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Investigating the most common skin cancer in dogs, the Animal Health Trust (AHT) has released research that will be hugely beneficial to two of the UK’s most popular breeds of dog.

Cancer remains one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of dogs, but through research, we are taking major strides forward in finding ways to beat it

It is estimated that last year more than 12,000 dogs in the UK were affected by mast cell tumours, with Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers widely acknowledged as two breeds particularly susceptible to developing this type of tumour.

Research conducted by scientists at the Animal Health Trust, revealed that 70% of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers carry a genetic factor which increases their risk of developing mast cell tumours.

Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Cancer Research at the Animal Health Trust, said, “One in four dogs will be affected by cancer in its lifetime, and that is simply too many. As the only UK charity with a dedicated research programme focussed on cancer in dogs, ultimately we aim to prevent dogs from losing their lives to cancer, and reduce the number of dogs that develop cancer.

“We work towards these aims by focussing our research on tackling the most common aggressive cancers in dogs – in this case, mast cell tumours. By studying DNA isolated from blood or cheek cells, we are able to look at the role inherited genetic risk factors play in specific cancers in susceptible dog breeds. We hope, from this, to develop tests for genetic risk factors that will be able to be used to identify dogs in a susceptible breed that have the greatest risk of developing a particular cancer and will potentially pass this high risk onto their puppies.”

The AHT is an independent charity, employing over 250 scientists, vets and support workers, it aims to improve the health and welfare of horses, dogs and cats through research. This new research was funded by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, with the AHT working in collaboration with groups in The Netherlands, Sweden and the USA.

Steve Dean, Chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, said, “This new collaborative research into mast cell tumours, one of the common cancers suffered by dogs, is an important step forward in our understanding of this condition. It is helping us to unravel the genetic risk factors that contribute to the development of this aggressive metastatic skin cancer in two of our most popular breeds.

“Our ongoing work with the AHT has also recently led to published research that gives us the opportunity to develop an accurate prognostic test for this form of cancer, which would allow veterinary surgeons to make more informed decisions about the appropriate treatment for individual dogs.

“The Kennel Club Charitable Trust is dedicated to improving the health and welfare of all dogs, so it is heartening to know that our support of cancer research, carried out at the Animal Health Trust, is resulting in such significant breakthroughs in terms of our understanding and ability to deal with this disease.”

Dr Mike Starkey and the team at the Animal Health Trust now hope to identify other genetic risk variants for mast cell tumours in Labrador and Golden Retrievers. If sufficient risk factors can be identified, it should be possible to make a DNA screening test available to benefit more than 100,000 dogs in the UK.

Dr Starkey added, “Cancer remains one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of dogs, but through research, we are taking major strides forward in finding ways to beat it.”

The full research paper entitled ‘A synonymous germline variant in a gene encoding a cell adhesion molecule is associated with cutaneous mast cell tumour development in Labrador and Golden Retrievers’ is published in PLOS Genetics, and is available to view here.

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