Dianne McFarlane, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ABVP, is an assistant professor with the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. McFarlane recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund a comparative medicine research project.

The $600,000 award was granted by the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), through their Division of Comparative Medicine. The NCRR helps meet the needs of laboratory scientists and clinical researchers by providing environments and tools they need to understand, detect, treat, and prevent a wide range of diseases. A main objective of the NCRR is to train veterinarians to conduct more comparative medical research because animals model humans closely.

McFarlane’s study “Initiating Factors of Neurodegeneration” seeks to determine the underlying factors that are responsible for causing neurodegeneration. Age is the major risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases in humans, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, it is unknown what biological changes occur as we age that cause some individuals to develop degenerative brain diseases.

McFarlane explained that the study will be conducted using a comparative approach, looking at two animal models.

 In collaboration with OSU College of Veterinary Medicine alumnus Gary White, DVM, MS, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, McFarlane will investigate the aging process of baboons. Events that occur as part of natural aging in baboons will be characterized. Events and markers that predict severity of neurodegeneration will be identified.

The team will also study neurodegeneration in horses with Cushing’s disease.

Cushing’s disease is caused by degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons, similar to what occurs in people with Parkinson’s disease.

The team hopes that an understanding of the age-related events that contribute to development of equine Cushing’s disease and baboon age-associated dopaminergic neurodegeneration might provide useful comparisons in unraveling the cause of Parkinson’s disease.

The OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences currently has 13 NIH grants in effect, funding a wide variety of research and training projects. The Veterinary Center leads the OSU system in funding from the National Institutes of Health.