Feb 082009
Authors: Alexandra Sieh

After a nearly 30-year-long career with equine studies and research, Dr. Gordon Woods and his laboratory at CSU received $1.14 million in donations at the end of last year to support work in using horses as a model to better understand human cancer.

As a part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on campus, Woods’ laboratory will be using the donations to fund research of cellular activity in both humans and horses, which Woods believes may create more understanding of cancer in humans.

“We had taken the research as far as we could go,” Woods said of his work before the donations.

The money came from two separate sources: $1 million from Jess Jackson, owner of Curlin, the 2007 and 2008 American Horse of the Year as named by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of America and $140,000 from the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, a state-of-the-art hospital for racehorses in Kentucky.

Jackson, owner of Stonestreet Farms, a thoroughbred stable, and Curlin the racehorse, already had a passion for both cancer research and horses.

After hearing about Woods’ research in 2006, Jackson expressed an initial interest, promising to consider a donation to his work — and just last year Jackson donated the $1 million.

The Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital also took an interest in Woods’ research after hearing about the work through Jackson.

“We have always felt that giving back to the horse and the equine community that has helped us succeed is important,” Bill Rood, cofounder of the hospital, said in an e-mail.

“After learning of his research on cancer benefiting both equine and humans, we were compelled to help continue this great study.”

Woods, with his team of veterinary technicians and CSU graduate students, plan to use the money to continue previous work in analyzing the cell division rates in humans and horses to find a relationship between the low cell activity in horses and their low cancer mortality rate.

One of these graduate students, Julia Eaves, who is completing her Masters degree in biomedical sciences, joined the team when it first began in February 2008.

Eaves, who hopes to attend veterinary school in the fall, heads many of the lab’s current projects, which include collecting and analyzing blood samples from the horses and processing previously-collected samples.

“It’s been a great experience so far,” Eaves said.

“I’ve sort of helped (Woods) build up his lab and I deal with a lot of the data that we’ve been able to collect.”

Woods’ laboratory has been years in the making, with his first discoveries regarding cell division occurring years before.

After working with cloning, resulting in the world’s first mule clone in 2003, Woods noticed that horses have a lower cell division rate in comparison with humans, meaning that cancer in horses spreads at a slower rate because their cells divide at a slower rate.

According to Woods’ research, horses have a low cancer mortality rate, recorded to be 8 percent.

Humans, in comparison, have a 24 percent cancer mortality rate, meaning that humans are more likely to die after contracting cancer.

Woods applied his discoveries to cancer research, realizing that since horses have low cell division and low cancer mortality, there may be a connection.

Woods said it may be possible that since there is a low cell division in horses, that may be the case with cancer cells as well, making it so the disease cannot spread in horses as quickly.

The goal now is to find a way to slow the cell division in humans, slowing down the rate at which cancer spreads and thus leaving more time to catch the disease and remove it before it is too late.

With these donations, he said he hopes that his research will be able to continue and further their understanding about the way cancer works, paving a way for others to find a cure.

Rood shared these hopes, saying, “We are all affected by cancer and hope to contribute to a final cure, both for humanity and the animals we care for.”

Staff writer Alexandra Sieh can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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