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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 29 · Number 3 · Spring 2012

News & Notes

Needle work for sick pets

Veterinarians add acupuncture to their treatment options.


Niles during an acupuncture session
(Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)

After back surgery for a herniated disc, Niles Bunyard began a long road of physical therapy to regain the use of his weakened rear legs. On his side were a good support system, a positive attitude — and a lot of long, thin needles.

Niles is a dog — a French bulldog to be precise — and one of a growing number of animal patients at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital to receive acupuncture as a complementary therapy to conventional veterinary treatments.

In Niles's case, dry needle acupuncture (using very fine, straight, solid needles) and electroacupuncture (administering a low, pulsating electrical current to the needles) were used to stimulate the dog's acupuncture points and promote the use of his limbs again.

UC Davis veterinarian and acupuncturist Marilyn Koski, D.V.M. '92, placed needles along Niles' spine, and in his legs and paws. The dog looked toward his rear limbs and voluntarily flexed his previously immobile legs and toes. "There's a very good response there — good deqi!" Koski exclaimed to Niles' owners, Lee and Susan Bunyard, French bulldog breeders from Shingle Springs. (Deqi is a Chinese term describing good acupuncture needle placement and patient response.)

UC Davis veterinarians have been performing acupuncture on their patients since 2001, beginning with Peter Pascoe, an anesthesiologist and professor in the Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences, who used the ancient Chinese practice to treat epilepsy and osteoarthritis in dogs.

Equine surgeon Sarah le Jeune was one of the first to regularly incorporate it into her practice. Many of her patients are performance horses. An assistant professor who completed her veterinary residency at UC Davis and studied acupuncture at the Chi Institute in Gainesville, Fla., Le Jeune finds that acupuncture can help in cases when Western medicine tends to be ineffective, such as treating back and neck pain.

"Equine acupuncture sounds outlandish, but it's very well established and has been done for thousands of years," said le Jeune. "I was skeptical at first — in fact, I'm still skeptical. And it keeps working."

Acupuncture for companion animals is comparable in price to mainstream treatments, running $69–89 per session for current UC Davis veterinary patients. The number of treatments required varies.

The UC Davis philosophy is to use "integrative medicine," combining Western medicine with less conventional therapies in order to treat the whole animal, le Jeune said.

Koski said she also was skeptical about acupuncture before she began to see its results in patients — and before trying acupuncture herself to help with her migraine headaches, which have never returned since.

After earning her veterinary degree from UC Davis, she worked at Hong Kong's exotic animal Ocean Park. There, she noticed a remarkable difference in healing time for animals treated by colleagues with acupuncture and with Western therapies. When she returned to the U.S., she earned her acupuncture certification at the Chi Institute.

Koski said that traditional Chinese terms such as qi (pronounced chee) — or life force — and yin/yang — the balance of opposing energies — are ancient ways of understanding what we now know to be blood flow and neurological function. "Ancient Chinese acupuncturists, lacking the diagnostic and anatomic insight and technologies we have today, described the vascular and peripheral neurologic system using the best descriptive vernacular available to them," she said.

Koski said that patients don't need to reject Western medicine to enjoy the benefits of Eastern practices.

Niles' owner Susan Bunyard said she believed he needed all the therapies he received — surgery, acupuncture and physical therapy. "I see them as working together to give the dog the best possible outcome, and having gone through this with Niles, I would certainly consider acupuncture an important part of veterinary medicine."

During Niles' acupuncture session, the bouncy, enthusiastic pooch melted into a drowsy dog-puddle on the bed. "A common benefit…among humans and nonhuman patients alike, is the sedating and almost tranquilizing effect acupuncture can promote," Koski said. Acupuncture or acupressure points can be used to calm aggressive, nervous or otherwise perturbed patients, and many animals grow increasingly relaxed and cooperative with additional treatments.

Koski has performed acupuncture on everything from dogs to dolphins and rabbits to reptiles.

One of her patients was a cat with severe rear limb weakness due to spinal trauma. The owner had been told he would never walk normally again. Koski says, "After two treatments, she sent me an email that began by tersely stating her 'displeasure' with the results of her cat's sessions. As a result of the treatments, her cat was now climbing trees and chasing her dog."

Koski said acupuncture is not a miracle cure but an excellent way to reduce and sometimes eliminate the use of drugs, and increase animals' comfort and quality of life when combined with other treatments, both holistic and Western. It can be very effective for pain management, treating nausea and other gastrointestinal problems, and to reduce drug side effects. While it is a noninvasive and generally safe procedure, it should be used with care in some cases, such as during pregnancy. She recommends that acupuncture be considered early in the development of a patient's treatment plan, rather than as a last resort, and that pet owners, before agreeing to treatments for their animals, check out about the practitioner's background.

Laura Meehan is a freelance writer based in Sacramento.

A binational project for better biofuels

A better understanding of how algae can be used to make biofuels is the aim of a new joint project between UC Davis and the University of Tokyo. It is one of four new grants, jointly funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, to develop environment-friendly fuels and reduce pesticide use.

The four grants, totaling $12 million, will be divided between the Japanese and U.S. laboratories. UC Davis' share will be about $1.5 million over three years, with the possibility of renewal for another two years. All four projects are based on metabolomics, an approach that uses high-tech analysis to understand all the chemicals involved in a living cell's metabolism.

