DNA: What Can Your Dog Tell Us About Canine Cancer
As part of the many samples collected for the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, one small blood tube is packaged, specially processed and eventually makes it way to a deep freezer, where it will await further analysis. This particular sample is earmarked for future genetic studies.
DNA analysis is useful for not only biomedical research and genealogy, but DNA analysis is also used in archaeology, genetic counseling and health care.
How does DNA collection fit into the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?
First, a little about what DNA is and isn’t. DNA molecules are contained in every cell in the body. They work as a genetic blueprint, directing the cell’s functions, from basic “housekeeping” functions, such as processing nutrients, to specialized functions unique to certain types of cells—for example, insulin-producing cells and specialized white blood cells that produce antibodies to fight disease.
Although DNA is contained in every cell, it is easier to collect from some cells than others. Blood is one of the best substances for harvesting DNA. In addition, DNA is very stable at low temperatures, so deep freezing doesn’t destroy the molecules. For these reasons, blood samples are collected from study participants and frozen for future study.
DNA can be analyzed in many ways. By comparing the DNA from individuals affected by a disease, such as cancer, to the DNA of unaffected individuals, scientists can identify differences in the genetic code that might be linked to the disease. Once differences are studied and tested, screening tests may be developed—think of the genetic testing currently available to help determine a person’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Another way to use DNA is to compare one breed of dog that has a high incidence of a particular disease, such as Golden Retrievers’ predisposition to cancer, to another breed of dog that has a lower incidence of that disease and to look for genetic differences.
The small donation of blood, about 3 tablespoons, taken from study dogs may indeed help unlock the genetic keys behind the development of multiple diseases, including cancer. The stored blood samples collected as part of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will be made available to researchers who submit rigorously reviewed proposals. As more data is collected through the study, targeted samples of interest can be retrieved for analysis.
By saving these valuable samples, Morris Animal Foundation is building a large bank of DNA that will be available to generations of researchers for years to come. What can your dog’s blueprint tell us about cancer and other major canine disease? To learn more about Morris Animal Foundation and our other programs please visit morrisanimalfoundation.org.