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Cats may soon benefit from New Undergraduate Research at OVC

Cats may soon be benefiting from a new student research project at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), University of Guelph (UG) aimed at developing a better understanding of how chronic kidney disease, and its progression, might affect the interpretation of other blood test results for pancreatitis.

Ellen Everson, OVC’2018 student veterinarian recently won top prize for her UG summer research project in this area - the Comparative Gastroenterology Society (CGS) Abstract Poster Presentation Award - at the 2016 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) Forum this past June.

During the event “A total of 6 posters were presented and judged on a standard rubric by 15 veterinary specialists who considered study design, execution, and impact for gastroenterology research as a whole.” says CGS’s Dr. Kate Arnell.

While organizations, such as the Comparative Gastroenterology Society, aim to provide resources and support for young researchers (in CGS’s case for those with a strong interest in the field of gastroenterology), the competition for these awards is tough, and places undergraduate research, like Ellen’s, on par with the work of residents and senior clinicians/faculty from other universities across North America.

UG summer research positions offer students opportunities outside of what they would normally be exposed to within OVC’s DVM curriculum. Collecting and analyzing data and presenting results at conferences and forums gives student the ability to explore scientific discovery, engage in conversation with thought leaders and participate in the creation of new knowledge.

“My favourite part about attending the conference was the opportunity to discuss the project design and results with clinicians from a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise.” Ellen says. ”Everyone looks at a project from their own perspective; this is very helpful to ensure that I do not become biased by my own pre-conceived ideas when examining the results of our statistical analysis.”

The value summer students bring to UG researchers is also very real “Working with young and aspiring veterinary scientists goes well beyond a mentorship role,” says OVC’s Dr. Anthony Abrams-Ogg, who is the advisor on Ellen’s project, “The work our students provide genuinely helps further our core research."

About the study:

Veterinarians know cats to be very stoic and often only show subtle signs of pain, such as slight reductions in activity level and appetite.

Studies show that these behavioral changes can result from a wide variety of sensations that are different from pain such as nausea, fatigue, and even fear or stress – creating a real challenge for veterinarians to pinpoint the major source of the problem when our feline friends present as feeling "off".

“In these instances, analysis of a general blood panel can help give veterinary teams the information that patients cannot such as 'it’s my digestive system that's giving me trouble', or 'there is a problem with my kidneys '.” Ellen explains.

Chronic kidney disease affects approximately 30% of cats over the age of 12, and up to 80% of cats in the 15-20 year-old age range, making diagnosis of pancreatic disorders even more difficult as a cat gets older.  Ellen says, “A better understanding of how chronic kidney disease and its progression might affect the interpretation of other blood test results is important information to know.”

Ellen’s research is part of a broader study led by Dr. Anthony Abrams-Ogg and funded by OVC Pet Trust, Canada’s first charitable fund entirely dedicated to advancing the health and well-being of companion animals.  Abrams-Ogg’s research aims to better characterize the wide range of signs caused by, and the usefulness of specific diagnostic tests for pancreatitis in cats.

For cat owners, the most important impact of this work will be the optimization of appropriate individualized care plans, says Ellen.

“Ultimately we hope that our research will have practical applications and help the practicing clinician with the interpretation of blood tests for pancreatitis that have been performed on a cat with kidney disease, in order to prioritize the acute, as well as long term, management of the patient.”

Ellen is one of 110 students employed in a summer research position at the OVC. Her research position is supported by the University of Guelph’s Undergraduate Research Assistantship program. Ellen is also a part of The Summer Career Opportunities & Research Experience (CORE) Program, a program designed to nurture undergraduate students’ interest in research, academia and graduate/residency programs at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph;  treasurer of the OVC Student Chapter of the ACVIM and proud cat parent of Colonel and Mister.