CAHF fellow helps fungus-filled dogs
September 19th, 2013
By Melissa Cavanagh
Physicians use the drug voriconazole in their human patients to cure fungal infections in difficult-to-treat sites and to combat fungal diseases such as systemic aspergillosis.
But can this anti-fungal drug be used in dogs?
While the use of voriconazole in dogs hasn’t been extensively studied, the drug does offer advantages over other medications.
“This drug has a very good penetration in most tissues including brain tissue, and it has a wide spectrum of activity against most clinically important yeasts and moulds,” says Dr. Julie Lemetayer, a resident in small animal medicine and the 2013 Companion Animal Health Fund (CAHF) research fellow.
“Voriconazole can be more efficient than other commonly used anti-fungal drugs in diseases such as aspergillosis, candidiasis and cryptococcosis.”
Aspergillosis mainly develops in immunocompromised people and is caused by a fungus that’s found indoors and outdoors.
Other veterinary researchers have tested the drug for use in dogs and measured its concentration in the blood of canine subjects after treatment, but Lemetayer and her supervisor, Dr. Sue Taylor, had further questions.
“We wanted to know what would be the concentration of the drug in all body fluids after the dog receives treatment – in cerebral spinal fluids, in the eye, in the joints and in the lungs.”
In the WCVM study, six sled dogs were given the drug and then anesthetized so that all samples could be taken from them in the most stress-free way possible. Lemetayer tested drug concentrations in the dogs’ blood, cerebral spinal fluid, joints and aqueous humour – the liquid inside the eyeball.
“The study that was done before was on beagles. They’re the most common dogs used for research, but they have a particular metabolism,” says Lemetayer, who wanted to use dogs that would better represent the average pet. The sled dogs participating in the WCVM study were a mixture of breeds ranging from huskies and malamutes to border collies and German shepherd crosses.
Lemetayer completed the sampling portion of her project last year and is now compiling and evaluating her study’s results. After sampling was complete, people in the Saskatoon area adopted the six dogs. The new dog owners include Lemetayer who now owns a mixed-breed sled dog named Chinook.
Although Lemetayer is heavily involved in clinical work, research and teaching, a career in veterinary medicine hasn’t always been her goal: “I actually wanted to be a behaviourist before – I was more interested in wildlife.”
But based on the advice of a senior veterinary student, Lemetayer enrolled in veterinary medicine versus biological studies at Nantes’ National Veterinary College in France where she completed her veterinary degree in 2009.
Lemetayer only grew interested in small animal medicine during her senior years of veterinary school while completing externships in Canada, England and Scandinavia.
“I did an externship in Sweden in a zoo and a student there was doing a research project [that involved] watching antelopes, so I followed him,” says Lemetayer. “I actually found it a bit boring – I was more interested in what the veterinarian was doing.
“I also found that with wildlife and exotics, you really need to like to do surgery because that’s such a big part of it,” she says, adding that surgery isn’t her favourite part of clinical veterinary medicine.
One of her veterinary mentors advised Lemetayer that an internship in small animals would be helpful for a career as an exotic veterinarian. “He advised me to be trained first in small animals (where medical techniques are much more advanced) and after that, once I’ve built up some skills, I could go into exotics.”
Lemetayer ended up thoroughly enjoying the medical aspects of small animal medicine during her internship in a small animal referral centre in France. As a result, she decided to continue in small animal internal medicine and came to the WCVM for a residency.
And although she’s still debating what she’ll do after her WCVM residency is over, Lemetayer thinks she’ll continue working with her newfound passion of small animal medicine.
“[Small animal medicine] is really advanced . . . you can do so much and it’s so interesting.”
Melissa Cavanagh of Winnipeg, Man., is a second-year veterinary student and was the WCVM’s research communications intern for the summer of 2013.