Category Archives: research

Study shows dogs can accurately sniff out cancer in blood

Dogs have smell receptors 10,000 times more accurate than humans’, making them highly sensitive to odors we can’t perceive. A new study has shown that dogs can use their highly evolved sense of smell to pick out blood samples from people with cancer with almost 97 percent accuracy. The results could lead to new cancer-screening approaches that are inexpensive and accurate without being invasive.

Beagle sniffing cancer

A new study has shown that dogs can use their highly evolved sense of smell to pick out blood samples from people with cancer with almost 97 percent accuracy. Photo by: BioScentDx

“Although there is currently no cure for cancer, early detection offers the best hope of survival,” said Heather Junqueira, who is lead researcher at BioScentDx and performed the study. “A highly sensitive test for detecting cancer could potentially save thousands of lives and change the way the disease is treated.”

Junqueira will present this research at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting during the 2019 Experimental Biology meeting to be held April 6-9 2019 in Orlando, Fla.

For the new study, Junqueira and her colleagues used a form of clicker training to teach four beagles to distinguish between normal blood serum and samples from patients with malignant lung cancer. Although one beagle — aptly named Snuggles — was unmotivated to perform, the other three dogs correctly identified lung cancer samples 96.7 percent of the time and normal samples 97.5 percent of the time.

“This work is very exciting because it paves the way for further research along two paths, both of which could lead to new cancer-detection tools,” said Junqueira. “One is using canine scent detection as a screening method for cancers, and the other would be to determine the biologic compounds the dogs detect and then design cancer-screening tests based on those compounds.”

BioScentDx plans to use canine scent detection to develop a non-invasive way of screening for cancer and other life-threatening diseases. As a next step, the company launched a breast cancer study in November in which participants donate samples of their breath for screening by trained cancer-sniffing dogs. The researchers also plan to separate the samples into their chemical components and present these to the dogs to isolate the substances causing the odor that the dogs detect.

About Experimental Biology 2019

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from five host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the United States and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research.

Source:  EurekAlert! media statement

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How Pets Contribute to Healthy Aging

Two-thirds of all pet owners say that having an animal helps them stay physically active. But for some older adults, time commitment, cost and allergies stand in the way.

A curled-up cat, a tail-wagging dog, a chirping parakeet or even a serene goldfish may help older adults cope with mental and physical health issues, according to a new poll, the National Poll on Healthy Aging (USA).

But while pets come with benefits, they can also bring concerns, and some people may even put their animals’ needs ahead of their own health, the poll finds.

In all, 55 percent of adults ages 50 to 80 have a pet, according to the new findings — and more than half of those have multiple pets. More than three-quarters of pet owners say their animals reduce their stress, and nearly as many say pets give them a sense of purpose. But 18 percent also said having a pet or pets puts a strain on their budget.

Two-thirds of all pet owners, and 78 percent of dog owners, said their pet helps them be physically active, according to the new findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

The poll is conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation, and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

For those who reported that their health was fair or poor, pet ownership appeared to offer even more benefits. More than 70 percent of these older adults said their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms, and 46 percent said their pets help take their mind off of pain.

“We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support,” says Cathleen Connell, Ph.D., a professor at the U-M School of Public Health who has studied the role of companion animals in older adults’ lives.

“Although the benefits of pets are significant, social connections and activities with friends and family are also key to quality of life across the life span,” she says. “Helping older adults find low-cost ways to support pet ownership while not sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health.”

Poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., a U-M Medical School professor who has training in caring for older adults, says the poll results indicate a need for physicians and other health care providers to ask older adults about the role of pets in their lives.

“More activity, through dog walking or other aspects of pet care, is almost always a good thing for older adults,” Malani says. “But the risk of falls is real for many, and 6 percent of those in our poll said they had fallen or injured themselves due to a pet.”

“At the same time, given the importance of pets to many people, the loss of a pet can deal a very real psychological blow that providers, family and friends should be attuned to,” she says.

Mich-AgingPollPet-Graphic_0

“This study highlights the many physical, psychological and social benefits that pets can have for older adults,” says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “In recognition of these health benefits, more assisted living facilities today are allowing residents to have pets.”

