In the veterinary research community, you usually have to prove you have a good idea in order to get funding to support your research. But, you need funding for your early proof of concept. No pilot data, no money; no money, no pilot data. That’s where the newly established Frida and Friends Legacy for Liver Disease Research is helping to make a difference.
By providing seed funding for pilot research projects, Frida’s fund is helping to launch a cutting-edge study into the use of stem cell therapy for chronic hepatitis in dogs. If initial study results show promise, the research team will be able to apply for larger grants using pilot data as proof of concept, and apply to additional funding agencies, including the Morris Animal Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
“Frida and Friends Legacy is an open-ended fund that can be used for any small-animal liver disease research,” said Dr. Allison Bradley, who is conducting research on chronic hepatitis in dogs for her PhD at Colorado State University. “We’ve often had pet owners who wanted to support our research and, up until now, we haven’t had an easy avenue for them to do that. Now, with the Frida and Friends Legacy, they can help make a difference not only for dogs, but possibly for people, too.”
The fund’s namesake, Frida, was the donor family’s “matriarch” who had been brought to a shelter with a badly healed broken leg that had to be amputated. Her owners, who are foster parents at the shelter, adopted Frida and continued to foster other animals over whom Frida kept close watch. Frida’s "friends" included the companion animals (two affected by liver disease) of the donors’ adult children. Foo, a rescue dog, was treated for a massive liver tumor at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Sprocket, another friend, developed severe liver failure and also was treated at CSU. Rounding out Frida’s friends are Dozer, Guapo, and Mico.
Dozer and Sprocket, two of Frida's furry friends.
The donors noted that they were inspired to create the Frida and Friends Legacy when they saw how important CSU was to creating healthier and longer lives for both Foo and Sprocket. The research the fund is supporting may now give all animals a better chance at overcoming liver disease.
“For the current study, we already have done a preliminary safety trial, and the way we are going after this treatment is pretty unique,” said Dr. Bradley. “We use an injection into the spleen to deliver the stem cells efficiently to the liver, and then we’ll use liver biopsies to help us determine where the stem cells go, how long they stay, whether they are multiplying and replacing tissue, and if they are anti-inflammatory or immuno-suppressive. We also will be following these patients to see if their liver disease improves, as has been shown in studies of mice with liver disease.
“These are big, complicated questions, but this study should start chipping away at them.”
The study also has implications for human medicine as naturally occurring liver disease in dogs is closer to the disease process in humans than is induced disease in laboratory animals. What Dr. Bradley’s team learns in dogs may one day help improve treatments for chronic and acute liver disease in humans.
Dr. Bradley currently is recruiting dogs with chronic hepatitis to participate in the stem cell therapy clinical trial. Two types of patients are eligible: those that have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis but have no significant signs of illness yet; and dogs that have been diagnosed, are already on standard therapy, and the disease is progressing. Her team also is looking for dogs whose veterinarian has recommended a liver biopsy.
If you would like more information on enrolling your dog, or if you are a veterinarian and are interested in learning more, contact Dr. Bradley at email@example.com. If you are interested in making a gift to Frida and Friends Legacy for Liver Disease Research, contact Judea Franck, Associate Director of Development, at Judea.Franck@colostate.edu or at (970) 556-4678.