Veterinarian Named as Chancellor’s
of Excellence in Comparative Neurology
Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy
strike millions of people each year. They also affect countless
dogs, and veterinarians at the University of Missouri are
working to find ways to treat these and other neurological
diseases in both species.
Dennis O’Brien, professor of veterinary
medicine and surgery and director of the comparative neurology
program in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and a team
of researchers are investigating the causes and potential
treatments for a number of diseases that can be fatal in both
humans and animals.
“These diseases have been recognized
in dogs for many years, but now we have the tools to do something
about it,” said O’Brien, who was recently named
as the Chancellor’s Chair of Excellence in Comparative
Neurology. “In the past, there was little that we could
do other than treat the symptoms. Now, with pets, we can identify
the genes responsible and breed away from some of these problems.
We also have the human connection to these diseases, and as
we learn from research on both species, we can apply it to
both humans and animals and everyone will benefit.”
Currently, researchers with the comparative
neurology program are investigating several diseases that
can affect dogs and humans. These diseases include:
- Epilepsy – a
common disease affecting both dogs and humans characterized
by repetitive seizures. It has many different causes, but
it is thought to be a hereditary condition in many dogs.
- Parkinson’s disease
–caused by a loss of the neurotransmitter dopamine
in nerve cells. Symptoms include tremors, stiff muscles
or movement, and difficulty with balancing and walking.
In humans, Parkinson’s is a disease of the elderly,
while in dogs it is a hereditary disease affecting young
- Degenerative myelopathy
– a common neurological disease that affects the spinal
cords in adult dogs. Typically, the dog will lose function
of its rear legs and, eventually, will be paralyzed.
At the same time that researchers are investigating
these diseases, O’Brien and his team also are working
in the MU Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital, applying
their knowledge to help dogs now. For example, the program
recently received an underwater treadmill that will help rehabilitate
dogs that have suffered spinal or nerve injuries and are temporarily
“Moving in water is great
therapy,” O’Brien said. “You don’t
have to support any body weight, but at the same time, the
muscles have to work through some resistance. This helps to
exercise the limbs.”
A portion of the earnings from the Chancellor’s
Fund for Excellence Endowment, valued at approximately $7
million, will fund the first Chancellor’s Chair of Excellence
in Comparative Neurology. The Chancellor’s Fund contains
unrestricted donations to be used for the University’s
highest needs and priorities.
“With equipment and financial
resources, both our faculty and patients will benefit,”
said Neil Olson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“We also know that the continuing research led by Dr.
O’Brien and his team will lead to additional insight
into the causes of these diseases that affect both dogs and
humans. We’re excited about the confidence that the
chancellor has with us to fund one of his chairs of excellence
here in the college.”
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