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Lisa Nicolello

Canine Health Foundation

News Release


St. Louis, MO ... In a development with far-reaching implications, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation announced this week that scientists from around the world will pool their research to create a worldwide genetic map of the dog -- an important step toward conquering more than 300 inherited canine diseases, including cancer, which is the No. 1 killer of dogs.

The announcement capped two back-to-back conferences convened by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation and the American Kennel Club (AKC) that attracted the largest group ever assembled to discuss canine health issues.

More than 400 scientists and dog breeders attended the Molecular Genetics and Canine Health conference and the National Parent Club Conference, sponsored by Ralston Purina Company, to discuss advances in canine genetics and other health issues.

The focal point of both conferences was the presentation of the first genetic linkage map of the dog, developed by leading American scientists let by Dr. Elaine Ostrander of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The map is currently being prepared for publication.

According to AKC Canine Health Foundation President, Dr. Robert J. Hritzo, hundreds of genetic markers important in the search for clues to inherited canine diseases have already been uncovered, spurred on by research grants from the two-year-old Foundation.

"Up to now most genetic research has focused on humans, mice and agricultural animals," Dr. Hritzo said. "The AKC Canine Health Foundation has been instrumental in turning attention to canine genetics and has become the largest private funding source for genetic linkage mapping research. This is good news for the 37 million dog owners in the United States."

Hritzo said scientists have been reluctant to study diseases in dogs without a genetic "road map". The worldwide collaboration marks a significant step forward and will speed up the process, he noted.

Dr. Gary Johnson of the University of Missouri stated that ultimately the gene map will help dog breeders identify which dogs are disease carriers and which may eventually get specific diseases -- so they can breed the disease out. Currently, he noted, there is one DNA test available (for von Willebrand=s disease) which should led to eradication of this disease in a few generations.

Beyond its importance to the health of dogs, the research holds promise for combating human diseases. The human and canine genomes are 85 percent similar, offering significant advantages to conducting genetic research with dogs rather than humans. Each of the more than 140 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club is genetically unique with an extensive pedigree that may cover 10 generations. This is an invaluable resource to scientists looking at inherited diseases.

Parent Club Conference sponsor Ralston Purina has agreed to make dogs from its Purina Pet Care Center available as reference families to stimulate further progress. According to Ralston Purina Vice President and Director of Research David Bebiak, "In this eleventh hour of the twentieth century, it is surprising that we are once again explorers, building maps and searching for new learning. We intend to be leaders in enhancing the health and performance of dogs."

The AKC Canine Health Foundation, established in 1995, is a 501 8 (3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and longevity of dogs by supporting scientific research with an emphasis on canine genetics. The Foundation currently funds several research grants for developing the map of the canine genome, as well as research into canine diseases such as hip dysplasia, canine bloat, auto immune disease, canine cancer, epilepsy, deafness, hypothyroidism, progressive retinal atrophy and von Willebrand's disease.

Ralston Purina, headquartered in St. Louis, has more than 70 years of experience in pet nutrition and care research through its Purina Pet Care Center, the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the world.

(For additional information you may contact Deborah Lynch or Lee Melius (330) 995-0807; fax at (330) 995-0806.)

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