Winners Of Europe’s Most Prestigious Veterinary Awards Revealed

A leading canine immunologist, a pioneering veterinary specialist in canine welfare and behaviour, a PhD student researching the oldest known canine cancer, and a canine pathology student have today each received one of the largest veterinary awards in the world for the role they are playing in transforming dog health.

The International Canine Health Awards, run by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, were held on Wednesday 24th May at the Kennel Club in London. This year’s awards were presented to Professor Garden, Chair of Department of Clinical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet); Professor Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Welfare Science at the University of Sydney; University of Cambridge PhD student, Andrea Strakova, and canine pathology undergraduate student, Harriet Davenport.

The winners were given prize money to further their work in the field of canine research, underwritten by a major gift from Vernon and Shirley Hill of Metro Bank. Professor Oliver Garden was awarded £40,000 for the International Award, Professor Paul McGreevy was awarded £10,000 for the Lifetime Achievement Award, student Andrea Strakova was awarded £10,000 for the Postgraduate Student Inspiration award and Harriet Davenport received £5,000 for the Undergraduate Student Inspiration Award.

Launched at Crufts in 2012, the International Canine Health Awards were developed to recognise and reward innovative researchers, veterinary scientists and students who are significantly impacting the health and well-being of dogs. The awards are judged by a panel of influential representatives from the veterinary profession and the world of scientific research. The winners have won awards for their work in the following areas:

Professor Oliver Garden – The 2017 recipient of the International Award was recognised for his tireless work as a small animal internist and immunologist. Professor Garden recently left the UK, where he worked at the Royal Veterinary College in London for twelve years, to take up a prestigious position as Chair of Department of Clinical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania School (Penn Vet) in Philadelphia.

A highly intelligent and hardworking individual, Professor Garden undertook extensive postgraduate training in the UK and the United States and over the past two decades has become internationally known for both his highly successful clinical career and his strong research work. His research programmes into canine cancer immunology and autoimmune disease have led to significant advancements in this veterinary field and Professor Garden is now considered to be one of the top three canine immunology experts in the world.

As well as his research and practical work, Professor Garden has always been passionate about educating the next generations of veterinarians and has taught thousands of undergraduate students and mentored hundreds of postgraduate students and residents over the years. One of Professor Garden’s recent notable works was a global initiative to bring together nearly 200 specialists from around the world to form a new Clinical Immunology Special Interest Group in an effort to develop Veterinary Clinical Immunology into a medical speciality.

Professor Garden’s interest in dogs goes beyond viewing them from a veterinary point of view, as he also has a passion for them as pets. During his PhD studies, he worked with a large number of Irish Setter breeders, and regularly visited shows attended by the breeding community to raise awareness of diseases of the breed. He also organised a one-day symposium for dog breeders and a dog show to raise awareness of research into canine health undertaken by him and colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College. Both were successful, well-attended events. He also recognises the merit of astute observations made in the clinic, which may spawn seminal research into hitherto untouched areas. Oliver is an enthusiastic advocate of canine health and values the importance of public engagement with veterinary science. He is also a champion of One Health, a global initiative in which canine research informs human health and vice versa; this is an area of particular strength and expertise within Oliver’s new institution, Penn Vet.

Speaking about the award and his career, Professor Garden said: “It is truly humbling to be honoured in this way by the Kennel Club. I feel a sense of immense pride in receiving this award, which is as much a recognition of the countless colleagues, postgraduate students, residents, and veterinary students with whom I have had the sincere pleasure of working over the past two decades, as it is a reflection of any of my own achievements. Clinical research is always a team effort and I have been blessed to work with many awesomely talented, resourceful, and insightful colleagues and students over the years. I very much look forward to continuing my work on canine malignancies and autoimmune diseases at Penn Vet, which wonderfully embraces the ethos of translational research and One Health. I offer my heartfelt thanks to Vernon and Shirley Hill for generously sponsoring this award and for their love of dogs.”

Professor Paul McGreevy – The winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, who is one of three academic veterinarians recognised worldwide by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as a specialist in Veterinary Behavioural medicine, has been honoured for his pioneering contribution to canine welfare and behaviour. Originally from Newcastle-under-Lyme, North Staffordshire, Professor McGreevy moved to Australia for work in 1989 and he is currently the University of Sydney’s first Professor of Animal Welfare Science.

