CU partnership with Aurora animal shelter provides purr-fect FIV test patients


AURORA | Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus recently enlisted the help of some unlikely test subjects from Aurora to continue studying the effects of immunodeficiency viruses.

And although they’re donating complete organs, they’re not exactly willing participants and they can’t talk. But they sure can purr.

Thanks to a new partnership with the Aurora Animal Shelter, researchers Eric Poeschla, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and Chommanart Thongkittidilok, a post doctoral research fellow at CU, are using reproductive tissues from spayed and neutered shelter cats to study feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), the equivalent of HIV in cats.

The goal of the research is to create a non-invasive sterilization method that could decrease the prevalence of FIV and act, essentially, as a form of feline birth control.

“We are working on developing less invasive (non-surgical) methods for feline sterilization that could be applicable to large numbers of feral as well as pet cats,” Poeschla said in a statement. “There is a strong need for such methods to reduce the suffering that feline over-population causes to cats, as well as to reduce over-predation by cats on wild bird populations and other small animal species.”

The research could potentially translate to additional understanding of Human Immunodeficiency Virus as well, according to Poeschla.

“This research will benefit both feline and human health concerns,” according to a statement in the city’s weekly Manager’s Memo. “These studies embrace the concept of One Health by benefiting people, animals, and the environment.”

The concept of “One Health” aims to blend veterinary and human medicine. About 60 percent of infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new research program in Aurora, which only uses tissues obtained from stray or owner-surrendered animals, began last fall and has so far netted the researchers approximately 100 tissue samples, according to Cathlin Craver, shelter veterinarian at the Aurora Animal Shelter.

Craver lauded the new partnership as a means to improve the health of the city’s cat population by analyzing organs that are typically discarded.

She said FIV affects about 2.5 percent of the overall feline population and that most animals with the disease are able to live healthy lives, similar to humans diagnosed with HIV. However, she said FIV-positive cats have a tougher time fending off what are typically non- life-threatening infections.

“When the virus starts to affect their immune system, they’re more susceptible to infections,” she said. “So a normal cat that maybe gets a cold can recover just fine, where a cat with FIV would have a much harder time with that infection.”

Craver said the Aurora Animal Shelter performed about 1,000 spays and neuters last year.

New this year, the city is offering public spay and neuter clinics at the shelter on East 32nd Avenue on Sundays. The clinics offer discounted rates based on an animal’s size.