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Winn Feline Foundation Supporting Health Study

Jody Gookin, associate professor of internal medicine, is the recipient of a $22,011 medical research grant awarded by Winn Feline Foundation to investigate the cause of gastrointestinal illness and death in rescued, foster-age kittens.

Estimates are that 180 million kittens are born in the United States annually. Many of these kittens are abandoned, orphaned, or relinquished for fostering to thousands of animal shelters. Some 15% of these shelter kittens will die or be euthanized because of illness before the age of eight weeks. The majority of these kittens have diarrhea or post-mortem evidence of gastrointestinal disease at the time of death.

The long-term goal of the study, "E.coli, a gastrointestinal infection--looking at a cause of death in kittens and determining whether probiotics offer a protective effect," is to identify infectious causes and life-saving prevention or treatment strategies to reduce the death toll of gastrointestinal illness in kittens.

In published preliminary data, Dr. Gookin's laboratory has shown that enteropathogenic E.coli (EPEC) is commonly cultured from the feces of young kittens and that attachment of EPEC to the intestinal epithelium is significantly associated with mortality. The researchers have shown that a member of the normal bacteria flora, E.hirae attaches to the intestinal epithelium in healthy kittens but is absent in the intestines of sick kittens.

The Winn Feline Foundation grant will help Dr. Gookin determine if a simple PRC test, performed on kitten feces, can be used to diagnose EPEC infection and whether there are genetic or behavioral attributes of EPEC that are directly associated with kitten mortality. Other goals are to identify antibiotics useful for treatment of EPEC infection in kittens and to generate preliminary data in support of using E.hirae or other commercially available probiotics in treating kittens suffering from diarrhea duew to EPEC infection.

The NC State study is one of nine selected from 50 proposals on the basis of "quality of the science and impact of results" by the Winn Feline Foundation's Grant Review Committee.