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Research News

Penn Vet's Carlo Siracusa Receives Morris Animal Foundation Mark L. Morris Jr. Investigator Award

By Morris Animal Foundation Published: Mar 23, 2021
Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Penn Vet
Dr. Carlo Siracusa

DENVER/March 16, 2021 -- Morris Animal Foundation has awarded its second Mark L. Morris Jr. Investigator Award to Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Associate Professor of Clinical Behavior Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet), for a groundbreaking study on how chronic inflammation affects cognition, behavior and the overall health of senior cats.

"Ideally, this study could lead to development of innovative tools for early detection and monitoring of chronic inflammation that affects the long-term, well-being of feline patients," said Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane, Morris Animal Foundation Chief Scientific Officer. "What we learn may also help cat owners understand the relationships between physical and cognitive health so they can support maintaining quality of life for their pets as they move through different life stages."

The award, which funds up to $200,000 annually for three years, is designed to support impactful companion animal research for which there is a pressing need, with the potential to make rapid, meaningful progress.

Recent surveys of cat owners indicate approximately 28% of cats aged 11 to 14 years old develop signs of behavioral issues and cognitive decline, with prevalence increasing to over 50% in cats aged 15 years or older. Some experts believe these figures underestimate the true number of cats suffering from significant mental decline.

"There is an increasing body of evidence that shows the immune system and inflammatory response have an influence on behavior, but we don't yet have enough data on cats," said Siracusa. "We want to investigate how physical health influences mental health and vice versa."

Siracusa, along with his university colleagues and a team at Italy's University of Milan, will study 100 client-owned cats age 7 years or older. Researchers first will perform a routine veterinary exam on each cat to look for signs of chronic inflammation, including specific blood markers and physical changes. Qualified veterinary behaviorists then will assess the cats' behavior, their living environment and their cognitive abilities using validated questionnaires and behavioral tests.

Siracusa, Chief of the Animal Behavior Service and Primary Care Education Section at Penn Vet, is a leading voice in behavior medicine for companion animals. He earned his DVM from the University of Messina, Italy, and his PhD of Animal Medicine and Health from Spain's Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He is a Diplomate of both the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and European College of Animal Welfare and Behavior Medicine.

First awarded in 2016, the Mark L. Morris Jr. Investigator Award was created to honor the legacy and vision of Dr. Mark Morris Jr., son of Dr. Mark Morris Sr., the Foundation's founder. Mark Morris Jr. was renowned for his pioneering work in small and exotic animal nutrition, and his dedication to Morris Animal Foundation's mission to advance animal health through excellent science.

About Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation's mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Headquartered in Denver, and founded in 1948, it is one of the largest nonprofit animal health research organizations in the world, funding more than $136 million in critical studies across a broad range of species. Learn more at morrisanimalfoundation.org.