With dogged de-termination, scientists at the University of California at Davis have identified a gene they believe can be an important risk factor for neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, which is caused by the incomplete closure of the spine.
The researchers, with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and University of Iowa, originally identified the gene in four Weimaraner dogs with spinal dysraphism, a disorder that impairs motor skills and causes partial paralysis of the legs.
They could not find the gene in other dog breeds they studied. But in examining gene samples from 149 people with spina bifida, they identified six samples with a mutation of the gene.
“Dogs are excellent biomedical models for humans since they receive comparable medical care, share our home environment and develop naturally occurring diseases comparable to those in humans,” the researchers wrote in the online journal PLOS Genetics.
The authors also noted that gene samples were taken from pets and not laboratory animals, and they also stressed that more research was needed before a definite link could be made between the gene mutation and neural tube defects in humans.
Researcher Noa Safra, a veterinarian who has had Weimeraners as pets for years, says, “My first Weim had affected puppies 15 years ago (I was a vet student then) and that is what: a) drew my attention to the disorder, and b) started my sample collection.” One of those puppies from years ago had DNA included in the study, she says.
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