Professor Ron Ofri of the Hebrew University Koret School of Veterinary Medicine performing an ophthalmological examination on a koala from a zoo in Israel.
Professor Ron Ofri of the Hebrew University Koret School of Veterinary Medicine performing an ophthalmological examination on a koala from a zoo in Israel.

Koalas, horses and pygmy goats (oh my!) in Israeli-UC Davis vet team-up

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A list of the collaborative work between the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine — the only veterinary school in Israel — reads something like a “who’s who” of the animal kingdom.

Nearly 65,000 cats, dogs, horses, cows and goats (including pygmy and Nubian varieties) are cared for annually at the Davis and Rehovot facilities, along with the occasional gorilla, koala and wallaby.

Though 7,300 miles apart, the universities have been collaborating on research, grants, academic papers and faculty exchanges for more than three decades, thanks to support from an endowment at the S.F.-based Koret Foundation.

Just this week, QS World University Rankings revealed that UC Davis is once again the No. 1-rated veterinary school in the world, a spot it has held in each of the four years since QS added the category. The Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, founded in 1985 as part of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is similarly a premiere institution.

Conditions treated at both institutions read much like a human medical journal: urinary tract infections, cancer, dialysis, dentistry, HIV, life expectancy, genetic testing, ophthalmology and heart disease. Koret doctors once identified a vitamin A deficiency in lions at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

“We’re all animals and we are all linked to the same diseases and afflictions,” explained Michael Kent, a doctor of veterinary medicine, professor and researcher at UC Davis. “Cancer is an issue that society faces as a whole, whether in a companion animal or a human or wild animal. It’s the concept of ‘one health.’ A dog’s immune system is pretty much the same as ours. Nature didn’t recreate the wheel each time.”

U.C. Davis professor of veterinary medicine Michael Kent
U.C. Davis professor of veterinary medicine Michael Kent

While much of their daily work revolves around local issues — for example, monitoring disease outbreaks in California’s dairy country and treating birds after oil spills at UC Davis, or controlling Israel’s problematic cat population in a humane way at Koret — more than 100 academic exchanges over the past three decades have proven fruitful, producing experts in their fields.

One good example of that is Gilad Segev, who completed his post-doctoral work at UCD then returned to Israel, where he established a dialysis unit at Koret’s teaching hospital.

“The knowledge gained through this research [has] benefited the world,” said Gad Baneth, director of the Koret School and a professor of veterinary medicine. “The research that came out of Koret and UC Davis laid the foundation for how we treat dogs and cats using dialysis.”

Allison Zwingenberger, an associate professor in the UC Davis veterinary medicine program, has helped Koret radiologists learn how to better read imaging from their school’s new MRI machine, the first in Israel dedicated for use in animals, such as horses.

“The dual funding with UCD and Koret [through the Koret Foundation endowment] has done miracles for the school,” Baneth noted. “It has enabled us to be on the front lines of veterinary medicine.”

In Israel, the Koret school is now housed on two campuses: the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Veterinary Teaching University Hospital campus in Rishon LeZion (Israel’s fourth-largest city).

The vet school has grown from an inaugural class of 20 to 55 new students annually. According to Baneth, competition for acceptance into the prestigious school is even more rigorous than getting into medical school in Israel.

While the Koret school’s current enrollment of 300 undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students is small by American standards — UCD admits 145 students each year — the school has produced more than 1,000 professionals who practice veterinary medicine and care for companion animals, livestock, horses and poultry (and who also work in food and hygiene areas).

Baneth said that Koret’s collaboration with UCD is both “unique” and “the strongest contact Koret has with [a university] outside of Israel.”

Added Kent, who has visited the Koret school several times: “These are the bonds that are formed from working together one-on-one. Knowing people who are dedicated to advancing science overall adds depth and breadth to both programs. It allows things to happen.”

Here’s a case in point: Kent recently authored a paper related to the prevalence of cancer in golden retrievers, and one of the researchers on the team was Gillian Dank of Koret.

Baneth said when Koret professors or researchers “have expertise” on a particular topic, they “try to build on it” with their UC Davis colleagues. “Together, they work synergistically,” he said. “It’s like one plus one equals three.”

“The [Koret] grant and other funds help to strengthen both schools,” Kent added. “Having exchanges and working together is a ‘win-win’ situation.”

Elissa Einhorn
Elissa Einhorn

Elissa Einhorn began her writing career in the Bronx at the age of 8. She earned a master’s degree in communications and journalism 20 years later. While Elissa worked for non-profits her entire career, including as a Jewish communal professional, she now enjoys working for herself as a freelance writer. Still, her most treasured role is that of ima (mom) to twin daughters who she is (finally) happy to count among her friends.