Pet owners who enroll their pet in a clinical trial have a really special perspective, said Dr. Sarah Moore, curator of neurological studies for the AVMA Animal Health Studies Database.
“Most people who are interested in having their pet participate in veterinary clinical research do so because of a shared interest in getting the best care possible for their pet combined with a drive to help contribute to advancements that may help make future care better for other pets with the same disease,” said Dr. Moore, who is a professor of canine clinical and comparative medicine at The Ohio State University and director of the university’s Blue Buffalo Veterinary Clinical Trials Office.
The AVMA Animal Health Studies Database, connects veterinary researchers recruiting for clinical trials with veterinarians and animal owners. This June, the AAHSD is marking the fifth anniversary of its launch. The AAHSD also recently surpassed 500 listings of clinical trials.
As of mid-April, the breakdown of studies by species was 436 studies involving dogs, 66 involving cats, 17 involving horses, four involving agricultural animals, and five involving exotic animals, including one study that has been completed looking at gastric outflow obstruction in pet rabbits. The preponderance of studies were in the following fields: 267 in oncology, 80 in internal medicine, 38 in neurology or neurosurgery, 29 in orthopedics, and 19 in cardiology.
The AAHSD listings lean heavily toward cancer studies because that is where the money for research is, said Dr. Ed Murphey, an assistant director in the AVMA Education and Research Division who oversees the database. He said, “And that is where the money is because cancers, as well as heart diseases, are the leading causes of death in the United States and are far ahead of the rest of the causes of death.”
He continued, “We don’t seem to recognize the same types or incidence of heart disease in veterinary patients that occurs in humans, but many of the cancers in veterinary patients are very similar to what occurs in humans, and knowledge gained from our patients is often translatable.”
The heavy tilt in the listings toward cancer studies also reflects a real need on the part of owners, Dr. Murphey said. For AAHSD searches conducted by keyword, the top 10 terms for dogs are related to cancer. In cats, eight of the top 10 search terms are related to cancer, with feline infectious peritonitis and diabetes rounding out the list.
The AAHSD has been through three rounds of revisions to improve the user search function and the study submission process.
Dr. Murphey said the study curators, who are content experts or specialists in a given field, take a look at each study submission in their field and communicate with the person who submitted that listing to suggest revisions to optimize the study for posting. One way to do this is to add keywords that might be more intuitive to the public. For a study on canine osteosarcoma, that might mean adding the keywords “dog,” “bone,” and “cancer.” Dr. Moore said another way to optimize posts is to make sure that incentives for participating in a trial, such as subsidized care, are well described.
Dr. Murphey invites anyone interested in being a study curator, particularly in the fields of behavior or equine medicine, to contact him at emurpheyavma [dot] org.
The Ohio State University posts all of its veterinary clinical trials to the AAHSD, Dr. Moore said, everything from neurology studies and studies of neuropathic pain to studies evaluating the role of diet in chronic kidney disease to trials of cancer treatments. Dr. Murphey said a number of universities are frequent contributors. Many specialty clinics are associated with study listings, too, with a number of those listings submitted by drug companies conducting the trials.
“The idea behind the AAHSD, which is a really important one, is to create a central place where veterinary clinical researchers can share information about new and ongoing studies in a way that can reach other veterinarians with patients that could participate, as well as owners of pets who may be searching for a clinical trial,” Dr. Moore said. “A second goal of the AAHSD—and one that I think can really be moved forward in the coming year—is using the platform as a way to share results of studies with both the veterinary community and the general public.”
Dr. Murphey added: “We thought that would be informative to the veterinary profession, particularly in the case of trials that did not show positive results and thus were perhaps not likely to get published anywhere else. Knowing that something didn’t work is still informative and perhaps prevents needless duplication of similar studies.” So far, only a couple of studies in the database that have been completed have had the results added.
Dr. Moore said, “The AAHSD represents a great way to further that community engagement aspect of research to help the public see why participating in veterinary clinical trials is so important and helpful in improving available treatment options for difficult medical problems and can enhance the level of care we can offer to all pets.”