Research into dog cancer could lead to screening test for popular breeds
Scientists investigating skin cancer in dogs hope new research can lead to a DNA screening test being made available for two of the UK’s most popular breeds.
Research conducted by the Animal Health Trust in Kentford, near Newmarket, revealed that 70% of labradors and golden retrievers carry a genetic factor that increases their risk of developing mast cell tumours.
It is hoped the research, in collaboration with groups in the Netherlands, Sweden and the USA, and funded by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, will allow scientists to develop tests to identify dogs in a susceptible breed that have the greatest risk of developing a particular cancer.
The charity's scientists, led by Dr Mike Starkey, looked at the DNA of dogs, both affected and unaffected by mast cell tumours, and identified a change in the DNA – a 'risk factor' – carried by seven in ten labradors and golden retrievers.
Dr Starkey, who is head of research at the Animal Health Trust, said: “As the only UK charity with a dedicated research programme focused on cancer in dogs, ultimately we aim to prevent dogs from losing their lives to cancer, and reduce the number of dogs that develop cancer.
“We work towards these aims by focusing our research on tackling the most common aggressive cancers in dogs – in this case, mast cell tumours.
“By studying DNA isolated from blood or cheek cells, we are able to look at the role inherited genetic risk factors play in specific cancers in susceptible dog breeds.
“We hope, from this, to develop tests for genetic risk factors that will be able to be used to identify dogs in a susceptible breed that have the greatest risk of developing a particular cancer and will potentially pass this high risk onto their puppies.”
Steve Dean, chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, said: “This new collaborative research into mast cell tumours, one of the common cancers suffered by dogs, is an important step forward in our understanding of this condition.
“It is helping us to unravel the genetic risk factors that contribute to the development of this aggressive metastatic skin cancer in two of our most popular breeds.
“Our ongoing work with the AHT has also recently led to published research that gives us the opportunity to develop an accurate prognostic test for this form of cancer, which would allow veterinary surgeons to make more informed decisions about the appropriate treatment for individual dogs.”
The Animal Health Trust now hopes to identify other genetic risk variants for mast cell tumours in labradors and golden retrievers.
If sufficient risk factors can be identified, it should be possible to make a DNA screening test available to benefit more than 100,000 dogs in the UK.
Dr Starkey added: “Cancer remains one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of dogs, but through research, we are taking major strides forward in finding ways to beat it.”