"We want to understand all the metabolic pathways, which are used under which conditions, and understand the traffic through the cell," said Oliver Fiehn, professor at the Genome Center and Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, who will lead the UC Davis team.

Circling a galaxy far, far away

UC Davis and BGI, the world's largest genomic institute, based in China, have signed a historic agreement that will change the landscape of genomic sciences in California and the Western states, and foster critical breakthroughs in the areas of food security and human, animal and environmental health. The new partnership will establish a state-of-the-art BGI sequencing facility for immediate use on the UC Davis Health System campus in Sacramento, and initiate planning for a permanent BGI Davis Joint Genome Center.

The new sequencing facility will be used to support research initiatives and collaborations and leverage existing strengths across the Davis and Sacramento campuses in human and animal health and medicine, food safety and security, biology, and the environment. When complete, the permanent center will occupy about 10,000 square feet on the health system campus in Sacramento, initially adding approximately 20 high-skilled jobs. It will increase UC Davis' DNA sequencing capability approximately tenfold and generate an estimated 200 new jobs in the Sacramento region.

"UC Davis brings to this partnership phenomenal faculty conducting cutting-edge research on food, health, energy and the environment, while BGI is a world leader in genome sequencing and analysis," said Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.

As envisioned under the agreement, UC Davis faculty and students will gain access to the capabilities and expertise of one of the world's premier genomics and bioinformatics institutes, while BGI researchers will be able to access the university's diverse resources and expertise in education and research.

Hailing the new partnership, BGI's Jun Wang stated, "UC Davis is among the top research universities in the U.S., especially in the areas of agricultural, environmental and biological research."


High costs of job-related injuries and illnesses

The annual price tag of occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States is estimated at $250 billion, according to UC Davis research, the first comprehensive review of its kind since 1992. That figure is $31 billion more than the direct and indirect costs of all cancer, $76 billion more than diabetes and $187 billion more than strokes.

The researchers suggest that the U.S. should place greater emphasis on reducing work-related injury and illnesses, especially since the costs have risen by more than $33 billion (inflation adjusted) since the 1992 analysis, the author said.

"It's unfortunate that occupational health doesn't get the attention it deserves," said J. Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences and author of the study. "The costs are enormous and continue to grow. And the potential for health risks is high, given that most people between the ages of 22 to 65 spend 40 percent of their waking hours at work."

Glass ceiling hard to crack

The proportion of women who lead California's largest companies is growing at such a slow pace that it will take more than a century for women business leaders to achieve parity with men, a UC Davis study has found.

The seventh annual Study of California Women Business Leaders found that women still occupy fewer than one in 10 of the top posts at the 400 largest public companies headquartered in California — a rate that has improved by just 0.2 percent annually.

Steven Currall, dean of the Graduate School of Management, which releases the study each year, said, "There are plenty of qualified women to hire and promote, but the vast majority of the 400 largest public companies in the state don't seem to recognize that."

A wind-powered skyscraper

rendering of building with clear tower of wind turbines above entry

The infamous winds that gust through downtown San Francisco streets, overturning kiosks and sometimes toppling pedestrians, will help to power a revolutionary skyscraper set to open this summer — and could pave the way for a new world market for energy generating wind turbines in new buildings.

The building, headquarters for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, will use a design developed with the help of UC Davis engineering professors. Incorporating an external vertical "wing" of wind turbines that stretch up to the roof, the design will produce 1 percent or less of the 7 percent renewable energy generation for the building.

It was developed with the help of Bruce White, above, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and former dean of the College of Engineering, and Case Van Dam, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, co-leaders of the UC Davis Wind Energy Collaborative.

The collaborative is one of six campus centers on renewable energy administered by the UC Davis Energy Institute, all focused on leading the way to a sustainable energy future.

Using 3-D laser mapping to show earthquake zones

Geologists have a new tool to study how earthquakes change the landscape down to a few inches, and it's giving them insight into how earthquake faults behave.

In a recent issue of the journal Science, a team of scientists from the U.S., Mexico and China reports the most comprehensive before-and-after picture yet of an earthquake zone, using data from the magnitude 7.2 event that struck near Mexicali, Mexico, in April 2010.

"We can learn so much about how earthquakes work by studying fresh fault ruptures," said Michael Oskin, geology professor at UC Davis and lead author on the paper.

Team members used the "virtual reality" facility at UC Davis' W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in Earth Sciences to handle and view the data from the survey. By comparing pre- and post-earthquake surveys, they could see exactly where the ground moved and by how much.

Poor and at risk in the San Joaquin Valley

While California's San Joaquin Valley is home to some of the nation's richest agricultural resources, half of the people who live and work there face elevated levels of air and water pollution coupled with poverty, limited education, language barriers and racial and ethnic segregation, according to a three-year UC Davis study.

The study, "Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity," also found that residents of the region report more environmental hazards than are currently documented or addressed by state agencies.

"Our conclusion is that immediate and comprehensive action is needed by local, regional and state policymakers to protect the health and well-being of the region's most vulnerable residents," said study leader Jonathan London, director of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change and an assistant professor of human and community development.

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