November 15, 2000

 

 Baker Institute celebrates golden anniversary

Posted Nov. 1, 2000

Cornell University's James A. Baker Institute for Animal Health reflected on a half century of innovations with its 50th anniversary celebration Oct 7-9, held in conjunction with the university's fall symposium.

For the event, the institute invited some of the original founders and scientists who trained there. Invitees include veterinarians from across the United States and around the world, the deans of US and Canadian veterinary schools, former and current staff members, and private individuals who have supported veterinary research at the institute.

The three-day celebration included presentations by Baker Institute faculty on the institute's contributions to veterinary medicine, and future directions. Guests included Dr. Leroy Coggins, developer of the Coggins test. Lord Lawson Soulsby, the only veterinarian in the British House of Lords and mentor to several institute faculty, accepted an invitation to preside over the scientific meetings Oct 8, held in conjunction with the events.

On Oct 9 there was a scientific symposium at Cornell focusing on the various research areas of the Baker Institute. Dr. Peter Doherty, Nobel laureate in medicine and chairman of the Department of Immunology at St Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tenn, was the keynote speaker.

Baker Institute researcherThe study of animal viruses is commonplace in veterinary education today. Fifty years ago, however, Dr. James Baker's dedication and vision, combined with his curiosity about animal viruses, forged the way for an enterprising research facility.

There was one other early catalyst. In 1950, when no effective means was available to control distemper or infectious hepatitis in dogs, Dr. Baker received an entreaty from then chairman of the Coca-Cola Company, Robert Woodruff. His pointer was ill with infectious hepatitis, but Dr. Baker informed him that there were a lack of funds and research needed to bring the disease under control. Woodruff, undeterred, came up with the start-up funds for what became the Cornell Research Laboratory for Diseases of Dogs, a division of the Veterinary Virus Research Institute.

In addition to research in the field of canine infectious diseases, the institute made contributions in the 1950s and 1960s to the control of diseases of livestock, including vaccines against hog cholera and transmissible gastroenteritis of swine.

According to Bonnie Baker, associate director of development at the Baker Institute, about 70 percent of the institute's efforts have focused on dogs. "Research on other species, including horses, cats, wildlife, and basic model systems, continues to comprise about 30 percent of the institute's activities."

Dr. Baker, the institute's architect and first director, died in 1972, but much has been built on his foundation. Three years after Dr. Baker died, institute virologists Drs. Max Appel and L. E. Carmichael faced the sudden emergence of severe enteric disease in dogs. Within a few months they isolated the causitive agent, parvo virus, and later perfected a modified-live-virus vaccine that is still in use today.

In the late 1970s, the dean of Cornell's veterinary college appointed a new director, Dr. Douglas McGregor. Dr. McGregor brought in several immunologists, including the institute's current director, Dr. Douglas Antczak, whose focus is equine immunology. Dr. Antczak is also involved in a collaborative effort to map the horse genome.

Canine geneticists at the institute have been working closely with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to construct a linkage map of the canine genome. This has led to a partnership between Cornell and Ralston Purina to establish the Canine Reference Family DNA Distribution Center, making panels of DNA samples available to the international community of canine geneticists (see related story, page 1453).

Institute researchers Dr. Gustavo Aguirre and Dr. Gregory M. Acland advanced the knowledge of canine genetics when they isolated the gene that shows the carrier for progressive retinal atrophy in dogs, and developed a practical test for it.

Recently, a study by Dr. Jamie MacLeod, another institute researcher, demonstrated the ability of recombinant canine erythropoietin to stimulate red blood cell production in dogs without causing the serious and sometimes life-threatening immune response seen frequently in dogs treated with human erythropoietin. Eventually, Dr. MacLeod hopes to make canine and feline erythropoietin available for use by veterinarians.

In recent years the institute's scientists have made research contributions on osteoarthritis and reproductive disorders. They have also advanced the understanding of immune defenses against helminths.

Four divisions now make up the Institute-Diseases of Dogs, the Equine Genetics Center, the Center for Canine Genetics and Reproduction, and the Laboratories of Immunology. Today 11 faculty and 90 students and support staff occupy 15 buildings, including the main laboratories, dog and rodent colonies, and the Equine Genetics Center's McConville Barn. In the coming year the Baker Institute will break ground for new laboratory facilities, making room for the next generation of veterinary scientists.