Ever since dogs first came into contact with humans, they have been serving us in extraordinary ways. Dogs are not only our companions, they can also herd, help us hunt, and be trained to work as service dogs, therapy dogs, police dogs, and military dogs. And according to recent studies, dogs can now provide another benefit to humans by allowing us to study their diseases.
Domestic dogs can suffer from hundreds of the same diseases as people can, and the diseases present in similar ways. While that may not be a happy thought, what it means is that we can study our four-legged friends in order to better understand and find new therapies for human hereditary diseases.
Dogs are great study subjects because they make it easy to find disease-causing genes (much easier than it is in people). This is because domestic breeding of dogs has resulted in some inbreeding, and thus the spread of certain disease-causing genes within certain breeds. This type of breeding also means that all dogs within a certain breed are genetically similar, and therefore disease-causing genes can be identified in smaller groups of dogs as opposed to thousands of human patients and controls.
More Than Just Genes
Dogs are useful in studying human diseases not only because we can examine their disease-causing genes, but also because they share our environments.
This is important because things in our environments — including stressors and what we eat — can directly impact how genes are expressed, and so environmental factors that influence disease formation in humans can also affect our dogs.
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We’re Seeing Results
The study of diseases in dogs has already had some amazing results. Some studies have influenced the development of a new gene therapy for hemophilia, and another study that identified the genetic basis of narcolepsy in dogs allowed researchers to discover a previously unknown pathway in the brain.
It will be fascinating to see what else this partnership between human and veterinary medicine can accomplish.
Read the BBC’s full article.
For all the good that dogs can do for us, we should do good for them, too. Take care of your pet’s health by keeping up with veterinary visits, and consider signing up for PetPlus to save on your pet’s medications, boarding, and more.