Page 76 - ShowSight, March 2020
P. 76

                 Mari-Beth O’Neill and Dr. Diane Brown pose with a group of Theriogenology students.
The vision of the people who started the AKC CHF—really, the wisdom that went into the development of our mission statement—was for all dogs and their people. So, to include this 25 years ago has allowed us to grow that One Health aspect in what we do. We take findings and scientific breakthroughs from human medicine and apply them in research to help dogs. And things we learn in dogs are taken and applied to help humans. A lot of this ends up being pediatrics. It seems like things that help dogs can end up informing pediatric health as well. But, yes, we’re all on one planet. We all share one environment. In most cases with our dogs, we’re drinking the same water and eating some of the same foods. We’re out on the same lawns and, sometimes, we’re in the same bed. We are exposed to the same environmental toxins, vectors, vector-borne disease, tick-borne diseases, and all of that. And so, we’ve learned how things work in dogs and this helps to inform so broadly. I come from the world of comparative pathology, so when I was on faculty at Harvard Medi- cal School we were doing the same thing from that angle. Everything that we learned had a comparative aspect that you could apply. Since dogs are so closely aligned with us in our environments, what we learn from them is especially meaningful as compared to a rodent that lives in a cage, for example. Right now, one of our big comparative projects is in the comparative brain tumor consortium. We’re working with the National Institute of Health (NIH) on this project because brain tumors in people are difficult and brain tumors in dogs are difficult. They’re difficult to study and they’re difficult to treat. So this [research project] is bringing together all the resources of the NIH and the National Cancer Institute with us and what we can do to address brain tumors. That’s going to be incredibly informative in the future.
Is this a new study or a new partnership?
Yes, it’s been a partnership over the last couple of years and continues to evolve. We’ve moved through several tumor types and there are several more to go. It’s encompassing so much different information from imaging to treatment and clinical trials, to getting genetic information and genomics for accurate diagnoses. Because—going back to our lymphoma example—lymphoma is no longer just lymphoma. If you have a diagnosis of lymphoma, it’s incomplete. It [needs to be] broken down into these comparators that help us to learn so much more. What type of lymphoma? Is it a T-cell lymphoma? Is it a B-cell lymphoma? Why will some respond to treatment, but not others? We are finding that there are these differences within a particular tumor type. This is where the science becomes complex. I look at the scientific research as an investment we make for the future. Because we’ll fund a study and it may be 3-5 years before that’s completed and published, but it will help to inform what’s next. There are very few things in science that happen quickly, so I look at it as an investment. And if you can think about it that way then you can see how much has been accomplished.
On the AKC CHF website I found a quote that reads, “In science, progress is measured in small steps along the way to major discover- ies.” I think that most dedicated breeders take a similar approach to producing healthy dogs. Any thoughts on this?
Very health conscious breeders are cru- cial to the investment in research. I mean, they know more about a breed than any- body. There is nothing like a motivated breeder. I see so many who are health con- scious and dedicated to preserving, main- taining, and improving the health of their dogs as their primary goal. When we have breed clubs that will become involved in these studies (and you’ve got those breeders who care about health and science from all over the country sending samples, partici- pating), that’s how these investigators see that they can get to an outcome. Because, if they’re struggling to recruit cases for a clini- cal trial, such as the lymphoma trial you had defined, that slows everything down.
You’ve mentioned ‘preserving’ the health of dogs. Today’s purebred dog breeder increas- ingly views him or herself as a preservationist. Would you say that veterinary pathologists are also preservationists?
That’s an interesting way to put it, but maybe the way I would say it is that we are providing more tools for the breeder to use and a genetic test is only one tool in your toolbox. (But if you didn’t have that tool before, you were missing a potential piece.) With treatments, there’s a lot that revolves around genetics, but it doesn’t all revolve around genetics. Anyone who says, “You can solve a whole breed’s problems through genetics...” Well again, genetics is one piece of that puzzle. It’s one of those building blocks, one tool in the toolbox. And over- interpreting or overusing one single tool doesn’t necessarily help to preserve a breed.
Some breeders use a health test score as the primary tool when making breeding decisions. Isn’t there more to selecting for overall health and longevity than a test score?
Sometimes a genetic test doesn’t have the whole answer for a complex disor- der. Let’s take degenerative myelopathy (DM), for example. There’s a really excel- lent researcher working on that with steady progress. We have funded that work for years, but a genetic test is only one piece... and there’s a lot that has to be properly

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