April 4, 2022

Dr. Jonathan Levine is not a typical small animal researcher. While most people view the fields of veterinary medicine and human medicine separately, Levine is tackling issues in both fields with his translational research approach in canines.

As holder of the Helen McWhorter Chair in the Department of Small Animal Medicine at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), Levine’s research focuses on naturally occurring neurological diseases in dogs. He collaborates with researchers across the country to find solutions in both animals and humans.

“Neurological diseases are extremely hard on the pet and the owner,” Levine said. “If my research can help a family who is worried about their dog, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”

Small Animals for a Big Cause

Some of Levine’s most significant research findings stem from his collaboration with MD Anderson on a study of canine gliomas, a cancerous tumor that attacks the brain. This research—published in “Clinical Cancer Research” and co-authored by CVMBS assistant professor of neurology Dr. Beth Boudreau—studied a drug called stimulator of interferon genes (STING) agonist and how it can trigger an immune response to tumors such as glioblastomas.

Now, based on the trial’s results, researchers at Northwestern University are moving forward with human clinical immunotherapy trials. Levine is optimistic about the potential discovery.

“The survival time for people with gliomas has not significantly improved since the 1970s,” Levine shared. “We need new pathways to develop promising drugs, and our work is paving the way for more trials to give pets access to new treatments, which are superior to traditional ways of moving therapies directly from mice to people.”

Along with his groundbreaking research on gliomas, Levine has conducted research on MRIs, other diagnostic methods and canine spinal cord injuries that occur naturally. Some of these naturally occurring injuries being studied, which often result from displaced disks, could mimic injuries from combat or automobile accidents.

A Gift that Lives On

Levine’s research is made possible through a planned gift from the late Helen McWhorter, a generous benefactor to the CVMBS. Through a gift she planned in her will and a charitable remainder trust, McWhorter created an endowed chair and scholarship. Levine, who was appointed to the Helen McWhorter Chair in September 2014, emphasized just how integral McWhorter’s planned gift has been to his research.

“Anyone can be curious about their field, but without Helen McWhorter’s support, I could not do the early-stage work needed to conduct my research,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to do exciting, impactful work and the flexibility to fund outside-the-box ideas that agencies are not yet ready to fund.”

We don’t know what challenges will be in our field in 20, 30 or 50 years from now, but Helen McWhorter's generosity has given future generations the ability to solve those problems.
Dr. Jonathan Levine

Levine shared that while essential funding can come from grants, it often does not cover early-stage data-collection or the equipment expenses necessary to conduct ambitious projects. He has paid for many research startup costs with the help of McWhorter’s endowment. In his glioma research, the funding covered the expensive and tedious process of banking tumors from surgeries as well as the cost of the –80-degree freezers that preserve tumors for future testing.

The researcher said that McWhorter’s gift will have an impact reaching far beyond his time as the chair holder.

“We don’t know what challenges will be in our field in 20, 30 or 50 years from now,” Levine said. “But her generosity has given future generations the ability to solve those problems. My gratitude extends beyond myself and what she has done for our institution.”

Ready to plan a gift to keep Texas A&M University on the cutting edge? Contact Angela Throne ’03 at the bottom of this page.