Purdue Profiles: Jeff Ko

September 30, 2014  

Dr. Jeff Ko

Dr. Jeff Ko, professor of anesthesiology and pain management in the College of Veterinary Medicine. (Purdue University photo/Kevin Doerr)
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Teaching veterinary students the delicate and difficult tasks of administering anesthesia and managing animals' pain is Dr. Jeff Ko's passion.

In fact, everything about veterinary anesthesiology fascinates Ko, who is professor of anesthesiology and pain management in the College of Veterinary Medicine. As an eminent academic and hands-on teacher, Ko helps veterinary students become comfortable administering anesthesia in small, large and exotic animals, and he teaches them how veterinary practices might be useful to human medicine and vice versa.

In a nutshell, what do your students learn about anesthesiology?

I teach veterinary students that anesthesia serves a very specific function: It immobilizes an animal, keeps it unconscious with its muscles relaxed, and keeps it insensitive to pain during surgery, during which its cardiorespiratory stability is maintained. Once the procedure is finished, the animal is recovered rapidly and smoothly returned to its owners.

Anesthesiology involves pain management before, during and after surgery to ensure the animal’s comfort.  It is also my job to teach our veterinary students how to properly and  humanely euthanize animals when necessary. I also serve as a resource when our veterinary practitioners need to consult an anesthesiologist in challenging cases.

What classes do you teach in the College of Veterinary Medicine?

I teach anesthesia courses to veterinary students, interns and residents.

To fourth-year veterinary students, I teach a clinical anesthesia course. Through this course, under our anesthesia team's direct supervision, our senior students provide services with attending clinicians in the Small Animal Hospital and Large Animal Hospital.

I also teach a class to veterinary graduate students called Animal Model of Translational Research. This class helps give our graduate students, who are professional veterinarians, a better idea about how veterinary medicine can serve as a model for human medicine and vice versa. Specifically, the class explores how veterinarians might use their specific skills and knowledge to collaborate with human medical providers to pursue this goal.

What is an example of translational medicine?

One example of translational medicine that I use in class involves a human anesthesiologist  who uses lasers to treat his patients' chronic pain.

The doctor wanted to know if this device could be used to help animals with similar chronic pain, so right now the Teaching Hospital is conducting a clinical trial involving two dogs. This particular trial is very promising, because with a single  treatment, both dogs' pain conditions have been greatly relieved . They've both been off chronic pain medication for the past six months. This is an ongoing study, and while more dogs will be recruited to participate, a similar treatment will be used to treat horses with chronic pain.

In the class, I emphasize using veterinary medicine as a model for human medicine, but as this example illustrates, the reverse can be true, particularly if something may or may not work for humans but can be viable for animals. My graduate students are encouraged to come up with their own models of how the different branches of medicine can work together.

Translational medicine is a very broad concept with a lot of implications, including creating life-saving treatments for humans and animals.

How did you become interested in veterinary anesthesia?

I've always found veterinary anesthesia fascinating because it's very acute, meaning that its effects become clear in just minutes. Also, anesthesiology is a very involved job from a clinical perspective. It requires keeping the animal’s cardiorespiratory system stable throughout surgery and managing their pain all the way through. This can be a complex but rewarding task. Recently, our anesthesia section has collectively summarized this information and published a textbook called "Small Animal Anesthesia and Pain Management" to benefit veterinary professionals around the world.

Another fascinating thing about anesthesia is that, despite the fact that it's so widely used, scientists still know very little about how it works. We don't know why it causes patients to fall asleep, stay asleep during surgery and then awake with no memory of the procedure -- it's like freezing time, essentially. The research questions in this field are vast, and that intrigues me.

What's a key thing you teach your students about anesthesia?

I want my students to understand that, because there are so many things that are unknown and unpredictable, anesthesia can be very dangerous. I want them to be comfortable administering it, but I don't want them to be fearless. They need to prepare for when something acute happens.

I tell them that they need to balance competency with quick-thinking skillfulness, because you never know when an animal is going to have an adverse reaction. If that happens to one of their patients, they need to know how to react and treat the patient properly.

There's nothing more rewarding to me than when I see a student became a confident, skilled and conscientious practitioner of veterinary medicine, including anesthesiology.

Writer: Amanda Hamon Kunz, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu 

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