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New Center Brings Together Basic, Applied Sciences to Tackle Animal Pain
When Casey Jones, a nine-year old golden retriever, tore his cranial cruciate ligament (blew out his knee, in sports talk), his owners weren’t exactly sure what had happened. He was already a bit arthritic, so maybe the new limp was part of that. But watching him trying to get up each day became more and more difficult. Walking and running were out of the question. Was he in pain? They didn’t really know. Did he just pull a muscle? A trip to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital confirmed a diagnosis and a surgery known as TPLO (tibial plateau leveling osteotomy) was recommended.
The story would end there, except for how Casey’s pain was managed after surgery. Casey’s doctors knew his recovery would be faster and more successful if his post-surgical pain was managed well. Using a combination of pain-relieving medications, physical therapy and massage, Casey made a full recovery and is back to frolicking today. He is a testament to the new science of pain management in veterinary medicine.
Today, the treatment and understanding of pain is the focus of a new center -- the Center for Comparative Pain Medicine -- at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
"Twenty years ago pain was often considered a good thing as it gave veterinarians information about an animal’s condition and was thought to help keep an animal immobile after surgery resulting in improved healing,” said Dr. Pete Hellyer, co-director of the Center and a Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences. “When I went to veterinary school in the early 1980s, we didn’t have a single lecture on pain management.”
Two primary factors have led to the recognition that animal pain must be understood and treated, Dr. Hellyer said. First was the rise of animal ethics and the belief that when pain was induced in an animal (as in surgery) it should be treated. Second was increasing awareness that if veterinarians treated pain proactively, an animal’s post-surgical recovery would be quicker. Another important factor in the treatment of pain was the introduction of Rimadyl from the Pfizer Company in 1997. Using direct-to-consumer advertising, Pfizer created an awareness of animal pain issues and educated people about the possibility of treating long-term pain, such as that associated with osteoarthritis.
Building on these changes, Dr. Hellyer and co-director Dr. William Horne -- both Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists -- along with faculty from the departments of Clinical Sciences and Biomedical Sciences, formed the new Center for Comparative Pain Medicine. The Center was developed to enhance the understanding of the neurobiology of pain and to develop more effective therapies for management of pain in animals.
"Bringing together basic and applied research, we felt that we could make significant progress in the understanding and treatment of pain,” said Dr. Horne, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. “We have so many researchers here in the College who are interested in the molecular mechanisms related to pain, and how pain signals are transmitted through the nervous system, it is very exciting to think of the many ways we can collaborate. The Center will allow those collaborations to bear fruit and bring advances to the science of treating animal pain.”
The specific goals of the Center are:
Among the Center’s immediate action items are pain management courses for the fall and spring semesters, a seminar series, a training program on the clinical side including a fellowship, and a training program on the research side that will lead to a PhD degree.
"In human medicine, we have seen in the past two decades great advances in the understanding and treatment of pain,” said Dr. Hellyer. “We are now starting to see the same type of attention paid to the pain our companion animals experience in life, and how we can best treat it. From basic research to clinical studies, we hope the Center can advance the treatment of pain in animals and serve as a national center to train the next generation of veterinarians in the science of pain management.”