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Clinical Trials Help Veterinarians and Pet Owners Save Animal Lives

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Personal perspective is important, especially when we grapple with health questions. For veterinarians and human doctors, information about disease as well as innovative treatment options and survival rates is readily accessible within medical circles. But reliable resources are limited for pet owners seeking the best options for their pets. In an effort to help your clients reach behind the medical curtain, this column focuses on veterinary clinical trials conducted around the country and how your clients can get involved. Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) funds some of this animal-related work that is assessing novel treatment options, identifying how to prevent disease and, in the most successful cases, discovering new cures.

Clinical trials epitomize the win-win cliché. Veterinarians get the opportunity to treat animals that develop diseases naturally. Pet owners receive high-quality care at discounted prices, thanks to university settings. And, most importantly, pets get the health care they need and deserve.

As explained by the National Institutes of Health, "Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research."

These types of studies are beneficial for human and animal patients, as illustrated by Scooby, a six-year-old dog who was flown to Florida multiple times to participate in a pacemaker study funded by MAF.

The Anthons, a family in Utah, first learned that something was wrong with their 100-pound black Labrador Retriever when he fainted in the kids' room.

"Scooby just fell over, but he jumped right back up so we didn't think much about it," remembers owner Gary Anthon. But over time, Scooby's fainting episodes increased, and he started losing weight. "It was just heartbreaking to see him go through this and waste away," Anthon added.

The family's veterinarian diagnosed third-degree heart block and gave Scooby three weeks to live unless a pacemaker was implanted in his heart. The family researched local treatment options and chose to participate in a clinical trial for heart block patients with Dr. Amara Estrada, a veterinary cardiologlist at the University of Florida.

Since 2007, Estrada has enrolled 17 dogs in her pacemaker study, which will determine how pacemaker placement affects long-term prognosis and quality of life in canine patients. Estrada's work, which is ongoing, compares pacemaker placement in the right ventricular apex, left ventricular free wall and biventricular areas within the heart. To enroll or receive additional information regarding this clinical trial, contact Dr. Estrada via e-mail: EstradaA@vetmed.ufl.edu.

By perfecting pacemaker placement, doctors can improve long-term prognosis for dogs and quality of life, Estrada explains.

Again, Scooby is an ideal example of how successful these trials can be.

"Scooby returned home that June and he was cured," Anthon said. "We cannot imagine what that spring would have been like watching Scooby die. Instead, Scooby is now running around, playing with the kids, thanks to Morris [Animal] Foundation, Dr. Estrada, fellow cardiologist Dr. Herbert Maisenbacher and veterinary technician Melanie Powell (Scooby's best friend)."

For veterinary professionals, high-quality clinical trials are a linchpin for medical breakthroughs.

Dr. Steven Budsberg, president of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association says that randomized, high-quality controlled clinical trials offer the strongest medical evidence for solving certain health problems.

Budsberg applauds the work MAF funds and the extensive approval process studies go through before MAF funds them. MAF's scientific advisory boards, made up of veterinary experts in their field, assess proposals for the quality of the science, feasibility of obtaining results and relevance of the information.

For Scooby-whose ability to romp and play with his human siblings can be traced directly back to Dr. Estrada and her pacemaker study-the relevance is clear.

The Anthons learned about Dr. Estrada's work on the Internet, but more often than not pet owners look to trusted professionals like you for help and guidance.

We know there are other pets-like Scooby-who would benefit from clinical trials, but few people take advantage of this unique, valuable opportunity. Directing medical questions to family veterinarians is always the best first step, but you can also encourage your clients to investigate veterinary clinical trials. To get started, here are a few Web sites that provide trustworthy information.

Morris Animal Foundation: http://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/resources/clinical-trials/

National Institutes of Health: http://clinicaltrials.gov/

Veterinary Cancer Society: http://www.vetcancersociety.org/index.php?c=1

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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