July 20, 2009

Johns Hopkins scientist named outstanding woman vet

A Johns Hopkins veterinarian whose vocation is HIV research and avocation is the care of dog “athletes” has been named the 2009 Outstanding Woman Veterinarian of the Year by the Association for Women Veterinarians Foundation.

M. Christine Zink, professor and director of the Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology in the School of Medicine, was recognized for wide-ranging professional achievements with an award presented July 14 at the American Veterinary Medical Association convention in Seattle.

“It’s most gratifying to be a medical school researcher receiving this award,” Zink said. “Most of the focus is on those who do pet care, so I am doubly honored.”

For almost all of her two decades at Johns Hopkins, Zink has investigated the neurological impact of HIV using animal models of disease. Three years ago, in what she calls the “discovery of my career,” she found that an inexpensive, safe antibiotic called minocycline suppresses both the development of HIV-related brain damage and replication of the virus. That antibiotic is now in clinical trials in the United States and Africa.

“It’s really exciting for a veterinarian to know that you were able to make a difference in the lives of people suffering from this worldwide epidemic, particularly those in developing countries who can’t afford antiretroviral drugs,” Zink said.

Historically, research was regarded by many as a “less valiant” part of the veterinary profession, said Zink, who earned her doctoral degree in veterinary medicine in 1978 from the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, graduating first in her class.

The author of four books about canine health, three of them focused on the canine athlete, Zink has been a leader of a movement to create a new specialty—veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation—and currently is editing a textbook to help teach veterinarians and veterinary students about this emerging field.

For 30 years, she has trained her own dogs to compete in agility, obedience, field trials, tracking and conformation. While health and nutrition standards are well-known for pets, the same is not true for canine athletes, which have special requirements similar to those of human athletes.

“We can’t look at human medicine separate from animal medicine,” said Zink, a proponent of an emerging concept known as One health, One medicine. “It makes perfect sense from a veterinarian’s view to be looking at them together.”

Stacy Pritt, who chairs the board of the Association for Women Veterinarians Foundation, said that Zink’s recognition as Outstanding Woman Veterinarian of the Year is an “incredible honor because of the peer nomination and the level of competition.”