Pet positives

Companionship and social connection were positive side effects of pet ownership for many poll respondents.

In fact, more than half of those who owned pets said they did so specifically to have a companion — and a slightly higher percentage said their pets sleep in bed with them. Sixty-five percent of pet owners said having a pet helps connect them to other people, too.

“Relationships with pets tend to be less complicated than those with humans, and pets are often a source of great enjoyment,” says Mary Janevic, Ph.D., MPH, an assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Public Health who helped design the poll. “They also provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved.”

Pet problems

Other concerns about pet ownership emerged in the poll results. More than half of pet owners said that having a pet also made it difficult to travel or enjoy activities outside the home.

And 1 in 6 said that they put their pet’s needs ahead of their own health needs — a figure that was closer to 1 in 4 among those with health issues.

“Later life is often a time when people have more freedom to travel, and a long list of things they want to do with their free time, and sometimes having a pet can get in the way,” says Janevic.

“For people living on a fixed income, expenses related to health care for pets, and especially pets that have chronic health issues, can be a struggle,” she says. “Older adults can also develop health problems or disabilities that make pet care difficult.”

The non-pet-owner perspective

The 45 percent of older adults who said they don’t have pets gave many reasons for not keeping a dog, cat, fish, lizard, bird or small mammal around.

Among non-pet owners, 42 percent said they didn’t want to be tied down. Twenty percent said they didn’t have time, and 23 percent gave cost as the reason, while 16 percent said their own allergies, or those of someone in their household, kept them from getting a pet.

For those who can’t own pets due to allergies, budget constraints, housing circumstances or schedules, there’s often a need for volunteers at local animal shelters or pet-sitting for friends and family, the researchers say.

They note that health care providers and family may even want to recommend these options to older adults who have no pets and wish to have one.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,051 adults ages 50 to 80 who answered a wide range of questions online. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team. Laptops and internet access were provided to poll respondents who did not already have them.

A full report of the findings and methodology is available at healthyagingpoll.org, along with past National Poll on Healthy Aging reports.

Two new genes dis­covered in the de­vel­op­men­tal de­fects of can­ine enamel

In addition to humans, hereditary disorders of enamel development occur in dogs, greatly impacting their dental health and wellbeing. A recent study reveals canine enamel disorders similar to those found in humans, linking them with ENAM and ACP4, two genes previously described in humans.
Dog tooth enamel study

New variants in the ENAM gene that codes enamelin were discovered in Parson Russell Terriers

The enamel that covers teeth is the hardest structure in the entire body. Its development is a complex process, and related developmental disorders may result in low enamel quantity, its absence or structural weakness. Alongside aesthetic issues, enamel defects have an impact on dental health and general wellbeing. Amelogenesis imperfecta (AI) is a group of hereditary developmental disorders affecting enamel, with more than ten associated genes reported in humans.

AI causes a significant wellbeing problem for dogs as well, yet the diseases, poorly known in canine medicine, often remain undiagnosed. Canine AI has earlier been linked with the ENAM and SLC24A4 genes in two breeds. In a recent study conducted at the University of Helsinki, two novel recessively inherited enamel disorders were described in dogs, and associated with causative variants in ENAM and ACP4. The identified genes have previously been linked with hereditary enamel development defects also in humans.

“We have observed enamel defects in several breeds. In this study, we found new gene variants in the ENAM gene of Parson Russell Terriers and the ACP4 gene of Akitas and American Akitas. The ACP4 finding was of particular interest, as its role in the development of tooth enamel is not well known, and there are no previous descriptions for any animal models,” says Marjo Hytönen, PhD, the first author of the study.

ENAM codes for enamelin, the key enamel protein, and is significant for achieving the correct enamel thickness during tooth development. A considerable part of human AI disorders are associated with mutations in the ENAM gene, whereas ACP4 codes for the phosphatase enzyme, whose specific significance to tooth and enamel development is currently unclear, but which may influence cellular differentiation and mineralisation. Dogs with an ACP4 mutation expressed thinning of the enamel and a slight mineralisation disorder.

