Dr. Ostrander received her doctorate from Oregon Health Sciences University, and did her postdoctoral training at Harvard University. She then went to the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, where she and her collaborators began the canine genome project. Dr. Ostrander heads the Section of Comparative Genetics, which makes her expertise invaluable for the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. She specifically provides expert guidance and consultation as it relates to describing the genome (the complete set of genes) of the enrolled dogs as well as helping to reveal the genetic risk factors for cancer.
What motivated you to become involved with the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?
The work in my lab is about half human and half canine focused. I attend a lot of scientific conferences and see progress for some diseases, but I realize so much more can be done. Cancer is a great example; cancer treatment hasn’t really changed much since I started working in the field. The community of golden retriever owners is so engaged and passionate about finding out why their dogs are getting cancer, but what was missing was someone to organize this community toward a common purpose. Morris Animal Foundation and Rod Page, the study’s principal investigator, provided that unifying force. It was easy for me to be a part of this unique undertaking. It is especially exciting now because the study is nearing the phase where my lab can contribute by helping with genomic sequencing.
What do you think is the most important contribution this study can make to the health of golden retrievers?
So many advances in sequencing have been made and there is a good chance that we will identify some important risk alleles (an allele is a mutation of a gene) for the breed and potentially other dogs, too.
Many of the risk alleles may be fixed in this breed (meaning they are present in the entire breed) but we also know that lots of golden retrievers lead long, healthy lives. We are poised to study the genetic variants that make some of these dogs susceptible to cancer far too early in life and compare them to the others that live well into their geriatric years. With this information, we can help breeders make thoughtful decisions about breeding and improve the breed overall. In addition, genes represent good targets for cancer therapy and help direct precision treatment approaches.
What do you think this is the most important contribution this study can make to the field of comparative oncology?
When I go to scientific meetings, I’m encountering physicians looking at integrated medicine because so many diseases are similar between dogs and humans. They’re interested in finding out the underlying genetics. Golden retrievers are good to study because they have golden retriever parents and grandparents. That type of genetic homogeneity (sameness) does not exist in people because we have children with the people of our choosing. While still complicated, this difference makes canine genetics much more straightforward compared to human genetics.