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Greyhound research puts K-State a nose ahead of the rest

By Christina Foust


America knows that Kansas State University is the home of the Wildcats. But at the College of Veterinary Medicine, a new mascot is competing with Willie for notoriety of a different kind. Brad Fenwick, professor of pathobiology, says that K-State is the "Mecca of greyhound research worldwide," making the dogs mascots in their own right.

greyhound at K-StateFor more than five years, the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission has funded various research endeavors to benefit greyhounds. However, the research has had positive secondary results, including helping dogs, horses and even people. "It's brought tremendous recognition to KSU," Fenwick said.

Fenwick and his lab staff have done investigations that underscore the importance of continuing canine research at K-State. Among others, his lab developed a DNA fingerprinting system to identify the pedigree of dogs. This is especially important for breeders, greyhound or otherwise, who want the credibility of having a fool-proof genetic identifier for their dogs.

The DNA fingerprinting system also gives researchers a better understanding of the Major Histocompatability Complex, which is the gene responsible for immune system function and reproduction. In the future, breeders may be able to determine the degree of inbreeding that a certain population has. Breeders could then select a mate to produce more reproductively fit o offspring.

The lab has also investigated kennel cough, a highly contagious airborne bacterial infection that causes intense coughing and occasionally life-threatening pneumonia in dogs. Dogs suffer greatly because of the infection. Breeders, veterinarians and other people who shelter dogs also suffer because the disease is spread so quickly.

Fenwick explains that studying kennel cough could help researchers understand the infection's human cousin, whooping cough. In both humans and dogs, Fenwick says, "vaccines aren't as good as we'd like because new strains are emerging." The greyhound research has helped K-State to improve the canine vaccine.

Finally, the greyhound research in Fenwick's lab helped understand the pathogenesis, or cause, of Alabama rot. This mysterious disease afflicted racing dogs with ugly skin lesions and eventual kidney failure. Researchers identified the cause as a bacteria similar to E. coli, which is obtained by people who consume undercooked meat.

"Currently, there is not an animal model which accurately mimics E. coli food poisons, so we couldn't study how to treat it or prevent it without animals to help weigh treatment options," Fenwick said. if we find vaccines or better treatment with greyhounds, it's directly applicable to humans.

"As research veterinarians, we love animals. Humans are medically animals, too. Applying what we're learning in dogs to humans or vice versa is particularly rewarding," Fenwick said.

Sidebar: Greyhound research funding has paid off for Kansas

How was the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission able to fund the greyhound research at Kansas State University? Through forgetfulness and a lack of concern. Not by the commission, but by the winners of unclaimed winnings at Kansas greyhound tracks.

Brad Fenwick, professor of pathobiology at K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine, explains the creative approach to funding. "A portion of the breakage, or unclaimed winnings, went to research grants for greyhounds," he said.

This mutually beneficial relationship between K-State veterinary researchers, gamers, and the people of Kansas has blossomed in the 1990s. "We've turned a few dollars into major advances. The greyhound business supports a lot of Kansans and it's our chance to give back and help out," Fenwick said.

February 5, 1998