Having written over 200 peer-reviewed articles and six books, Professor McGreevy has made an outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession over 30 years. A career highlight for Paul includes collaborating with London’s Royal Veterinary College in 2009 to launch VetCompass in the UK, a cutting edge disorder-surveillance system. VetCompass is a software platform capturing clinical records from veterinary practices. Data from VetCompass are put into a centralised resource, enabling researchers to access comprehensive and real-time data from conditions as diverse as epilepsy, cancer, skin disease and heart disease in dogs and other companion animals. Thus far it has become a benchmark tool for inherited disorders, gathering data on over 5.8 million animals in the UK and Australia.

Professor McGreevy, started volunteering at his local vet practice in Trent Vale, North Staffordshire, at the age of fifteen. He has focused on the behaviour and welfare of horses and dogs, and has done extensive research into canine dementia. He co-developed the Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) scale in 2011 with Hannah Salvin, one of his PhD students, and Professor Michael Valenzuela, a global leader in Alzheimer’s disease research. The scale is the first data-driven tool designed for reliable diagnosis of dementia in dogs. Until Paul and his team at the University of Sydney developed the Canine Sand Maze, a practical and accurate method of assessing canine spatial learning, working memory and delayed recall in pet dogs, there was no validated model of assessing canine memory.

Aside from numerous advances in canine welfare, Paul is also highly recognised for his ground-breaking work into canine vision, brain anatomy and behaviour. Paul’s interest in these subjects began when he started competing in agility and obedience as a young teenager. During his career, he found that behaviour was the best lens through which to assess animal welfare and his research into working dogs has revealed important links between behavioural attributes and work output, particularly with guide-dog training. His findings have predicted the suitability of dogs for work, meaning that less-suitable dogs are not put through the arduous training. Paul and his team have shown how optimism in dogs can be measured using an automated training system, which could completely remodel how canine welfare is assessed. Knowing how optimistic or pessimistic dogs are for a working role means it will be possible to test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training, as well as tracking changes that indicate when the dog is in a more positive or negative emotional state than usual.

One of his recent notable works includes launching doglogbook last September, a free app for dog owners to collect data about their dogs’ health, behaviour and management. He realised that many vets, including himself, routinely to tell their clients to keep an eye on their dog’s health and behaviour without giving them the tools to do so. This made way for the idea of doglogbook. The app allows owners to compare their dogs’ data with those of others of the same age, breed or sex. It also gives vets, behaviour therapists and trainers unique insights into each dog’s everyday behaviour between consultations. Paul plans to put the money he has received from the International Canine Health Awards towards further development of doglogbook because it is such a useful tool for people who care about dogs.

Paul may be a leading advocate for canine behaviour, but his dedication to and passion for dog welfare are what truly distinguishes him. He currently shares his life in the Hunter Valley with a Kelpie cross called Neville and a Labrador Retriever called Bundy, who is a former assistance dog.

After receiving his award, Paul said: “I'm thrilled to bits to have won this award that recognises the merits of my various research and educational projects, some of which have been running for decades. It's a great honour and a wonderful way of putting the spotlight on the importance of research into dog welfare and behaviour. With unwelcome behaviour being the main threat to young dogs’ lives, it is good to know that my team's work in advancing the understanding of dogs is being recognised.”

Andrea Strakova – The 2017 Postgraduate Student Inspiration Award winner has been recognised for the research she is doing into Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour (CTVT), a contagious cancer that affects thousands of dogs all over the world.

Andrea Strakova, who is currently in the final year of her PhD in Veterinary Science at the University of Cambridge, was first introduced to CTVT during her BA degree in Veterinary Science at Newnham College whilst at Cambridge University. During her degree she conducted a research project where she contacted over 1,000 vets from 109 countries around the world to create the first global map of CTVT distribution and prevalence. She also tracked the disappearance of CTVT from the UK during the twentieth century, driven by introduction of rigorous dog control laws which limited the number of free-roaming dogs, a major reservoir for CTVT. Her undergraduate research, which was published in BMC Veterinary Research in 2014, found that CTVT affects around 1% of dogs around the world, across all inhabited continents.

