It was with significant interest that I read Catherine Minolli's column "'The Story' spreads hope, goodness prevails" regarding the AIDS virus 30 years after it was identified.
I would like to bring attention to the contributions of the woodchuck in the research areas of liver disease, cancer, hepatitis B, and HIV. In an article by Sonia B. Glover entitled 'Woodchuck colony vital to progress in hepatitis B research,' Dr. Michalak of the Molecular Virology and Hepatology Research Laboratory said the woodchuck model has become the accepted way to test potential drugs and new preventative methods against hepatitis B and, in come situations, drugs against HIV...to a certain degree the HIV replication strategy is similar to that of the hepatitis B virus. Dr. Michalak would like to expand his woodchuck colony and has used American woodchucks, but the demand for American woodchucks has risen significantly so he wants to use Canadian woodchucks.
A percentage of wild woodchucks are infected with a virus similar to HBV. Although humans don't get hepatitis from woodchucks, the woodchuck virus is similar enough to make the woodchuck the best model for studying viral hepatitis in humans. The woodchuck is the best available model for hepatitis B studies and has led researchers to discoveries in treatment and prevention of hepatitis B infection and the liver cancer it can cause. According to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, the only other animal model for HBV studies is the chimpanzee, an endangered species.
The groundhog, considered a pest my many, may just be the harbinger of health that veterinary researchers believe them to be. The contributions of the woodchuck should be acknowledged and appreciated.