Unlike mice, dogs have primary and permanent teeth just as humans, and the number of teeth is also similar. Therefore, dogs serve as an excellent model for human dental diseases.

“The spontaneous enamel defects found in this study resemble earlier descriptions of human patients, and are also linked with the same genes. Through gene tests, the gene findings will provide new diagnostic tools for veterinarians and breeders, which will also help with understanding the causes, mechanisms and hereditary nature of enamel defects. This is important for the development of early and improved therapies,” explains Professor Hannes Lohi, director of the research group.

Earlier, the group discovered a mutation in the FAM20C gene, impacting tooth hypomineralisation. Gene mapping will continue on various dental diseases in different breeds, including a publication which is currently being prepared on an unknown AI gene.

 

Source:  University of Helsinki media release

 

Kibbles and Kale? Many Pet Owners Keen to Have Vegan Pets

A surprising number of pet owners, particularly those who are vegan, are interested in feeding their pets a plant-based diet, according to new University of Guelph research.

Researchers with U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College along with colleagues in New Zealand conducted an online survey of 3,673 dog and cat owners from around the world to learn about what kinds of foods they fed their pets and themselves.

Vegan diet photo

Photo by: Rarnie McCudden from Pexels

Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the survey found that 35 per cent of owners whose pets ate conventional diets were interested in switching their animals to a vegan diet.

More than half of them (55 per cent) added, though, that certain stipulations needed to be met before they would make the switch. Those stipulations included needing further evidence that a plant-based diet would meet their pets’ nutritional needs, wanting approval from their veterinarians and wanting plant-based pet foods to be easily available.

Just under six per cent of the survey respondents were vegan — meaning they ate no meat, dairy or fish – and more than a quarter (27 per cent) of them reported they already fed their pets plant-based diets.

Among the rest of the vegans, a full 78 per cent were interested in helping their pets to switch to a plant-based diet if one were available that met their needs.

Lead author Sarah Dodd, currently a PhD candidate at the OVC’s Department of Population Medicine, said even she was surprised by how many vegans had already chosen to eliminate meat from their pets’ diets.

“That percentage, 27 per cent, might sound like a small number, but when you think of the actual numbers of pets involved, that’s huge, and much higher than we expected.”

In total, 1.6 per cent of the 2,940 dogs in the survey and 0.7 per cent of the 1,545 cats were being fed a strictly plant-based diet; only vegans and one vegetarian chose to exclusively feed plant-based diets.

Another 10.4 per cent of the dogs and 3.3 per cent of cats were intermittently fed vegetarian diets or plant-based foods.

Of the 3,673 pet owners surveyed, 6 per cent were vegetarian (meaning they ate no meat but did eat dairy, eggs or honey), 4 per cent were pescatarian (meaning they ate no meat but fish, and may eat dairy, eggs or honey), and nearly 6 per cent were vegan (meaning they ate no animal products).

Dodd performed this study for her M.Sc. degree with Prof. Adronie Verbrugghe in OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies

Dodd said while her team’s research was not designed to assess whether vegan pet diets are a growing trend, she expects interest in the diets to increase.

“People have been hearing about how vegan diets are linked to lowered risks of cancer and other health benefits in humans. There is also growing concern about the environmental impact of animal agriculture.”

Previous studies have also shown that pet owners tend to offer the same kind of diets to their dogs and cats that they adopt for themselves.

“So, while only a small proportion of pet owners are currently feeding plant-based diets to their pets, it is safe to say that interest in the diets is likely to grow.”

However, there has not been much research on the nutritional suitability of vegan diets for dogs and cats, nor on the health benefits and risks of plant-based diets in these animals, said Dodd.

“This study shows there is a clear need for further research in this area.”

Source:  University of Guelph media statement

Who should Fido fear? Depends on relationship

As states around the country move to stiffen punishments for animal cruelty, Michigan State University researchers have found a correlation between the types of animal abuse committed and the perpetrator’s relationship to an animal and its owner.

