Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Relationship between Dog Health and People Health

By Linda Cole

Dogs are not only “man's best friend” – they are also aiding researchers who study dogs to discover better ways to treat humans. Because dogs live in the same environment that we do, they are also exposed to the same sort of things that cause cancer, diabetes and other diseases we share with our dogs. By discovering the genome responsible for a disease in dogs, researchers have a better understanding of the disease in humans, and know what to look for. New research in dog health is helping scientists learn more about people health.

A genome is one single set of chromosomes that contain all of its genes, i.e., the total genetic makeup of a cell. A genome contains all of the biological information all living things need that makes each species unique, including humans. The information in the genome is encoded in the DNA and divided into genes. Because our genetic makeup is so diverse, it's been difficult for researchers to pinpoint exactly where diseases like cancer and diabetes originate in our complicated makeup.

First of all, let me assure you that no dog in the research program was or is harmed or manipulated in any way. Using purebred dogs that have already developed tumors, researchers have been closely scrutinizing their DNA to find out where the mutated cancer causing cell is located in their genetic makeup. What they are looking for is how to isolate the genetic mutations that cause cancer. Like people, dogs are susceptible to skin cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, bone cancer and leukemia. This research is giving scientists insight into where to find mutations in canines, and what they are learning about dog health may hold the key to unlocking what they've been looking for in people health.

We can thank responsible breeders for this research. Because most purebred dogs are registered with the American Kennel Club, the scientists have a recorded genetic history of every purebred breed registered with the AKC. The dog's parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so forth have been documented and maintained for generations to insure purebred dogs meet their breed standards. This is important, because a purebred dog’s DNA hasn't become complicated and mixed up like our DNA has through the years. With smaller variations in their genetic pool, it's easier for researchers to locate the area in their DNA that looks different and lets them see where a particular disease originates from.

By using a variety of purebred dogs, scientists are hoping to find different individual risk factors in dogs that will then give them a better idea of what the risk factors for different types of tumors are. They want a cross section of purebred dogs because different breeds are susceptible to different types of cancer. What this means for dog health and people health is once they are able to isolate cells that cause cancer in dogs, they should be able to do the same for people.

This research is also providing ways to treat dogs that have developed cancer with treatments to help ease their pain. Their owners can then give them a better quality of life and increase their lifespan instead of having to make a heartbreaking decision based on how much pain the dog is in.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has been doing research on a cancer vaccine that is proving to be quite successful in dogs. The vaccine instructs the immune system to fight and eliminate cancer cells in the body. Still in the experimental stage, it isn't ready for humans yet, but the cancer center's research is giving doctors hope of what may be on the horizon for people health. This vaccine has been so successful at prolonging the life of cancer stricken dogs, that the Department of Agriculture earlier this year approved a melanoma vaccine for use in dogs.

Innovative treatments being used on dogs are giving researchers insight into how or if the same treatments and new therapies could be applied to people with certain cancers. As doctors help dogs, questions are being answered that could end up helping people. Researchers have been able to isolate the area on the dog's genome where they can see a collection of genes that are responsible for other diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. Knowing where to look on the dog’s genome is showing them where to find the same collection in humans.

Dog health and people health go hand in hand, because dogs are our constant companions and it's easy to track the dog’s genetic makeup. Responsible breeders have not only maintained the integrity of the dog breed in their kennels, they provide an excellent recorded history of a purebred dog's lineage, which gives scientists invaluable information for their research.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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