From Cushing's to Parkinson's: Oklahoma State University Veterinarian Connects the Dots from Equine to Human Medicine

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ACVIM's video salutes the spirit of its Heroes in Medicine project

The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) recently named Dianne McFarlane, DVM, PhD, to its list of "Heroes in Medicine." McFarlane, an ACVIM Board-certified Large Animal Internist and an associate professor of physiological sciences at Oklahoma State University's Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, is researching the similarities between Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID) in horses, (until recently called "Cushing's Disease") and Parkinson's disease in humans.

"PPID is a naturally occurring disease of aging horses which results from neurodegeneration of dopamine-producing neurons," says McFarlane. "Degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons also causes Parkinson's disease in aged people."


In people, the damaged neurons cause tremors or difficulty moving. In horses, the injured neurons regulate hormone production resulting in abnormal hair coats, muscle loss and immune deficiencies.

Even though the clinical signs differ, McFarlane says similar events may start and fuel the degenerative process in both diseases.

"If we can understand the factors that trigger degeneration of the dopamine-producing neurons in the horse, it may serve to better understand the events that precede Parkinson's disease," she adds. "Our goal is gain valuable insights to improve quality of life for both animals and humans."

McFarlane earned a B.S. degree in Animal Science from Clemson University and a M.S. degree in Molecular Genetics from the University of Georgia. She earned her DVM degree at the University of California and her Ph.D. in Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology from the Atlantic Veterinary College in Canada.

To read more about Dr McFarlane's work, take advantage of the American Quarter Horse Association's free download of their special report "Chubby Horses", which discusses equine insulin resistance, Cushings disease and obesity.

Photo of Dr McFarlane and friend courtesy of Oklahoma State University.

by Fran Jurga | The Jurga Report at
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