in 1999, MAF was the first to fund research to look at why California sea otters were dying off. Over the next decade, we funded several grants looking at disease risks in sea otters. What scientists learned from these projects helped them win a $1.86 million grant from the National Science Foundation. In an interview for AnimalNews 6.4, lead researcher Dr. Patricia Conrad noted that, “the Morris Animal Foundation grants were critically important. Without that support in the project’s infancy, we wouldn’t have been able to compete for bigger grants.”
Beyond uncovering information about the infectious diseases that were killing sea otters, these studies also led to increased state legislative protections for the playful creatures and trained numerous up-and-coming wildlife health researchers.
A current study funded by our Canine Cancer Campaign is testing a new drug therapy for bone cancer in dogs. This major project encompasses multiple facets and institutions and could eventually save the lives of thousands of dogs-yet it began as a small pilot effort. Additional pilot projects may soon lead to a promising treatment for eye cancer in horses, improved nutrition for brook trout and better pain management for reptiles.
Current pilot studies address gastrointestinal problems, urinary infections and heartworm in dogs; osteoarthritis pain in cats; laminitis in horses and overpopulation and drug-resistant infections in pets.
“Pilot studies like these are important for moving veterinary medicine forward, primarily because they can be accomplished relatively quickly and relatively inexpensively,” Dr. Moore says.
Who knows where this year’s pilot projects may lead. Perhaps they will give veterinarians a tool to help them diagnose and manage osteoarthritis in cats or an inoculation that prevents certain strains of Escherichia coli from causing recurrent urinary tract infections in dogs. Or maybe equine veterinarians will get an inexpensive method for treating laminitis, a painful, life-threatening condition.
The possibilities for advancing animal health are truly endless as long as we continue to support pioneering scientists with innovative ideas. These promising projects may one day change the face of veterinary medicine and help create a healthier tomorrow for animals.
Learn more about the current pilot studies.