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WSU cougar logo. MEDIA ADVISORY: Free vaccination and wellness clinics for people and their pets

SEATTLE, Wash. –– For the first time in the Puget Sound area, several local animal shelters, nonprofits and government entities are working together to create a multi-site vaccination clinic for World Rabies Day for the Rabies Hero campaign (part of Rabies Free Africa). The goal of the Saturday, Sept. 26, free clinics is to get pets owned by people who are low-income or experiencing homelessness updated on recommended vaccines – including rabies.

News media is welcome at any of the six locations to cover this important health and safety effort. RSVP and other information is below.

WHO:              Washington State University Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health

WHAT:            Coalition of veterinary clinics and animal care providers will hold the first ever, multi-site vaccination effort providing  essential vaccinations for pets as well as selected wellness checks for people, known as One Health Clinic. Pet food and supply donations will be available at each site as well. The coalition includes Seattle Humane, Regional Animal Services of King County, Doney Coe Pet Clinic, Seattle Animal Shelter, and Rainier Animal Fund.

WHEN:            Saturday, Sept. 26, see schedule below. All clinics will operate from 1-4 p.m.

MEDIA RSVP:  Christie Cotterill, ccotterill@wsu.edu, 206-909-8006

Health and safety is a key priority for these events. Strict adherence to mask wearing, physical distancing, and hand sanitizing is expected.

Planned One Health Clinics in King County

Doney Coe Pet Clinic

  • Trupanion Parking Lot (off 5th)
  • 6100 4th Ave S, Seattle

One Health Clinic

  • North Highlands Neighborhood Center
  • 3000 NE 16th St, Renton

Rainier Animal Fund

  • Beach Veterinary Hospital
  • 9238 Rainier Ave S, Seattle

Regional Animal Services of King County

  • Accesso ShoWare Center Parking Lot
  • 625 West James Street, Kent

Seattle Animal Shelter

  • Partnering with Doney Coe Pet Clinic

Seattle Humane

  • Umpqua Bank Parking Lot
  • 146 W 2nd St, North Bend

For general questions about the partnership, email onehealthclinicseattle@gmail.com or rabiesfreeafrica@wsu.edu.

Rabies Hero was launched to advance public awareness in addressing public health officials’ concern around the country and the world that there could be secondary disease outbreaks in both humans and animals as people missed routine care during COVID-19. By spending September focusing on recommended vaccines for pets, we strive to prevent outbreaks in many communities.

The goals of the coalition are to keep families together and maintain pet health. We are seeing an unprecedented number of people who are out of work. We know that animals provide emotional support to families. By offering the vaccine clinics around the county, we can get pets updated on vaccines and prevent owners from relinquishing them to shelter. This benefits the family as well as animal shelters.

A veterinary student providing medication to a horse through an IV. Mare scare: Putting Sugar back on her feet

Sugar, a 1,000-pound American quarter horse, was minutes away from death when she arrived at the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital with severe colic.

A fatty tumor had wrapped around the end of her intestine and was blocking gas from passing through. With so much gas and no place for it to go, Sugar’s enlarged belly prevented her lungs to completely fill with oxygen.

The mare needed emergency surgery.

“We had minutes; I don’t think she had another hour,” said Dr. Macarena Sanz, a WSU equine veterinarian.

Within 15 minutes, the horse was anesthetized and in the surgery room.

“People were dropping from the ceiling. Everyone came out of nowhere. They put her on a sled and drug her out of the trailer straight into surgery,” said Summerlyn Ring, Sugar’s owner.

Ring said she had her doubts her horse could make the three-hour trip from Chewelah, Washington, let alone make it through an invasive surgery, but it was a gamble she was willing to take. Sugar would die otherwise.

Dr. Kelly Farnsworth was the lead veterinarian on the surgery.

Farnsworth said the surgery team’s first priority was to buy time by alleviating some abdominal pressure so Sugar could breathe.

That was made possible by an abdominal decompression procedure where gas is relieved through a small puncture in the intestine via a surgical vacuum system.

Next, the team evaluated the abdomen to see what was causing the severe bloating.

“We suspected it was a colon torsion, where the large intestine twists and causes bloating and abdominal pain,” said Farnworth. “That carries a very low prognosis; only about 40 percent of those cases survive. We’re lucky it wasn’t that.”

Farnsworth found a fatty tumor had grown and twisted at the further end of Sugar’s intestine, causing a blockage.

He removed the tumor and a few others that could cause similar issues in the future.

The team then flushed Sugar’s intestine to ensure no food would get stuck due to the inflammation from the surgery.

The horse was monitored around the clock by WSU veterinarians and fourth-year veterinary students for about a week after the surgery. Sugar went home Sept. 9.

Sanz and Farnsworth say they see dozens of cases like these throughout the year.

“The difference with this one is that she made it,” Sanz said. “This was a true emergency. Nobody wasted time and the horse was on the table in 20 minutes. That is what saved this horse; I am convinced.”

Sanz said veterinarian Marco Lopes had the day off, and he even scrubbed up to help out when he saw the emergency case.

“That’s the type of team we have here,” she said.

Farnsworth agreed.

