Research Profile – Dr. Thomas Koch
Growing up in Denmark, Dr. Thomas Koch of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College loved horses. His passion for equestrian sports, in particular show jumping, inspired him to study veterinary medicine. “That led me to Canada and the Ontario Veterinary College to try and become the best equine veterinarian I could be,” he explains.
While studying at the school, Dr. Koch learned of the work of Mark Hurtig on cartilage repair in horses, which intrigued him. He went on to do a PhD with OIRM researcher Dr. Dean Betts exploring whether stem cells are present in the umbilical cord blood of newborn foals or whether they could make equine embryonic cells. They quickly succeed in isolating mesenchymal stem cells from the cord blood, which show great promise for making cartilage in the lab.
Dr. Koch will discuss this research at the OIRM Think & Link Rounds taking place on March 7 at the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre. He will join Dr. Mohit Kapoor of the Krembil Institute for a discussion on their work and the impact it is having on the development of potential treatments for osteoarthritis.
“Our domestic animals, our companion animals, can add value as we try to develop new therapies for cartilage repair and diagnostic tools for joint diseases,” Dr. Koch says of the presentation. “When we introduce new therapies and cell-based therapies, I think safety has to be a big priority for non-life-threatening conditions such as joint disease. We have a lot of companion animals who are getting injuries that are very similar to human injuries. I’m interested in trying to treat animals, but at the same time using that knowledge as a springboard for human trials.”
The role of regenerative medicine in treatments for companion animals is an area of study that is still somewhat misunderstood, and Dr. Koch hopes to raise awareness of the level of expertise coming from veterinary medicine. He notes that the level of care, diagnostic expertise and even the level of equipment used in veterinary medicine can ensure that diagnosis and treatment is done at a very high level.
While he didn’t plan to study regenerative medicine when he began his career, Dr. Koch is looking forward to continuing his work in developing new monitoring tools and treatments for joint disease in companion animals and, hopefully one day, humans. “I’m in research totally through serendipity,” he says. “I wanted the personal challenge of doing a PhD, but then I was fortunate to get into a very stimulating environment and I was also lucky that my project relatively quickly became successful.”
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Article by Krista Lamb