Leading HIV researcher, veterinarian delivers keynote at CVC Baltimore

Leading HIV researcher, veterinarian delivers keynote at CVC Baltimore

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Apr 12, 2010
Baltimore — "Perhaps more than at any other time in our history, veterinary medicine is at a turning point where we can make a huge difference."

And Dr. M. Christine Zink, a veterinarian and medical researcher at Johns Hopkins University, should know. In fact, she spent the last 20 years investigating the neurologic impacts of HIV and amassed a host of other experiences from veterinary practice to working to improve the health of gorillas in Africa.

Zink made the remarks today during the opening session of CVC Baltimore, a continuing education conference for veterinarians and practice team members.

"The breadth of our education gives us opportunities that are unparalleled by perhaps any other health profession,” Zink told a packed audience at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“I never say I’m just a vet. We are equal partners in improving human health. The health of animals, the health of humans, it’s all the same thing.”

Zink’s career has taken her from cattle practice to HIV research, from working with sporting dogs to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in Africa. And in 2009, she was named Outstanding Woman Veterinarian of the Year by the Association of Women Veterinarians Foundation.

Zink told conference attendees that our world is completely interconnected. "In all aspects of our world, everything is related. It is wildlife as well as companion animals, farm animals, humans, insect vectors, our crops and water supplies, global climate change. We have the education and the ability to make a huge difference in all kinds of different intersections of this puzzle."

Zink recounted several examples of how veterinary medicine has positively influenced medicine including the tireless and tenacious work of veterinarians like Tracey McNamara at the Bronx Zoo, who fired the first warning shots about an emerging and deadly West Nile virus more than a decade ago.

"She tried her hardest to get people to listen to her. Because crows were dying in large numbers. She stuck with it. I would encourage you to have as much feistiness."

Another example is Peter C. Doherty, an Australian who became the first veterinarian to win a Nobel Prize. He was the first person to describe how T-cells worked. “It was a huge discovery," Zink says.

Stem-cell pioneer James A. Thomson, a veterinarian at the University of Wisconsin, helped science make dramatic leaps in embryonic stem-cell research, Zink says. "Think of all the work that followed him."

"Veterinarians have discovered and refined artificial limbs, treatments for joint disease, drugs to control malaria and yellow fever, have solved the mystery of botulism. Every single drug that is tested for toxicity has been influenced by a veterinarian," she says.

At the same time, Zink contends, there has been a 19 percent decrease in the number of veterinary school applications from 2000 to 2005, despite an expansion of jobs for veterinarians in sectors like research, agriculture, bioterrorism and public health.

"The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges estimates that in two years one in five veterinary positions will go unfilled. What does that mean? We are valuable. They need us," Zink says.

“Perhaps more than any other time in history, veterinary medicine is at a turning point where we can make a huge difference. We can prepare veterinary professionals for the real world. whether it is pubic health or ecosystem health or comparative medicine – it’s all out there.”

Zink’s career path led her to research, and she has devoted much of her career to better understanding accompanying neurologic disease associated with HIV. More than 37 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, and about 15 percent to 20 percent of those patients develop CNS disease.

Zink’s research has investigated minocycline, a tetracycline derivative, that has been shown to help suppress encephalitis and neurodegeneration associated with HIV/SIV infection. Other findings have shown beneficial systemic immune effects and inhibition of immune activation that eventually leads to immunosuppression.

Advanstar Communications is the parent company of CVC Baltimore, dvm360.com, DVM Newsmagazine, Veterinary Economics, Veterinary Medicine and Firstline.

To listen to Dr. Zink's presentation, click the play button below.