Veterinary pathologist

Veterinary pathologist

A veterinary pathologist is a veterinary medical specialist. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes 20 specialties.] Some of these specialists provide a higher level of health care to pets - surgeons, internists, cardiologists, and dermatologists. The specialty of veterinary pathology offers some other interesting opportunities for veterinarians to use their education and skills in ways far removed from treating patients. The American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP)(, the first veterinary medical specialty, was founded in 1949 and has grown to about 1500 active] This is a small percentage of the approximately 73,000 veterinarians in the United States. The Society of Toxicologic Pathology ( has a membership of over 1000 veterinary and medical pathologists and is a leading advocate for pathology in toxicology and pathology in the world also.

Recognizing and Understanding Disease

Veterinary pathologists specialize in recognizing and understanding how and why diseases occur. They are able to this by examining animals in the clinic as well as studying their organs, tissues, cells, chemicals, molecules and genes. Some veterinary pathologists interested in wildlife and zoo animals study whole populations of animals. This broad vision at many different levels is powerful knowledge for any biomedical scientist. Because of their training, veterinary pathologists are high sought after to apply their skills in a variety of interesting jobs, most of which are invisible to the public.

Most closely related to clinical practice and pet health care are the clinical and anatomical pathologists who provide diagnostic support to veterinarians caring for pets. These pathologists assist in the interpretation of laboratory findings and surgical biopsies to help make the correct diagnosis so the proper therapy can be delivered to the pet. Because pets are living longer due to vaccines and better general medicine, more animals live long enough to develop cancer, just as humans do. The development of sophisticated imaging techniques such as CT scans and MRIs help veterinarians find tumors, but the pathologist makes the diagnosis from the biopsy that allows for proper treatment.

Developing New Treatments

Veterinary pathologists also have many roles in developing new treatments. All drugs to treat or prevent illness must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so you can have confidence that they are safe and effective. Veterinary pathologists study these drugs to make sure that the drug helps your knee, but does not hurt your kidneys or cause cancer in your liver. Most of these men and women work in pharmaceutical companies and have key roles in preparing the body of scientific work presented to the FDA. They also work in "discovery teams" with other biomedical scientists to design new therapies and approaches to treating illness. Their knowledge of the causes of diseases at all levels is extremely valuable in this endeavor and their skills are highly sought after by the pharmaceutical industry.

Researching Diseases

In a similar vein, veterinary pathologists work for governmental agencies doing research into the basic mechanisms of cancer, infectious and toxic diseases. Drs. Robert Squire, Dawn Goodman, Richard Griesemer, Eugene E. McConnell and Jerrold M. Ward, of NIEHS and NCI helped establish the veterinary and toxicologic pathology programs at NIH followed by Drs. Gary Boorman and Robert Maronpot of the National Toxicology Program in the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences. They have each played leading roles in assessing the toxicity and cancer-causing potential of the thousands of chemicals to which we are exposed. These studies have identified which chemicals might be dangerous and formed the basis for the guidelines that limit the risks. Dr. Ann Hubbs of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health was part of the team that discovered a toxic principle in buttered microwave popcorn that caused illness among workers manufacturing the product. These veterinarians are using their knowledge and skill related to animal disease and applying it to protect human health.

The "global community" which has resulted from a more closely connected world has brought new populations of people into contact with older diseases. For example, the West Nile virus, an emerging disease of humans typical of many diseases well known in isolated parts of the world, is popping up in new places. It was Dr. Tracey McNamara at the Bronx Zoo, New York and Dr. Keith Steele of the U.S. Army at Ft. Detrick, Maryland who first recognized the occurrence of West Nile fever in the United States. They made the diagnosis in dead birds and connected it to the epidemic of flu-like illness in New York City.

Veterinary pathologists have been studying infectious disease of humans as well as animals for decades. This is dramatically illustrated in the book "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston, a true story about the outbreak of Ebola virus in a monkey colony near Washington, D.C. Ebola virus is a highly lethal hemorrhagic fever of humans and other primates that periodically pops up in Africa. The central characters in the book are Dr. Nancy Jaax, a veterinary pathologist at Ft. Detrick, and her husband, Dr. Jerry Jaax, a laboratory animal veterinarian, who were both involved in diagnosing the disease and managing the outbreak.

