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'Toothpaste' helps Israeli kangaroos bounce back to health

Innovative medicinal application developed by Hebrew U. scientists fights gum diseases in kangaroos

Kangaroos living in captivity all over the world are known to suffer from “lumpy jaw disease,” which results in periodontal diseases, severe gingivitis and abscesses which may lead to death in high percentages.

However, scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have now developed an innovative medicine in the form of topical applied varnish to treat periodontal diseases in kangaroos – thus increasing the survival rate from gum disease to 100 percent.

The quality of the captive diet as well as environmental stress often leads to development of periodontal diseases in kangaroos, which has severe ramifications. Four years ago, at the Gan Guru zoo in Israel, an outbreak of the disease led to the death of about forty percent of the zoo's kangaroos.

Without proper treatment, a kangaroo that becomes ill will soon lose its appetite, starve and will die within a short space of time. The high mortality rate from the illness results in dwindling populations -- compounding the already low reproduction rates among the kangaroos and low survival rates of baby kangaroos.

Existing treatment of periodontal diseases for kangaroos requires forced insertion of an antibiotic by anesthetic or by force several times a day, followed by solitary confinement of the animal to prevent cross infection of other animals. This treatment modality only increases the pressure subjected to the kangaroo and, as one can imagine, it is not easy to force-feed a kangaroo that weighs on average between 70 kg and 80 kg. This means that many of the kangaroos don't benefit from the treatment and therefore may die from the illness.

The innovative varnish treatment for periodontal diseases in kangaroos was developed by Prof. Michael Friedman of the School of Pharmacy at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Doron Steinberg of the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Dr. Eran Lavy of the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The treatment combines disinfectant agents, embedded in a polymeric matrix, and is based on the principle of sustained release of the drug from the varnish. The attending veterinarian applies the drug on the affected areas in the kangaroo's mouth. "The disinfectant materials are released gradually over several days, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the treatment of inflammation," says Prof. Friedman.

The researchers hypothesized that by using a version of the medicine that they developed, which is commonly used for treating oral diseases in humans, many kangaroos can be saved. The study, whose results were published recently in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, was conducted over three years among kangaroos in Gan Guru at Kibbutz Nir David and at the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, in collaboration with veterinarians Dr. Meytal Bakal-Weiss and Dr. Nili Avni-Magen. Treatment proved to be successful: All the kangaroos in which periodontal disease was detected early on and which were treated with the novel sustained release varnish made a complete and a speedy recovery from the disease.

"The new treatment is easier to implement compared to the current available treatment, because it doesn't require continued force-feeding over time, and it doesn't have side-effects as the current oral/systemic dosage form," explains Prof. Steinberg. "The delayed release mechanism greatly reduces the rate of suffering of the animal, leads to quick recovery and enables rapid return to the group, a fact which is of crucial importance in wild animal and zoo medicine."

The new treatment is good news for cats and dogs too. Most dogs aged four and above have, in one form or another, various dental problems. Like kangaroos, even dogs have severe periodontal infections that can lead to systemic diseases. In a recent study among dozens of dogs, it was found that the proposed application of a sustained release dental varnish is also effective in treating canine dental disorders.

"The new treatment can also be applied to other animals suffering from dental diseases and gingivitis, thereby reducing their suffering and long term of treatments," says Dr. Lavy. The researchers are now examining ways to integrate food supplements into the medicine to make it tastier for dogs.

As this oral problem is not confined only to Israel, the researchers have been approached by veterinarians from zoos in other countries to use this novel application in kangaroos and other animals as well.

The animal application has been patented by Yissum - the Hebrew University's technology transfer company – and is being offered for commercialization. Partners are now being sought to develop the treatment for wild animals and pets.

Rebecca Zeffert
Foreign Press Liaison
Dept. of Media Relations
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972 (0)2 588 2811
Cell: +972 (0)54 882 0661
Fax: +972 (0)2 588 0058

Rebecca Zeffert | Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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