A cat and a dog resting together

Michelson Grants are a key part of the mission of the Michelson Found Animals Foundation. At Found Animals, our goal is to improve the lives of cats and dogs. This mission takes many forms:

It’s that third goal that led to the creation of Michelson Grants. These grants offer up to $250,000 per year for up to 3 years toward the development of a safe, effective, non-surgical, single-dose sterilization treatment that works in both cats and dogs, both male and female.

The creation of such a treatment would greatly reduce the burden on animal shelters, and would prevent millions of unwanted animals from being sterilized by cutting down the breeding rate of stray and feral animals who have been abandoned by their owners.

The Michelson Grants program has already yielded some promising medical technology advances in animal reproductive biology. Here’s a look at the top 5 breakthroughs so far.

1. Using Genetic Modification

This promising research study, “Inducing Stable Infertility by RNA Interference,” was led by Dr. Beverly L. Davidson, PhD, of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It was one of several studies to attempt to create a single-dose anti-fertility treatment through genetic modification.

Dr. Davidson’s study successfully identified at least 17 nucleotides that exist in both cats and dogs. This is important because any genetic anti-fertility treatment that meets the Michelson criteria would have to apply to both cats and dogs, which would require identifying an aspect of reproductive anatomy that exists in both species.

2. Safely Destroying Gonadotropes

Gonadotropes are cells in the pituitary gland that enable sperm production in males and ovulation in females. Finding a way to destroy them safely is a promising line of research and one of several key areas of focus in Michelson Grant research projects.

In a study led by Dr. Benjamin Renquist, PhD, of the University of Arizona at Tucson, research in sheep showed that the introduction of a certain toxin into the body would kill off many of that animal’s gonadotropes.

It wasn’t a home run, because the remaining gonadotropes increased their activity level, and therefore overall fertility did not decrease enough for this treatment to be an effective treatment for rescue animals, but Dr. Renquist’s team did identify further areas for research in the hopes of eventually developing a safe treatment. This incremental progress is very common in the long road of medical technology advances.

3. Achieving Infertility Through Immunocontraception

Immunocontraception is a way of rendering an animal infertile by exposure to a virus. The ideal virus won’t harm the animal or cause it to suffer, but will render it infertile.

Many Michelson Grant recipients have pursued this line of investigation, and the results are promising. It’s just a matter of developing the right viral agent and delivering it to animals in a safe and effective way.

4. Delaying or Preventing the Onset of Puberty

Another way of approaching the problem is to make an animal infertile by keeping it from entering puberty in the first place. This study, led by Dr. Cristina Gobello, DVM, of the National University of La Plata in Argentina, showed partial success in delaying the onset of puberty in some cats, including possible total infertility in a few cases. Although the results were mixed, they did indicate that this is a promising line of inquiry.

5. Sometimes the Best Breakthrough Is Failure

There are dozens of Michelson Grant recipients who have already completed their research projects. All of these projects ended in some degree of failure, because all of them fell short of meeting the Michelson Found Animals Foundation’s ultimate goal of creating a safe, effective, single-dose anti-fertility treatment for both sexes of both cats and dogs.

However, in science, failure is the name of the game. The goal of a single anti-fertility treatment is a hard one. To develop reproductive medical technology advances, researchers have to explore all the possibilities, using experimentation to figure out which methods don’t work at all and aren’t worth pursuing, versus which methods show promise but need improvement. In the movies, a scientist might fail once or twice before hitting their big breakthrough, but in real life most breakthroughs are accomplished only after a long line of failures pave the way to success.

That’s why Michelson Grants continue today, being awarded again each year to new research teams who will pick up where previous teams left off.

Eventually, we’re going to get there.