American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation

AKC, clubs, and fanciers seek cures for canine diseases

These diseases and more are under investigation in more than 20 universities funded with grants from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. Since its founding in 1995, the Foundation has donated more than $2.5 million dollars to canine health research, conducted conferences on canine health issues, and developed funding mechanisms that will support research in the future.

Genetic projects

The dogís genetic makeup is manifested by its appearance (phenotype) and its genome (genotype). The phenotype is visible or measurable: a dogís color, coat type, bone structure, height, head shape, etc. all comprise the phenotype.

The genotype is hidden. Because some genes are dominant and others are recessive, the genotype is not necessarily represented by the phenotype. In other words, even though you can see coat color and type, height, shape of head, and bone structure, the underlying genetics could easily produce different characteristics in offspring. In a litter of 10 puppies, every one will differ from his littermates in some fashion. In a second litter of 10 from the same parents, the puppies will differ from each other and from the first litter to a greater or lesser degree.

Dr. George Padgett, a veterinarian at Michigan State University and an authority on canine genetic diseases, estimates that 500 genetic defects are known in dogs, including mixed breeds. Dogs have up to 100,000 genes, Padgett writes in his book Control of Canine Genetic Diseases. These defects can be harmless or relatively so or have serious, even life-threatening consequences.

The Canine Health Foundation has funded research to identify the genetic marker for several diseases, research that has successfully pinpointed the genes for von Willebrandís disease ( a bleeding disorder) in Poodle, Doberman Pinscher, and Pembroke Welsh Corgi; cystinuria (a cause of kidney, urethra, and bladder stones) in Newfoundlands; copper toxicosis (a liver disease) in Bedlington Terriers; and progressive retinal atrophy (an eye disease) in Irish Setters. Scientists are also working on projects to determine genetic predisposition to bloat in several breeds; to different cancers in Flat-Coated Retrievers and Skye Terriers; to cataracts in Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Siberian Huskies, and Bichon Frisť; hereditary deafness in Dalmatians, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Bull Terriers; and various diseases in Whippets, Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Salukis, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, and others.

In addition to specific disease research, CHF funds the gargantuan canine genome project to map the entire gene code of manís best friend. This map will further disease research by locating the genes on particular chromosomes so that DNA tests can be used to determine a dogís genetic health before breeding.

Various components of this collaborative gene mapping project are being conducted by at the University of Pennsylvania, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the National Cancer Institute, the University of Missouri, and the University of California at Berkeley. The ultimate goal is to identify chromosomal reference points for various disease complexes and behaviors in specific breeds of dogs so that breeders can carefully select dogs to breed. Once the gene location has been identified, a DNA test can be used to determine its presence or absence.

The genome projects use blood samples from related dogs. The samples are provided by Ralston Purina Company and by breeders throughout the country

The grants

Each May, CHF conducts a national survey to determine research interests and priorities expressed by breeders and breed clubs. In September, the foundation sends requests for preliminary proposals to universities and veterinary schools throughout the country. CHF reviews the preliminary proposals in December and invites selected scientists to submit detailed proposals in March.

Detailed proposals are examined by three or more members of the review committee in time for allocation of funds by the CHF board in June.

The money

The American Kennel Club founded CHF in 1995 with grants from its own funds, from several individuals and clubs, and from Ralston Purina Company; Canine Chronicle magazine; The Iams Company; show superintendent MB-F; Merck Ag/Vet Division and Upjohn Company, two pharmaceutical houses; and VetGen and PE Zoogen, two genetic research companies.

Hundreds of clubs, organizations, and individuals have joined the effort since then, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to open and restricted funds. CHF is now open for membership; those who would like to support the effort can join for $25 or become a contributing member with a donation of $50 or more. For details, visit the CHF website at; call (330) 995-0807; or write AKC Canine Health Foundation, 251 W. Garfield Avenue, Aurora, OH 44202.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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