Short Takes: April 2017

Become a Citizen Scientist and Help Research Ticks

Hundreds of projects are underway across the U.S. and perhaps thousands worldwide using citizen scientists. They’re volunteers who collect information, usually in cooperation with professional scientists, in fields from computer science to medicine, ecology, outer space and beyond.

“The massive collaborations that can occur through citizen science allow investigations at continental and global scales and across decades — leading to discovery that a single scientist could never achieve on their own,” says Scistarter, a website that tracks 1,600 research projects and is partly supported by the National Science Foundation and Arizona State University.


© Lilyana Vynogradova | Bigstock

If you’d like to participate in citizen science in a simple but significant veterinary project at Cornell, save a tick removed from your cat — read about the growing threat of ticks in this issue — and send it to the Cornell Feline Health Center.

You could contribute to a greater understanding of the viruses, bacteria and parasites that ticks carry and that cause disease in cats and people in the center’s Feline Tick/Lyme Disease Surveillance Program, says parasitologist Dwight D. Bowman, Ph.D., director of the program.

Scientists will identify the type of tick using visual and DNA based methods, and will test each tick to determine whether it carries Borrelia bergdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

To submit a tick, remove it from your cat and provide information described on Cornell University’s website under Research Studies. Place it in a sealed, zippered plastic bag and place that bag inside another sealed, zippered plastic bag. Send via overnight carrier or priority mail to:

Cornell University
C4-114 VMC
930 Campus Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14853-6401

If the carrier requires a phone number, use (607) 253-3394. For more information, email General results of the study will be sent to participants in the spring as new samples are received.

An Enduring Mystery

Rather than the big breakthrough, the results of scientific studies often can indicate what’s ineffective in treatment. That was the case when Craig Webb, DVM, Ph.D., at Colorado State University led a clinical trial of a diabetes mellitus treatment.

Our previous report noted that his team would evaluate the effects of a nutraceutical antioxidant. “Unfortunately, our study failed to demonstrate any clear benefit to cats,” Dr. Webb says. “The fructosamine level (a serum protein test) in the treated cats did decrease significantly compared to the placebo control group, but this was most likely because the two groups — chosen randomly — were different to begin with. This is sometimes a problem seen in clinical trials where individuals are grouped randomly and there are important differences ‘by chance.'”

Like other experts, Dr. Webb believes that oxidative stress — an imbalance in free radicals that can damage cells — plays a role, and that there may be a place for antioxidant therapy but says, “It is also likely that type 2 diabetic cats are different from type 2 humans and we just need to be smarter when it comes to figuring out this very complex process in this even more mysterious species!”