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Insight/Report on Private Giving
Private Funding Helps Pave Way for Critical Research Programs
The College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has a long and noble record of conducting innovative scientific research. It ranks consistently in the top three colleges of veterinary medicine in terms of research funding from the National Institutes of Health, USDA, Centers for Disease Control, and other federal agencies. Over the years, researchers within the College have made breakthroughs in the areas of cancer treatment, equine orthopaedics, tuberculosis, mosquito-borne illnesses, veterinary emergency care, and many other areas. With such success in hand, one would think that all is milk and honey.
But clinical research can be a vicious circle. It's hard for researchers to get money to conduct research into new fields until they can prove that the new research has potential. But it's hard to prove potential without money. Or, researchers often find themselves in situations where they have been given federal dollars to conduct research, but don't have the laboratory facilities or equipment to support the research - and the grant does not allow money to be used to build facilities or buy equipment.
While some scientists in long-standing laboratories with detailed records of research successes find it relatively easy to apply for and receive government support, others struggle to get programs off the ground or to branch off into new and unproven areas. A particular problem for veterinary researchers is that little government funding is available for small animal studies unless direct ties to human health can be shown. Private donations to support research are critical in all these cases.
The Miki Society at Colorado State University is one example of how private donations support new research. Since the inception of the Miki Society in 1988, hundreds of veterinarians, clients, and animal lovers have donated to the memorial fund. Most of the donations are not large, but together they enable the College to provide around $50,000 in grants each year to support pioneering research. This year, Miki grants are supporting five research projects including the use of dietary supplements to treat arthritis in dogs, the causes of uveitis (a common eye infection) in cats, improved treatment of antifreeze poisoning in cats, and a possible treatment for atopic dermatitis in dogs.
Private foundations also provide support to researchers at the College. The Morris Animal Foundation sponsors a variety of research projects for companion animals at the College. Dr. Anne Avery, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, said support from private foundations has been critical to her work.
"The Morris Animal Foundation, along with the American Veterinary Medical Association, funded development of a diagnostic test for lymphoma in dogs," Dr. Avery said. "Without that support, it would have been very difficult to conduct the research and studies necessary. This type of work, unless there is a direct link to human health, is not funded at all through the NIH or the USDA."
The test developed by Dr. Avery's research team is now self-supporting and providing improved diagnostic testing not only for patients at the College's James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, but also for patients of veterinarians across the country.
Dr. Kurt Beam, a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, said he doesn't know if he would be in the research business today if it weren't for private donations.
"When I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, I had to renew a grant for NIH money, and the renewal was denied," said Dr. Beam. "If it wasn't for money I had from the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, my lab would have been shut down, and that would have killed my career."
Dr. Beam and his research team study the proteins that are involved in the link between electrical signaling in, and contraction of, muscle cells. When these proteins are mutated, they can cause human diseases such as central core disease and periodic paralysis. Understanding these diseases may one day lead to better treatment and perhaps even a cure for related diseases including muscular dystrophy.
"It's often difficult for beginning investigators to win large NIH grants, so smaller funding sources are extremely important," said Dr. Beam. "Private donations also help to provide expensive equipment or to give a researcher flexibility to explore avenues of study that are a bit riskier. Another important aspect for us is that groups such as the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation that have an interest in a particular disease keep our research more grounded. They force us to think about the consequences of basic research to human health, to think about the cause and the cure, and to keep in mind the human importance of what we do."
Private donations act as a bridge for many programs and as a sole funding source for others. Private donations provide seed money to new research ideas, helping researchers to prove viability of their concepts so they can obtain larger grants. Private donations help with capital construction and equipment purchases and fund chairs and professorships, enabling world-class scientists to approach their work without the fiscal constraints that may otherwise hold them back. Without the private sector, much research of vital importance to the advancement of science and medicine, particularly veterinary medicine, would be difficult if not impossible to conduct.