Awards / Honors

Veterinarian and pioneer in feline leukemia named to prestigious National Academy of Sciences

April 29, 2014
by Coleman Cornelius

As a boy, Dr. Edward A. Hoover lived in a third floor walk-up in Chicago, above a veterinary clinic that treated and boarded lots of cats - cats that intrigued the nascent scientist with their cool, sophisticated behavior.

From there, it was a short leap to wondering why cats get sick, how feline diseases work, and what can be done.

These central questions have fascinated Hoover for decades now – during and beyond the lives of favorite household cats Goodies, Leon and Bad Idea – motivating him to become a Colorado State University Distinguished Professor, veterinarian and infectious-disease authority who developed the first successful and most widely used vaccine against feline leukemia.

That work, and his more recent ground-breaking investigation into prion disease, resulted Tuesday in Hoover being elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s exciting, gratifying and very humbling,” Hoover said, after learning of his election Tuesday morning. “I hope I will be able to inspire others to work in science, to learn who we are, how we work, how animals and humans relate to each other, and how we can better take care of each other and the planet.”

A prestigious award for a respected researcher

Dr. Ed Hoover, Colorado State University Distinguished Professor, is newly elected to the National Academy of Sciences.Hoover is CSU’s ninth faculty member elected to one of the National Academies; two others, like Hoover, represent the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He is one of 84 members newly elected to the Academy, which recognizes distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

“Colorado State University is enormously proud of Dr. Hoover’s induction into the National Academy of Sciences,” CSU President Tony Frank said. “His pioneering work on the feline leukemia virus and chronic wasting disease has transformed our understanding of how disease spreads among populations – and how we can slow that spread in the interest of public and animal health.

“At CSU and across the country, he’s had a profound impact as a scholar, innovator and educator, and this is an outstanding acknowledgment of an outstanding career,” Frank said.

Helping both animals and humans

Hoover, an eminent faculty member in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, developed the FeLV vaccine, now used to immunize cats worldwide against leukemia-causing retrovirus. It is the only vaccine for leukemia in any species.

In addition to studying disease prevention, Hoover has investigated transmission pathways and ways to identify at-risk cats, improving understanding of diseases and their management within populations.

“It’s a true distinction to have a research scientist of Dr. Hoover’s caliber on our campus and in our college,” said Dr. Mark Stetter, a veterinarian and dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “His work with the feline leukemia vaccine is improving the health of pets around the world, and this same research has helped in the development of important human vaccines. He exemplifies CSU’s leadership in understanding infectious diseases and their implications for global human, animal, and environmental health.”

Hoover developed the first and most successful feline leukemia vaccine.

Hoover more recently has leveraged his formidable knowledge of infectious disease into the realm of prions, which are misfolded proteins that trigger neurodegeneration and death. Prion diseases include chronic wasting disease in deer; bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease; scrapie, which affects sheep; and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the fatal prion disorder seen in humans.

In 2006, Hoover and colleagues were the first to explain how chronic wasting disease is transmitted through the shedding of prions in blood, urine and saliva. Chronic wasting disease has devastated deer herds, first in northern Colorado and now across the country; Hoover’s work helped explain why it is the most transmissible of the prion diseases.

This research has opened the door to a new wave of scientific investigation into prion diseases and their similarities to fatal neurodegenerative diseases in people – a significant step because this family of protein misfolding disorders includes Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig's and Huntington’s diseases.

In the CSU Prion Research Center, Hoover now is developing a method to rapidly detect prion infection in live animals, a project he hopes will provide insight for detection of human neurological disease.

Such research demonstrates Hoover’s belief that “veterinary medicine is at heart a human-health profession” because many human diseases are first recognized in animals, and the treatment of animals often provides critical understanding for human medicine.

“I hope my election into the National Academy will allow maybe a little more light on the good veterinarians do for human health and science in general,” he said.

Hoover's nomination was sponsored by National Academy of Sciences member Barry Beaty, who also is a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology. Only members of the Academy may nominate someone, and elections are conducted at the Academy’s annual meeting.

 Hoover, shown with post-doctoral fellow Davin Henderson, also discovered how chronic wasting disease is transmitted.

Hoover also oversees the university’s combined D.V.M. and Ph.D. program that prepares future scientists for globally significant research and discoveries. Of all his work, teaching is the most inspiring, he said.

But when they hit a scientific stumbling block, the Distinguished Professor and young scholars working in his lab turn to a different form of inspiration: a rubber chicken. It sits on a shelf alongside beakers, vials, and other laboratory equipment.

“It’s part of science,” Hoover deadpanned. “Sometimes you have to resort to voodoo.”

As he and two post-doctoral fellows broke into laughter, Hoover added, “In science, it’s important to have a sense of humor for the times things don’t work out, because most of the time they won’t.”

Numerous honors

Nathaniel Denkers, a post-doctoral fellow, laughs with Hoover about the need for a sense of humor in science. Among numerous honors, Hoover in 2012 received the Merial-Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges Excellence in Research Award. The honor was conferred for innovations spanning more than 30 years in the field of pathology and in the study of infectious diseases, primarily feline leukemia and chronic wasting disease.   

Those elected today bring the total number of active members in the National Academy of Sciences to 2,214.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and -- with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council -- provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

CSU’s other Academy members are A.R. Ravishankara, a professor of chemistry; Barry Beaty, professor of microbiology, immunology, and pathology and a University Distinguished Professor; Marshall Fixman, professor of chemistry and a University Distinguished Professor Emeritus; and George Seidel Jr., professor of biomedical sciences and a University Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

A full list of those elected to the Academy is available here.

Jeff Dodge, in the CSU Department of Public Relations, contributed to this report.