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Are Dogs the Key to Solving Illness?

We know that dogs can be our best friends (and according to the doctor we featured last week, emotional healers) but it turns out that they can be physical healers, too.


Elinor Karlsson, a professor in the bioinformatics and integrative biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has launched a study in canine genetics.  Yes, canine genetics is a subject to study!  It turns out that dogs aren't only good for the purpose of medical research for other dogs, but for humans, too.  

It's not a short road to helping humans, but it's a surefire way to provide insight.  Because dogs come in such a big variety in terms of their breeds, it's helpful when learning about their genetic code and the difference from one breed to another to a mutt.  Karlsson and her team will look for genetic similarities in dogs suffering from the same illness.

Dogs are good to give clues about humans because our genetic codes are so similar.  While we have a lot of genetic similarities with other animals, dogs are much more accessible to analyze.  Not only this, but they share many of the same illnesses we do, which makes it easier to predict those illnesses in us.  And because dogs live with us, that makes them better subjects than lab mice or chimps since they share our environment.  This way, it can be learned if there are environmental factors involved in some major diseases. 

Former studies have been done on dogs investigating osteosarcoma, sleep disorder and epilepsy.  An example of just how much good can come from this is the discovery that tumors in children and dogs with osteosarcoma are nearly indistinguishable.  Studying the way the dogs are affected by the tumor, and finding key warning signs for the tumor, might save lots of kids' lives. 

So, go Dr. Karlsson!  While she didn't perform the latter mentioned study, her study (called Darwin's Dogs) will study subjects with obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism.  Yes, dogs can have these!  With extensive research, Dr. Karlsson and her team might find key clues that link environmental factors to those affected by OCD and autism.  

See?  Dogs and humans aren't so different, after all. 


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Jenna Gomes

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Jenna Gomes