September 16, 2010

Veterinary College Receives Record Large Donation

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An anonymous University trustee gave the College of Veterinary Medicine an unprecedented $10 million to develop the first canine genomics program in the world, President David Skorton announced Wednesday.

The gift is the largest in the college’s history, which will support the University’s DNA sequencing research and establish two new endowed professorships — one in biostatistics and another in cancer biology.

“To have a University leader step forward with a gift of such magnitude and purpose is an extraordinary statement of support. At Cornell and throughout higher education, resources to invest in faculty and new programs are scarce, which makes this gift all the more meaningful,” Skorton said in a statement.

The donation will allow vet school scientists to hire more technicians and acquire the latest equipment to study canine genetics. The ramifications of their research will extend beyond just canine health, said Dean Michael Kotlikoff, veterinary medicine.

“With this gift, we will leverage the information embedded in canine genetics for the benefit of animals and humans,” Kotlikoff said in a statement.

When scientists study dogs’ genomes, they can pinpoint the specific genes and mutations causing diseases that affect both animals and humans. This includes diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and certain cancers, which in turn will lead to better understanding and, ultimately, prevention of these diseases. In some cases, scientists may be able to use genetics to predict illness long before it starts, creating an opportunity to preempt or slow the progression of the disease.

The sequencing of the canine genome — achieved in 2005 using the genome of a Cornell community member’s boxer -— was a “collaborative effort” that included scientists from the University and others around the country, said Prof. Rory Todhunter, clinical sciences. Todhunter is the founder of Cornell’s DNA Bank, a scientific archive that will also receive a portion of the new funding. He said the donation will allow him and his colleagues to use decades of research to the fullest possible extent.

“With this gift we’ll be able to propel this project,” Todhunter said. He expressed hope that the donation will inspire other people who are interested in animals to support veterinary research.

Kotlikoff also expressed gratitude to the anonymous donor, who he called “an unusual individual not really interested in any kind of personal kudos but who is a great supporter to what we do.” He said a gift of this size is very rare, which will allow the University to maintain a strong standard of academic quality and a high ranking amongst fellow research institutions.

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie