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Studying Canine and Human Genomes
New article sheds light on dogs in health research.

Earlier this month, genetics researcher Elaine Ostrander published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine to highlight the strides scientists are making in human disease research thanks to their work with canines. The best part is that dogs are also benefiting in the process.

Scientists have sequenced both the human and canine genomes, which makes it possible to compare genes between the two. Typically it's much easier to track down the genes associated with canine diseases than it is in humans.

Once researchers identify the gene responsible for a disorder in dogs, they can go back and see if the same holds true for humans. The following are some of the cases where canine research has benefited both dogs and people.

  • Scientists discovered that the gene folliculin is behind Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome in humans and RCND, a syndrome that causes kidney cancer and skin growths in German Shepherds.
     
  • Researchers identified a different gene responsible for epilepsy in Wire-haired Dachshunds and Lagotto Romagnolo dogs. They're hoping further research into the differences in other breeds will also further understanding about how the disease presents in humans.
     
  • Scientists found that introducing a fundamental version of the RPE65 gene to dogs successfully treats progressive retinal atrophy. Now humans with the same disease are being treated with the same treatment.
     

Unfortunately I know many dogs and people affected by cancer and epilepsy. I'm hoping that Elaine Ostrander's article will inspire more collaborations between veterinary and human medical research. There are many studies that show the health benefits we get from our pets, so it seems only fitting that canine health research is now informing cures for humans.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Shezamm/flickr.

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