Dr Aarti Kathrani – Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Internal Medicine at the RVC

What or who inspired you to become a vet?

Mainly, my time spent at a local veterinary practice when I was younger. It was here that I experienced veterinary work first hand and was amazed at the gut feeling that I had “at being at home” with the profession. Also, I appreciated the holistic approach that vets had with all aspects of diagnosis and care for the animal and that was very appealing. I also loved watching all the numerous TV shows about vets and reading the various vet biographies!

What is your current job? Do you hold clinics as well as carrying out research?

My current job title is senior lecturer in small animal internal medicine. I spend about half of my time on clinics, where I am involved with teaching and supervising students, interns and residents in training, and the other half carrying out research. My research focuses on small animal gastroenterology and nutrition. I also have other teaching duties, which I very much enjoy.

What drew you to your field of study and what motivates you to continue?

I have always enjoyed physiology and was particularly drawn to the field of gastroenterology in the third year of vet school. This field is fascinating, as it incorporates many branches of science that I am interested in, such as microbiology, immunology, genetics and nutrition. Due to my interest in gastroenterology, I approached Prof. Karin Allenspach, who at the time had recently joined the RVC and had published quite extensively in this field. She agreed to be supervisor for my internship, which included supervising my research project, and went on to become my PhD supervisor. It was mainly during my PhD that my passion and love for gastroenterology research increased and this continues to motivate my research today. Unfortunately, I went on to develop ulcerative colitis myself, and through my own clinical experience and research I was able to draw parallels with the condition in dogs and cats. This parallel also motivates me, as any research in veterinary medicine may be applicable and helpful to the human field.

Discuss the impact your research has had on the profession. How have those in general or referral practice benefited from your research?

My research mainly centres on the aetiology and treatment of chronic inflammatory enteropathies in dogs and cats. My most recently published study assessed the use of commercial therapeutic hydrolysed diets in cats with chronic idiopathic gastrointestinal signs treated at primary veterinary practices participating in the VetCompass programme. The results of this study suggested that there is merit in trialling a hydrolysed diet first as a sole therapy in cats with chronic vomiting and/or diarrhoea of undetermined aetiology, before resorting to antibiotic and/or glucocorticoid therapy. The results of this study are important in helping increase awareness and understanding of the role that general practioners can play in preventing the development of antimicrobial resistance.

Has your research served as the foundation for other studies or developments in the field, and what will happen after your study is complete?

The aim of our current study, “Defining the duodenal mycobiota in dogs with chronic enteropathy” which is funded by PetSavers, is to determine the frequency of isolation of Malassezia spp. from the proximal duodenum of dogs with chronic enteropathy and to determine whether the isolation of this yeast and other fungi is related to particular gastrointestinal pathologies. We are currently a little over halfway with recruitment of cases and have been able to isolate and identify Malassezia spp. in the proximal duodenum of some dogs with chronic enteropathy. The next step will involve determining the significance of this and whether future targeted treatment of this organism is warranted in dogs. In addition, genetic analysis of the dogs, as well as nutritional analysis of the diets that they are receiving might help identify underlying reasons for the isolation of this organism in some dogs and not others. This will also help provide more understanding of the role of fungi in chronic gastrointestinal diseases in dogs.

Tell us a little about your own experience. What does your research mean to you personally and what have you gained from it?

I have gained a lot from our current study. Through this research I have been able to collaborate with researchers in other disciplines, such as veterinary dermatology, and this has helped me to further develop my research ideas in the field of gastroenterology. Collaborating with specialists from other fields is very important in expanding our understanding of this disease and how it might impact other body systems, as well as allowing the use of novel laboratory techniques.

What is your favourite aspect of your work, and what has been your most important/surprising finding?

I particularly enjoy bridging the gap between clinical and bench top research. For example, when we perform gastrointestinal endoscopy in dogs with chronic gastrointestinal signs, we are able to grossly visualise any abnormalities in the gastric and intestinal mucosa and collect biopsies to determine any changes at the histopathological level. Being able to collect duodenal juice to assess the mycobiota has added another dimension to determining what is happening at the level of the gut in these dogs, and may help provide further insights into the pathogenesis of this disease. Our most important/surprising finding so far is that we have been able to isolate Malassezia spp. from the proximal duodenum of some dogs with chronic enteropathy. We now need to determine what contribution this makes to the underlying inflammation that we see in these dogs.

What does PetSavers offer the profession in your opinion?

PetSavers provides very valuable opportunities for funding research projects within the veterinary profession. There are several types of PetSavers grants available that support small animal clinical research, ranging from student projects to MSc projects, with the aim of improving the health of pets. The opportunities are available to everyone in the profession and anyone interested should definitely get involved and apply.

Away from the practice and bench, how do you spend your spare time?

I am an avid reader; I read at least one book a week and am part of a local book club. I take part in regular meditation classes, as well as classes studying ancient Hindu scriptures. I also enjoy listening to true crime podcasts.

What advice would you give to vets considering carrying out clinical research for the first time?

I think the main thing is to identify an area that you are passionate and driven about. This will definitely help you to be more productive with writing and submitting grants! You should then read around your subject area to help generate initial ideas for specific research projects. Once you have identified an area and a general research question, you should then try to find an appropriate mentor to guide and help develop your ideas further. Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to other researchers in your chosen area if you need guidance, mentoring or have any general questions!