Feline Diabetes Researcher to Present Findings at Boshell Research Day Feb. 26

Dr. Emily Graff doesn’t think about cats the same way as most people. Although she sees them as loving companions, Dr. Graff understands that cats can be a gateway to better understanding diabetes.

A post-doctoral fellow at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Graff heads a research project to understand obesity and diabetes in cats in the hope that it will provide a better understanding, and possible new treatments for human diabetes.

Dr. Graff will be one of several Auburn researchers presenting findings during the 9th Annual Boshell Research Day Friday, Feb. 26, at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center. The conference brings together researchers and scientists studying diabetes and metabolic disease to share information and present their research findings.

Her research is under the umbrella of the Boshell Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research Program based in the College of Veterinary Medicine, which collaboratively works with more than 40 faculty across Auburn University. Boshell is a research initiative that seeks to better understand and treat diabetes and metabolic diseases by uniting the efforts of researchers across the university.

Speakers at the 9th Annual Boshell Research Day include Dr. Christopher Newgard from the Duke University School of Medicine; Dr. Jacqueline Stephens, from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center; and Mr. Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City.

“Cats work very well for a translational model for humans, because just as in humans, cats develop diabetes naturally,” Dr. Graff said, making cats a near perfect model to study.

A key difference, however, in human and feline diabetes is that cats tend not to develop cardiovascular issues. About 70 percent of the fatalities in people with Type 2 Diabetes result from cardiovascular problems, including hypertension and heart attacks, that develop from insulin resistance and obesity.

Doctors and scientists understand a great deal about what occurs in obesity and diabetes, but the question of why is challenging. Dr. Graff and her research team hope that by understanding why cats tend not develop cardiovascular disease from diabetes, they will be able to better understand and treat diabetes in humans.

Collaborating with several researchers within the Department of Pathobiology and the Scott-Ritchey Research Center at the college, as well as scientists in the School of Pharmacy, Dr. Graff and her team have studied a group of 12 cats, all male, neutered and within a month of age, for 18 months to see how the cat’s body changes as they gain weight and develop diabetes.

Dr. Graff said that the project is a collaborative endeavor, not only because of the diverse fields that her research partners come from, but because it’s based at a veterinary college.

“Being in a veterinary school is very important, because animals are here consistently, and we can reference pre-existing information as we conduct our own research,” Dr. Graff said. “If we weren’t here, I don’t think this research would be possible.”

With the first phase of the project complete, Dr. Graff and her team have verified that cats serve well as a model for humans, and have uncovered many questions about diabetes in cats. Her next step is to understand why.

“I look at this project as a gateway: by finding one piece of data, we answer one question, which leads to another,” Dr. Graff said. “That’s the point of research: that we’re always asking questions, and we’re always looking for the answer.”

More information about Boshell Research Day.