Finding a Cure for Canine Heart Disease

Written by: Amy Ettinger

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Veterinary student Eva Oxford usually spends most of her nights and weekends in the lab at Cornell University trying to unravel the mystery of heart disease in boxers.

In 2004, Oxford was studying for a PhD at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, where she was pursuing a career in human biomedical research. Her career track changed when her adviser’s boxer became ill with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), an inherited disease that causes arrhythmia, heart failure and death. That’s when Oxford met Dr. Sydney Moïse, a veterinary cardiologist at Cornell University who is funded by Morris Animal Foundation.

Oxford and Dr. Moïse collaborated on a Foundation-funded study looking for proteins in the hearts of dogs that had died of ARVC. They studied genetic mutations in boxers and theorized that these mutations break down the “glue” that binds cells together.

Oxford says she hopes her research will lead to better treatments for dogs with the fatal disease. “The more we understand, the better we can treat these animals and recognize at a young age if they have ARVC,” Oxford says. “If we can understand what brings the onset of the disease, maybe we can act to prevent it.”

Oxford completed her PhD and then enrolled in veterinary school. She has continued her work with boxers under Dr. Moïse’s mentorship and recently received a Morris Animal Foundation veterinary student scholar grant to research why the right ventricle is affected in animals with ARVC, while the left ventricle remains relatively spared. The boxers in the study, all of which died of the disease, were donated by pet owners, and Oxford says knowing that makes her even more passionate about finding a cure.

“People have had the heart to donate their pets to these studies, and I know that’s a very hard thing to do,” she says. “You owe it to these people to have some answers for them at the end of the day.”

In addition to being a full-time veterinary student, Oxford spends her holidays and summers working on the boxer research. Dr. Moïse says Morris Animal Foundation funding inspired Oxford to devote her career to veterinary research, which has allowed her to develop a better understanding of the link between science and clinical medicine.

“Support of our research gives young people the opportunity to make a difference, and this has a far-reaching impact,” says Dr. Moïse. “The funding that goes for these studies, when shared with a young, intelligent, caring and driven young person, will have a major influence on the health of dogs for the long haul.”

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