Inspired by the work she completed during her undergraduate degree, Andrea wanted to further her research into CTVT so began a PhD in 2013 at King’s College at the University of Cambridge, which she is due to finish this summer. Her main goal has been to map the genetic and phenotypic diversity of the cancer around the world, and over time Andrea has collected and validated hundreds of CTVT samples from all over the world. She performed DNA sequencing to catalogue CTVT genetic diversity and from this was able to construct an evolutionary family tree that traces the global spread of CTVT.

Andrea, who was born in Prague and was raised near Reading in Berkshire, is planning to look into how CTVT evades the immune system, despite being a foreign graft, during her post-doctoral research. Her aim is to set up her own research group with a focus on CTVT genetics and immunology. The money from the International Canine Health Awards will not only contribute to the development of Andrea’s research career, but will also allow her to complete an important project on chemotherapy-resistance in CTVT tumours.

For the last year Andrea has worked with vets to collect samples of these tumours and using the money from the Postgraduate award, she will use the samples to compare the genetic and phenotypic characteristics of chemotherapy-resistant CTVT cases from different parts of the world to identify common features. CTVT is usually successfully treated with single-agent chemotherapy, but Andrea has come across chemotherapy-resistant CTVT tumours in different parts of the world, which if not researched more thoroughly, could become an enormous threat to dog health and render CTVT an incurable cancer.

CTVT provides an ideal platform to study cancer chemotherapy-resistance. Understanding the chemotherapy-resistance mechanisms in CTVT would have very important implications for the management and treatment of the cancer but additionally it could provide broader insights into chemotherapy-resistance in other canine and human cancers.

Speaking about winning the award, Andrea said: “It is a tremendous honour to receive the award and it is a real encouragement to continue my current research work, which I am very passionate about. I see the award as the first step towards my long-term passion and goal – continuing the crucial research into understanding a contagious cancer that affects thousands of dogs all over the world, and ultimately forging a career that combines exciting canine cancer research with the potential to improve canine health.”

Harriet Davenport – Harriet received the Undergraduate Student Inspiration Award for her proposed research proposed research into papillomaviruses (PV), a type of DNA virus also found in humans, and how they cause oral tumours in dogs, with a particular focus on canine throat cancer.

Previous similar studies were only using low sensitivity equipment which would make detecting papillomavirus near impossible, but with the money awarded to Harriet, she can use more sensitive technology and expand the research. Harriet hopes her project will help to advance the veterinary community’s understanding of the disease for canine patients and potentially lead to further investigations as a model for the equivalent cancer in humans.

The majority of Harriet’s prize money will go towards performing a series of DNA sequencing for canine throat cancer which will hopefully produce enlightening results and may even allow for future comparisons and clinical research between dogs and humans with the disease. The remaining portion of Harriet’s prize will enable her to attend two research conferences where she hopes to present her research and further develop her learning around the relevant topics of oncology, virology and pathology. 

After completing her summer studentship, Harriet hopes to study for an intercalated degree in immunity and infection at Imperial College in London before returning to the University of Liverpool to graduate as a veterinary surgeon. After graduation the award-winning student plans to pursue a career in veterinary research with a focus on either immunology or oncology.

After winning the award, Harriet said: "As someone who has always aspired to work at the forefront of scientific research, I am deeply honoured to have been chosen for this prestigious award. I am now able to conduct costly genetic sequencing as part of my study, which would not have been possible without the generosity of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust. The aim of this research is to better understand a disease that has severe health implications for those affected, and therefore I hope that any new information discovered will help towards improving canine welfare. This project will also provide me with valuable insight into new lab techniques and allow me to work alongside other professionals, preparing me well for all future research endeavours."

Professor Steve Dean, chairman of trustees of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, which runs the International Canine Health Awards, commented: “We are delighted to award these four talented professionals for their hard work, dedication and passion into improve canine health and welfare.

“They are four remarkable people who are dedicated to increasing our knowledge and understanding of canine diseases and have dedicated their professional lives to veterinary research. We are very fortunate to have four deserving winners and we are glad to be able to honour them today through these awards. We want to thank them for their contribution to improving dog health through their innovative application of science and tireless work, they are an inspiration to the world of veterinary research.”

Vernon Hill, Founder and Chairman of Metro Bank, and Shirley Hill, whose foundation underwrites the Awards commented: “Congratulations to the 2017 International Canine Health Award winners. We are pleased to recognise such inspirational and talented veterinary professionals, as their work will improve the health and welfare of so many canines across the world.”

Read more information on the International Canine Health Awards.