Dogs help in hunt for genetic mutations

October 17th, 2008 - 1:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 17 (IANS) Man’s most loyal and sincere friend, the dog is now helping scientists hunt for genetic mutations, the source of diseases in humans.A new consortium called LUPA will coordinate research from 20 veterinary schools from 12 European countries to collect 10,000 DNA samples from purebred dogs, comparing healthy animals with those affected by similar diseases as humans.

The analysis of the genome of affected dogs compared to healthy ones of the same breed will lead to the identification of genes implied in the mechanisms of these diseases. The four-year project aims initially to pinpoint genetic markers and help reduce the high level of inherited disease in purebred dogs.

“Dogs get very similar diseases to humans,” said Kerstin Lindblad-Toh of Uppsala University, Sweden, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts. “If you ask a dog owner what sort of conditions their pets get, they will say cancer, allergies, eye diseases.”

Lindblad-Toh was addressing the European Science Foundation’s IIIrd Functional Genomics Conference, in Innsbruck, Austria, early this month, according to a release of the European Science Foundation.

The Innsbruck meeting brought together more than 450 scientists from across Europe to discuss recent advances in the role of functional genomics in disease.

Many canine diseases could share the same genetic basis in humans and dogs, Lindblad-Toh told the conference, and because dogs have been bred into clear isolated populations - the different breeds - it is often easier to detect a genetic flaw that leads to a disease than it is in humans.

Once the rogue gene has been found in the dog, it could make it easier look for mutations in the same gene in man. “For example we have found genetic mutation that results in a condition called day blindness that can affect dachshunds,” Lindblad-Toh said.

For example in Sweden, more than one-third of English Springer Spaniels are diagnosed with mammary tumours, analogous to breast cancers in humans. An increased risk for malignant mammary tumours has been reported also in other breeds, including Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds and Boxers, suggesting that these breeds may carry genetic risk factors for this type of cancer.

If the genes implicated in the disease can be singled out, this could provide a new opportunity to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human breast cancer.

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