Ned Patterson

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Ned Patterson

Ned Patterson was 16 years old when his dog, Rocky, had to be euthanized at age 6.

“Rocky was such a fun dog,” Patterson recalls. “He knew the entire neighborhood. He was the friendliest little guy. But he got sick. He had epilepsy. I remember him having seizures under my parents’ bed. It was a pretty terrifying thing to watch.”

Today, Patterson is one of the world’s top three genetic researchers in canine epilepsy. Over the past 10 years, he has been the recipient of three major and two smaller research grants in genetics and canine epilepsy from the National Institutes of Health. One of his other research projects, conducted with colleague Dr. Jim Mickelson, was in exercise-induced collapse in dogs. Patterson and Mickelson identified the first naturally occurring mutation in the responsible gene (DNM1) and published the findings in the journal Nature Genetics.

Ned Patterson with a dogDr. Ned Patterson with an epileptic dog outfitted with a device that warns of impending seizures.

Board-certified in small animal internal medicine, Patterson splits his time between clinics, teaching, and research.

He spent the first six years of his life in Colorado, where he learned to Alpine ski at the age of three. By age five, he was golfing. When Patterson was 6, he returned with his family to Minnesota. In high school at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, he played golf with a 6 handicap and hockey, a sport he also played at Williams College in Massachusetts.

“Skiing and golf taught me to work hard and be persistent,” Patterson says. “I learned that you will never be perfect, but you can get better. It’s the same with science. You’re never perfect, but you can keep trying hard and persevere—just keep working at it.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Patterson taught chemistry and math for two years at Cushing Academy, 70 miles northwest of Boston.

“I lived in the dorm and also coached golf and hockey,” he says. “I loved teaching, but I wanted to teach something that I actually developed new knowledge in, not something out of a textbook. I thought, ‘veterinary medicine is flexible. I love animals. I like medicine. I like teaching. And I want to do research to produce new information.’ So I applied to vet school.”

In 1996, Patterson received his DVM from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. That same year, he began an internship, followed by a three-year residency and PhD, also at Minnesota. In 2004, he finished his PhD in genetics and epilepsy and joined the faculty as an assistant professor.

Patterson’s research focuses on genetic disease in dogs and epilepsy, which affects about 1 percent of people and 1 percent of dogs.

“Epilepsy is very common, and it’s underfunded compared to other diseases that are less common in both species,” Patterson says. “By working hard and with collaboration in big teams, we can make more people and dogs seizure free.”

I like to bring teams together and make new connections.

Over the past five years, Patterson’s work in collaboration with the College of Pharmacy has shown that two drugs approved for use in humans with epilepsy can also be used in dogs to prevent death during emergency treatment of dogs having a seizure. One of the drugs is now widely used in the emergency care of these dogs. Another drug currently being used in research trials for dogs shows even more promise. 

In collaboration with Medtronic and the Mayo Clinic, Patterson is also testing a medical device implanted in the brains of humans and dogs.

“The goal is to predict seizures two hours before they occur and then prevent them using a drug or neurostimulation,” he says. Patterson also develops genetic tests that dog breeders can use in an effort to decrease the number of dogs with common genetic diseases.

In addition to the College of Pharmacy, Medtronic, and The Mayo Clinic, Patterson collaborates with the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University.

“I like to bring teams together and make new connections,” he says.

Two years ago, Patterson became a member of the International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force, a group of veterinary scientists specializing in epilepsy whose mission is to develop an international consensus on terminology, classification, therapy, intervention, diagnostics, imaging, and pathology of canine epilepsy.

Patterson was also in charge of hosting the Ninth International Conference on Canine and Feline Genetics and Genomics in St. Paul, Minnesota, in May, and is on the 10-person organizing committee for the annual conference, a six-year appointment.

“When I was growing up, my family was very into wilderness camping, backpacking, and especially canoeing,” says Patterson, who today chairs the board of the YMCA’s Camp Widjiwagan for youth, near Ely, Minnesota. “I want to encourage future generations of kids that through teamwork, working hard, and collaboration, they can accomplish great things.”