Prof Receives Grant to Support Reproductive Research

January 24, 2014 - News Release

A University of Guelph professor will use a $260,000 grant for studies to develop an inexpensive, non-surgical alternative for sterilizing shelter animals.

Jonathan LaMarre, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Ontario Veterinary College, is looking at ways to target and disrupt small RNA pathways controlling the development of sperm and egg cells in dogs and cats. The project is supported by a two-year Michelson Grant in Reproductive Biology from the Found Animals Foundation.

The goal is to prevent the needless deaths of the large number of healthy dogs and cats that are euthanized each year in animal shelters, said LaMarre.

An effective, low-cost alternative to spay/neuter surgery will also have a major public health benefit in countries where feral dogs and rabies are a big concern.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the mission of the Found Animals Foundation,” said LaMarre. “They are investing millions of dollars around the world to find practical solutions that will have a real impact on the health and well-being of animals.”

An independently funded non-profit, Found Animals supports a variety of programs -- from microchips to adoption programs to health research -- that benefit the health and safety of animals. The foundation will award the $25-million Michelson Prize to the first researcher to develop an effective non-surgical technology to safely sterilize cats and dogs.

Small RNAs play important roles in many fundamental biological processes including reproduction. RNA strands help regulate meiosis, the process of cell division that produces egg or sperm cells with half the number of chromosomes of the parent cell.

“If the processes that these RNAs regulate fail, then meiosis fails and sterility ensues,” said LaMarre. He aims to target specific small RNA molecules and cell types in the testes and ovaries without affecting other cells. “By antagonizing small RNAs during meiosis, we hope to cause permanent sterilization in dogs and cats.”

No animals will be used in the studies, LaMarre said. Preliminary work will be done in cultured cells and tissues from testes and ovaries that have been discarded after spaying and neutering.

Funding from the Michelson Grant will support a graduate student and a post-doc to be recruited for the project.

The researchers hope to produce an effective, low-cost injection for male and female cats and dogs.

“Will we be able to deliver the antagonist to the cells that we want to target? Will it be selective? Will it inhibit meiosis? Will it be long-term? Those are all questions that we hope to answer with this project,” LaMarre said.

About Found Animals
Found Animals is an independently funded nonprofit that works to achieve one goal – find the big ideas that help reduce the number of pets euthanized in shelters each year. Led by business and medical professionals, Found Animals works directly within the animal welfare community to reduce the use of euthanasia in shelters by developing innovative programs including: Adopt & Shop, the Found Animals Registry, and Michelson Prize and Grants, along with subsidizing low-cost spay and neuter surgeries in underserved areas. For more information on Found Animals and its programs, please visit, or connect with them online at Facebook or Twitter.

Prof. Jonathan LaMarre
Department of Biomedical Science, Ontario Veterinary College
519-824-4120, Ext. 54935

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