Infectious diseases are also of interest for their potential use in bioterrorism and its lesser-known form, agroterrorism - the use of biologic agents to attack our agricultural resources. Accidental or purposeful introduction of these diseases could be an economic and medical catastrophe.Veterinary pathologists are on the forefront of this effort. Pathologists working in federal and state diagnostic laboratories as well as those working for the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA) will be the first ones to know about foreign animal diseases in our country that could devastate our agriculture industry.

One has only to read the recent accounts about Mad Cow Disease in Europe and North American with its impact on both human health and the beef industry to understand its importance. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Great Britain a few years back is another example. Although there is little risk of human disease with foot and mouth disease, the economic impact to Great Britain was very negative. The USDA spends considerable resources to keep these foreign diseases out of our country, some of which are less than 90 miles from our borders. Veterinary pathologists familiar with these diseases are busy improving the detection and containment of this threat.

The Department of Defense maintains a cadre of veterinary pathologists in uniform who are working to limit the risk of infectious diseases to soldiers deployed overseas. From studying the basic mechanisms of exotic fevers, to the development of vaccine, disease control, risk management and rapid detection of biological and chemical agents. Army veterinary pathologists are crucial members of the effort to protect our soldiers. Lt. Col. Dana Scott studied the Ebola virus in the famed "Hot Zone" and served for two years as special liaison for biologic warfare to The Pentagon. Lt. Col. Jo Lynne Raymond was deployed in Iraq in 2004 commanding a biologic and chemical warfare detection unit.

Wildlife Conservation

Wildlife medicine also becomes a more urgent task as growing human populations endanger our natural resources and bring humans in closer contact with emerging diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD) in elk and deer. CWD is a spongiform encephalopathy related to Mad Cow Disease. It lives in close proximity to humans, yet we do not know the full extent of the risk to humans nor do we fully understand where this disease comes from. Veterinary pathologists Dr. William Hadlow was one of the first scientists to make a connection between spongiform encephalopathy in sheep, called scrapie because of the unusual behavior of affected sheep, and a similar disease in humans in New Guinea.

From mortality in sea otters to the world wide decline of amphibians, it is likely that human activities are impacting our environment and affecting the health of wildlife. Veterinary pathologists are engaged in identifying these problems and forging solutions. Dr. Linda Munson of the University of California at Davis is deeply involved in studying cheetahs and their narrow diversity that places them at risk of extinction. She is also involved in a fascinating study of the ecology and biology of Channel Island foxes off the coast of California. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska is a classic example of the work of veterinary pathologists who assisted with the clean-up groups to study the effect of oil spills on animals.

Zoological parks in the United States are becoming an important refuge for endangered species. Those with the resources employ veterinary pathologists as part of their conservation efforts. Walt Disney World has veterinarians and a full time veterinary pathologist on staff to care for their animals in the Animal Kingdom.

Well-Known Researchers

The boundaries of study even extend to space. Clinical veterinary pathologist Dr. Martin Fettman from Colorado State University was a NASA astronaut who conducted experiments with animals in a zero gravity environment. Four years ago, Dr. James Thomson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison was on the cover of "Time" magazine because of his research on stem cells. Dr. Peter Doherty is the only veterinary pathologist to win a Nobel Prize.

Becoming a Veterinary Pathologist

Veterinarians who specialize in pathology enjoy a variety of careers, using skills common to their education to solve problems beyond those of sick pets. To become a veterinary pathologist, one has to graduate from a veterinary school and complete at least three years of advanced training in pathology. Many pathologists earn a PhD during this time. Finally, one must pass the ACVP certification examination administered by the ACVP before one can be recognized by the AVMA as a veterinary pathologist.


External links

* [ Official Website]
* [ Journal Website]

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