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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Research

Paralyzing diseases of dogs, people linked

Two incurable, paralyzing diseases - degenerative myelopathy in dogs and Lou Gehrig's disease in people - have been linked genetically, an important discovery that could lead to the avoidance of the crippling ailment in canines and better therapy for humans.

Researchers from the University of Missouri and the Broad Institute have found that the genetic mutation responsible for DM in dogs is the same mutation that causes ALS, the human disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ScienceDaily reports in a media release.

"This discovery will pave the way for DNA tests that will aid dog breeders in avoiding DM in the future," said Joan Coates, a veterinary neurologist and associate professor of veterinary medicine and surgery in the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine.

DM has been recognized for more than 35 years as a spontaneously occurring, spinal cord disorder in dogs. The disorder is reported most commonly in German Shepherds but also exists in other breeds, such as Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Boxers.

No treatment for DM has been clearly shown to stop or slow progression of the disease. Owners of dogs with DM usually elect euthanasia six months to a year after diagnosis when the dogs can no longer support their weight with their pelvic limbs.

The discovery also means that researchers can now use dogs with DM as animal models to help identify therapeutic interventions for curing ALS, Coates said. "Dogs with DM are likely to provide scientists with a more reliable animal model for ALS."

Previously, ALS research has relied heavily on transgenic rodents.

"Compared with the rodent models for ALS, dogs with DM are more similar to people in size, structure and complexity of their nervous systems, and duration of the disease," said Gary Johnson, associate professor of veterinary pathobiology at the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine. "The results from clinical trials conducted with DM-affected dogs may better predict the efficacy of therapeutic interventions for treating ALS in humans."

ALS causes progressive neurodegeneration, affecting both the central and peripheral nervous systems. The disease leads to advancing weakness and muscle atrophy, and culminates in paralysis and death.


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