How Animal Reproductive Medicine Helps with Breeding, Conservation of Species

A new faculty member at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine hopes to inspire more veterinary students to join the specialty of theriogenology 

Carlos Pinto, MedVet, ACT, Ph.D., Diplomate ACT, has been interested in theriogenology, an animal reproductive medicine specialty, since he first started veterinary school at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil in 1982. 

On March 19, Pinto was installed as the Dorrance H. Hamilton Professor in Applied Reproductive Medicine and chair of the Department of Ambulatory Medicine and Theriogenology at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. His department is based in Woodstock, Connecticut, but he plans to establish his own research lab on the Grafton campus within the next year. 

Theriogenology, Explained

Theriogenology has numerous applications and different goals depending on the type of animal and its purpose, says Pinto, who ran a mixed-animal veterinary practice in Brazil for nine years and completed a residency in comparative theriogenology at Louisiana State University, from which he also earned a Ph.D. in reproductive physiology in 2001. 

“For purebred pets or show animals, you want to propagate desirable traits for the breeder. For a horse that is an athlete, for example, you want to breed more of those horses to be even better at jumping or racing. For pets, you want to maximize certain traits for the particular breed of dog or cat.”

The downside of breeding animals for specific genetic traits, however, is that it can lead to infertility or subfertility. Using assisted reproductive technologies, such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer, can overcome these problems. “Through this technology, you’re also able to share genetics across the world,” Pinto says. 

In the case of livestock, it’s critical that animals reproduce consistently in order to keep up with demand. Dairy and beef cows must have a calf every year to maximize the production of milk and meat, respectively, says Pinto. “Genetic selection in dairy cows has led to a remarkable increase in milk production that was accompanied by a significant decline in fertility. This created a challenge as they cannot skip a year unable to get pregnant.”

Reproductive medicine is also very important for animal conservation in zoos and wildlife centers. “To have animals reproduce in captivity is a constant challenge,” Pinto says. “From birds to rhinos to reptiles, so many species need reproductive work to allow them to be preserved.”

On the other side of the coin, says Pinto, is the need to curtail reproduction in some animals, such as feral cats, who are often a threat to birds and other wildlife. “We don’t see as many stray dogs in the U.S. as we see in other countries, but, still, the shelters are full of dogs, with millions being euthanized every year. Overpopulation of wild horses and burros roaming free continues to be a concern for their own welfare and for habitat preservation. 

Continuing the Work of a Visionary

Pinto is committed to continuing the work of Dorrance H. Hamilton, the philanthropist for whom his professorship is named. “She was a visionary,” he says.

In 1998, Hamilton established the Swiss Village Farm (SVF) Foundation in Rhode Island, dedicated to preserving the genetics of rare and endangered breeds of cattle and small ruminants by cryopreserving sperm and embryos, blood, and other tissues. SVF and Cummings School have collaborated on this project since 2001, and in 2021, the foundation announced that the organization had completed its mission. In total, more than 100,000 samples in more than 1,100 animals of 36 breeds were collected and cryopreserved. The samples are stored at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia.

“One of our goals is to strategize with the researchers at the Smithsonian to continue the vision that Ms. Hamilton had when she provided resources for this project,” says Pinto. “One approach would be to utilize some of these samples to repopulate these rare breeds or to monitor their populations and make sure they don't risk becoming extinct. It would also be interesting to explore the genomics of those samples to see if there's any trait or any genetic information that could help us to understand the evolution and the traits of the domestic breeds we have now, and maybe even help us to understand some traits that may predispose the current domestic breeds to diseases.” 

A Love for Teaching

In his role as department chair, Pinto will work with the faculty, promote professional development, and ensure they have support to fulfill their missions as far as clinical work, teaching duties, and also research goals. He will also teach courses in reproductive medicine and apply his specialized skills to aid advanced assisted reproduction, embryo transfer, artificial insemination, and other advanced embryo technologies. 

While Pinto enjoys all aspects of his job, teaching is his main passion. 

“Teaching is dear to my heart,” he says. “It’s what keeps the profession advancing. When I see someone becoming a competent veterinarian or see some of them go further and choose a specialty or become researchers, I think that's so rewarding. I feel very strongly about trying to educate veterinary students [about theriogenology] and inspire them to join my specialty.”

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Pinto join Cummings School,” said Dean Alastair Cribb, D.V.M., Ph.D., FCAHS. “He brings research that complements existing clinical expertise and research here. Assisted reproductive technologies are in high demand. His academic experience, commitment to teaching, and research leadership will help propel our new department forward.”

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