He added the anesthesia and surgery teams were packed that day and made quick adjustments to take on Sugar. Even administrative staff assisted where an extra hand was needed.

“It was amazing teamwork and coordination,” he said. “As a result, this horse that I really thought might die at any moment, was standing in the stall nibbling on hay the next morning.”

Ring is hopeful the 90-minute procedure could keep the 23-year-old Sugar around for several more years. She’s happy she went forward with the surgery, too.

“It’s really an experience that I would recommend to other horse owners,” Ring said. “The money I spent on Sugar, I couldn’t buy another horse that I have the attachment and memories with.”

Leen Kawas and Joe Harding looking at a petri dish WSU research behind potential game-changing Alzheimer’s drug

Medicinal chemist Joe Harding was in his lab at Washington State University trying to isolate, purify and clone the protein receptor for the hormone angiotensin II when he noticed something unusual but interesting.

It was 1991 and Harding was researching potential new options for relieving high blood pressure. But if the anomalies showing up in his lab tests meant what he thought they might, he and his research partner, fellow WSU scientist Jay Wright, were on the brink of a different breakthrough.

“I kept getting phone calls from Joe, and on each one he was more excited,” recalls Wright, who at the time was away on sabbatical at the University of Illinois. “He said I had to come back to Pullman because we were on to something big.”

What Harding first spotted nearly 30 years ago transformed the direction of their research.

The molecule that he discovered was binding in an area of the brain associated with memory, and in the years that followed, the WSU scientists discovered that it could activate a powerful growth system that can stimulate the production of new nerve cells and enable damaged nerve cells to replace connections lost during the disease process. The work that came out of that WSU lab has since shown that activating this system reversed cognitive deficits in multiple models of dementia.

“We’re hoping that this will be a game changer,” said Harding a professor in the Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience department of WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s a life’s work. And it is not only me and Jay—it took teams of people, graduate and undergraduate students as well as post-docs and veterinary medical students to make this happen. We will celebrate when the first person successfully treated for dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to go into a nursing home.”

Recently, the research took another major step forward.

Seattle-based Athira Pharma, a biotech startup founded by Harding and Wright which has built on the WSU-licensed research to develop potential drug therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, raised more than $200 million in an initial public stock offering. The funding is intended to help pay for the continuing research and development for therapies for Alzheimer’s, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Athira has not only licensed WSU’s intellectual property behind this work but also employs several WSU alumni who earned their degrees studying under Harding and Wright.

If the company is successful in bringing a drug therapy to market, it would mark a turning point in WSU’s research enterprise and provide potential financial returns for the university and the state of Washington, both of which supported the early years of the science. This is the first WSU faculty-owned start-up company that has been publicly traded.

Jay Wright and Joe Harding standing beside each other in a laboratory
WSU scientists Jay Wright, left, and Joe Harding

“Our research program wouldn’t have been possible without the support from the university,” said Wright, now a professor emeritus of psychology. “We hope if this is commercially successful, it will justify the resources the university and the state put into our research.”

Athira’s compound is based off an analog of an angiotensin IV, a degradation product of a protein hormone normally associated with managing blood pressure and fluid levels in the body.

Early on, Harding and Wright focused on angiotensin II, a form of the protein with eight amino acids, to find a better treatment for hypertension. They were starting to look at different forms of the protein when Harding found that angiotensin IV, which has six amino acids, bound to pyramid-like structures within the brain’s hippocampus associated with memory and cognition. Wright then set up animal models and found that cognitively impaired rats treated with the protein performed better in challenging water maze tasks.

Yet, the researchers still had three problems to solve before the discovery could be useful. First, angiotensin IV metabolized quickly in the body, meaning it could disappear before it was effective. Next, even if they could make it last, they had to find a way to get the bulky six-amino-acid protein past the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from potentially harmful things circulating in the blood. Third, while they had evidence that angiotensin IV improved cognition, they didn’t know exactly why.

Harding set his graduate students to the task of creating hundreds of analogs, compounds that acted in similar fashion to angiotensin IV. Ultimately, some of those analogs worked better than the original protein and were able to persist longer in the body. Harding was also able to refine some of them so they could pass through blood-brain barrier.

In the early 2000s, other scientists defined the hepatocyte growth factor in the brain, and the WSU team quickly realized they had found the target of their protein.

Harding then gave a promising graduate student the toughest Ph.D. project he had: to prove that the angiotensin IV analog interacted with the hepatocyte growth factor. She accomplished this hard task along with her Ph.D. in three and a half years. That graduate student, Leen Kawas, went on to become the CEO of Athira. Two other lab alumni also hold key positions in the company: Vice President for Research and Development Kevin Church and Senior Scientist Jewel LeValley.

While Athira’s treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is in the last clinical trial phases, the company is starting trials for a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and exploring other candidates for neuropathy and neuropsychiatric indications.

Also, in the process of creating analogs, the WSU research team discovered antagonists, compounds that inhibit the growth factor. These may have implications for treating cancer, Harding said.

“This cognitive work is only a small portion of what is possible,” said Harding. “Coming down the line over the next decade, I expect Athira will produce many useful pharmaceuticals.”

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