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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

Man's Best Friend Gets $30 Million Gift from Margaret and Richard Riney Supporting Cornell Research

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of pets in providing companionship and helping combat stress. The Riney family has personal experience of animals' beneficial role in our lives. So, along with health, education, the arts, the Margaret and Richard Riney Family Foundation also prioritizes philanthropic initiatives aimed at improving the lives of animals.

The Foundation’s website refers to what it regards as a ethical duty to care for the animals that add joy and improve our quality of life in a manner that also acknowledges their intrinsic worthiness. And what better way to show appreciation for our pets and service animals than to provide them healthier, happier, and longer lives? The family hopes that a $30 million gift from the Foundation to Cornell’s new canine health care unit will hopefully go a long way to achieving this goal.

The Center Will Benefit from Cornell’s Existing Infrastructure

Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine is a global leader in veterinary science. With over 50 researchers from a diverse variety of departments working on canine health research, it is the ideal home for what will be known as the Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The Center will benefit from the university’s existing breadth of expertise and infrastructure, including;

The Cornell Veterinary Biobank, which collects, processes, and catalogs biological samples from both ill and healthy animals to assist biomedical researchers. There are more than 3,000 known gene-based disorders in animals, of which half are potential models of human disease, so the Biobank’s efforts lead to improvements in both animal and human health. It was the first biobank ever to gain International Organization for Standardization (ISO) accreditation.

The Cornell University Hospital for Animals, which has specialized units catering to the treatment of wildlife animals, farm animals, horses, and companion animals, as well as offering emergency, telemedicine, and ambulatory services. The companion animal unit alone provides care to over 20,000 dogs, cats, birds, and miscellaneous small mammals annually.

The Baker Institute for Animal Health was formed in 1950. It carries out discovery research in animal health to improve the lives of both humans and animals alike.

The Animal Health Diagnostic Center provides diagnostic consultation services and responds to questions from veterinarians with questions about sample submissions, testing, and interpreting results.

These and other units ensure the university can tackle canine health issues at all points, from research through to treatment delivery.

The Rineys’s Gift Will Catalyze Existing Canine Research Efforts

The Riney gift provides the critical funding necessary for advancing canine health-related research, public outreach, and the development of innovative treatment protocols. The Riney's are particularly enthusiastic about funding research, and according to Margaret Riney, Cornell's ability to bring diverse expertise together under a single umbrella focused on canines was the inspiration for the donation. Richard Riney says the family is also aware and grateful that the work they are facilitating on dogs could ultimately also help humans and other species.

Staff and faculty at the Baker Institute for Animal Health are excited about the potential of the funding to provide a catalyst to drive forward the canine health research already undertaken by the Institute. One example of this is the Institute’s work on canine hemangiosarcoma, a devastating cancer that accounts for 5-7 percent of tumors found in dogs. And the research findings have implications for breast cancer treatment in humans.

The Institute is also trying to understand more about the genetic control of canine embryonic organ development, which would inform the ages embryos are likely to be detrimentally affected. It is producing a Canine Atlas to provide information about canine gestation to identify which genes and gene pathways are critical and when. This may help prevent canine disorders in the future.

The funding from the Riney Foundation will endow a sizeable internal grants program for canine health-related research. It will build on current program strengths, which include cancer, genetics, and immunology. These grants are vital to seed innovative research conducted by young faculty in preparation for further external funding.

And as such, it gives the college a competitive advantage in attracting high-caliber candidates. In addition, some of the remaining funds will be directed to endow key strategic faculty positions. This will help to attract established leaders in the field of canine research.

Public Engagement Will be a Priority

In addition to its academic pursuits, the Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center at the College of Veterinary Medicine is intent on engaging with dog lovers beyond the university's campus. It hopes to become a trusted and valued resource for dog owners and other interested parties concerned with canine health.

The Center will provide expert information on canine health matters, including online seminars and events that allow bilateral communication. In addition, it hopes to support citizen science programs and provide opportunities to participate in clinical trials.

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