The diseases and disorders that are well known in some purebred dogs may be giving researchers a road map to understanding genetic abnormalities in humans. The very problems that become exaggerated in canines with narrow breeding lines can pinpoint which specific genes are to blame
As both human and canine genomes have been mapped, understanding genetic abnormalities in dogs can translate directly to clues for scientists working on human diseases with genetic components.
How far has this research gotten already? All the way to the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. An article by Dr. Elaine Ostrander, chief and distinguished investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute, sheds light on where scientists are heading. From the Los Angeles Times:
If you study a bunch of people with the disease, the underlying genes involved will probably be a mix and the results will be too cloudy for scientists to make sense of. But in an inbred dog strain prone to a disorder, the underlying cause is far more likely to be rooted in one specific gene.
And that means scientists can find it. Once they’ve found it, they can then go back and see if the same holds true for some human beings.
Some examples Ostrander cites of gene-influenced disorders in dogs shedding light on diseases in human beings:
–A syndrome called RCND that causes kidney cancer and skin growths in German shepherds was pinpointed to versions of a gene called folliculin. That same gene, it turns out, is involved in a human disease called Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome.
What does that mean? Potentially, the eye disorder that afflicts a Dachshund can give hope to people who might otherwise lose their sight, or the terrible cancer that takes the life of a Retriever much too soon might represent hope for future human cancer survivors.
Photo Credit: Cody the Boxer, by Stephanie M. Thompson