Brief Personal Biography - Niels C. Pedersen

The original biography, which was written by Niels Pedersen himself on January 31, 2021 at my request in our e-mail communication.
English version: Brief Personal Biography - Niels C. Pedersen

Niels C. Pedersen

Before college, I never thought about being a vet, even though I grew up on a poultry farm in Southern California and had all kinds of animals. In 1957, as a high school student, I moved to southern Nevada and worked as a volunteer on a local ranch with cattle that roamed large areas of state land. After joining the University of Nevada in Rene, my goal was to be a teacher of professional agriculture. In my second year, I was inspired by a course I took in the field of Veterinary Sciences, which was taught by veterinary researcher Dr. Donald Marble. He opened my eyes to a career in veterinary medicine, which I hadn't even thought about before his course. I completely fell for it and enrolled in a veterinary school at the University of California, Davis in 1963. I loved the veterinary school and considered studying veterinary medicine the greatest educational experience in biology and medicine available. My first experience with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) came in 1964, when I was working with a doctoral student on a veterinary pathology program. The cause of FIP was not known at the time and there was no animal or human disease that resembled it. My first professional article, which I co-authored and was published in 1967, drew on this work. It was at the veterinary school that my interest in cat medicine grew, mainly because of my love for them and my experience with wild cats on my father's poultry farm. . In teaching, but also in clinical practice, I realized a great lack of knowledge about cats and their diseases. As an older student, I was most interested in infectious and immunological diseases with an emphasis on cats and dogs. This was a great opportunity for someone who originally wanted to be a cattle doctor. In 1967-68, I completed an internship in the field of medicine and surgery of small animals at Colorado State University and then traveled with my wife and young daughter to Australia, where I completed my doctoral studies at the National University of Australia, John Curtin School of Medical Research in the field of experimental pathology and immunology. My three years in Canberra have been the second greatest educational experience of my life and have led me to a lifelong fascination with the Australian outback, especially the flora of Western Australia. I received my PhD from ANU in late 1971 and returned to UC Davis Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in early 1972 to research cancer. This did not suit me very well, but fortunately my dean recognized my clinical abilities and asked me to join the clinical faculty as an assistant professor. I've stayed in Davis ever since. I retired in 2010 as Professor Emeritus. I remained active in research at school until 2020, when I retired definitively.

The years I spent at UC Davis as a faculty member are full of memories and experiences. I have been an active small animal internal medicine clinician for 17 years, teaching infectious diseases, immunological diseases and cat medicine for 21 years, and then spending most of my time on administration and research. I served as chair of the department and later was director of the Veterinary Genetic Laboratory and founder and director of the Center for Pet Health. My main research interests have been feline infectious diseases, which has enabled me to make a significant contribution to our understanding of feline leukemia (FeLV), calicivirosis, herpesvirus and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). However, I was most obsessed with feline coronavirus and its association with feline infectious peritonitis. I have found that feline coronavirus is related to canine and pig coronavirus, and that it exists as a ubiquitous and mostly non-pathogenic feline enteric virus (so-called feline enteric coronavirus - FECV). The most important finding was the relationship of FIP to FECV and the postulate that FIP is a specific FECV mutation that is similar but unique to each cat. Gaining this knowledge was not easy, because the FIP revealed its secrets only bit by bit and with great reluctance gradually over several decades. We now have almost complete knowledge of how the FIP virus is formed and how it causes the various clinical forms of FIP. Although we understand how FIP viruses cause disease, all attempts to develop protective vaccines have failed. This has led to studies of how host and environmental factors affect the occurrence of FIP. Although we already understood this factor relatively well, and based on this knowledge, we were able to reduce the incidence of FIP, FIP continued to be the main killer of cats. Sometime around 2015, I realized that we probably would not be able to effectively prevent FIP, and that we should try to find a cure instead. The treatment option was based on the growing use of antiviral therapy for human diseases caused by herpesvirus, influenza virus, HIV and hepatitis C virus. Experience in the treatment of hepatitis C, which is also caused by RNA virus, was particularly important. Viral protease inhibitors have been particularly noteworthy in the treatment of infectious hepatitis C. My attention was drawn to an article on animal RNA virus protease inhibitors from researchers at Kansas State University. This led to the first important collaboration and discovery that a viral protease inhibitor called GC376 can cure FIP in about one-third of cats or more. Subsequent research into another class of antiviral drugs, called nucleoside analogues, for the Ebola virus has led to collaboration with scientists from Gilead Sciences on one of their compounds, GS-441524. Over the course of two years, two completely different antiviral drugs have been discovered that are able to cure FIP. The rest is history - Over the last two years, thousands of cats have been cured from the FIP using GS-441524.

In the life and career of a scientist, it is not often that he can be involved in almost every stage of learning about a new infectious disease such as FIP, and end his career by finding a cure. The first mention of the FIP dates back to the late 1950s, and there is no evidence that it existed much earlier. Therefore, in a sense, FIP in cats is similar to COVID-19 in humans, and the fact that both diseases are caused by coronavirus should not go unnoticed. Hopefully, researchers studying COVID-19 will not take 50 years to understand and find a cure for SARS-CoV-2 infection. I am satisfied with my career and my contribution to the health of cats on many fronts, not only the FIP. But the FIP has always been a worthy adversary that has caught my attention. There is still much to be learned, and I hope that the next generation will continue to study this fascinating disease.

-Niels C. Pedersen, January 31, 2021

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