For example, animal-neglect crimes (i.e. withholding food and water) tend to be perpetrated by the animal’s owner. On the other hand, with crimes that involve kicking or stabbing, the suspect is usually an owner’s family member or intimate partner, said Laura Reese, professor of urban and regional planning.

Laura Reese and Odie

Study leader Laura Reese and her dog, Odie Photo by Laura Reese

Reese and Cassie Richard, an MSU master’s of public policy student who now works for the Oregon Commission for the Blind, studied more than 300 animal cruelty police reports in Detroit between 2007 and 2015. They categorized abuse into eight types including dog fighting, shooting, poisoning, stabbing and neglect. The researchers coded the list of motivations for cruelty as listed by the perpetrators, who were then matched with the Detroit police crime feed to examine their other patterns of crime.

The researchers also found:

  • It’s usually owners – rather than anyone else – who engage their dogs in dog fighting as a form of abuse, often for the money. But owners are also less likely to commit more active forms of cruelty, possibly because of their role as guardians.
  • Most stabbings involve family members while poisonings are typically committed by neighbors.
  • Motivations differ. For intimate partners of pet owners, frustration with a relationship is often the cause of violence, whereas for neighbors, annoyance with an animal is often the impetus for cruelty.

“This isn’t just an animal problem – it’s a human problem,” Reese said. “For example, people who shoot other humans are more likely to shoot animals. At the same time, dog fighting is a public safety problem and dogs running loose biting people due to neglect is a public health problem. So, addressing human problems will help animal problems and vice versa, and we need to encourage public officials to think that way.”

However, most policymakers don’t, she said. Animal cruelty prevention needs to be a coordinated effort between law enforcement, public agencies and nonprofits. And because forms of animal cruelty vary, public policies and public health solutions should vary.

For example, dog fighting is related to gambling, drugs and weapon offenses. Thus, crackdowns on those issues would address that form of cruelty. Meanwhile, low-cost veterinary services and enforcement of existing ordinances, such as licensing requirements and leash laws, would target owner neglect.

“Simple education and informing people about proper nutrition, spaying and neutering could be done in schools,” Reese said. “Folks often want to do the right thing, but they may not have the resources. At the same time, cruelty is also tied up with domestic violence, which raises a separate and more complex set of concerns. That’s why we need our legislators and local officials to understand the complexities of animal cruelty and make solutions a priority.”

The study is published in the journal Anthrozoös.

The journal article can be read here:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08927936.2019.1550282)

Source:  Michigan State University media release

Both dogs and wolves cooperate with humans

A recent study conducted by behavioural researchers at Vetmeduni Vienna shows that dogs and wolves both work equally well with humans, albeit in different ways. The allegedly unequal brothers are thus much more similar than often assumed.

Human social life would be unthinkable without cooperation. The frequency and complexity with which humans cooperate with each other are extraordinary, if not unique. To better understand the evolution of this outstanding human skill, researchers have proposed dogs (Canis familiaris) as a good model of human cooperation.

Wolves cooperate with humans

Wolves cooperate with humans, but they take the lead. Credit: Friederike Range/Vetmeduni Vienna

The wolf inside dogs makes the difference

A recent study by Vetmeduni Vienna, published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that the ability to work with people lies not so much within dogs themselves but in the “wolf within the dog” – that is to say, in very specific behavioural characteristics that dogs share with wolves. The study tested the extent to which dogs and grey wolves collaborate with humans in order to solve certain tasks. The findings show that both dogs and wolves cooperate intensively with humans and are equally successful, although the animals attain their goals in different ways.

Wolves show more initiative

Especially in one point the two closely related animals show significantly different forms of behaviour. In their cooperation with human partners, dogs follow the behaviour of the humans while wolves lead the interaction: they are more independent. Study director Friederike Range from the Konrad Lorenz Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna says, “The detailed analysis of the cooperative interactions revealed interesting differences between wolves and dogs. It shows that, while wolves tend to initiate behaviour and take the lead, dogs are more likely to wait and see what the human partner does and follow that behaviour.”

Differences in behaviour due to domestication

Based on the results of the study, the researchers propose that in the course of domestication dogs were selected for breeding because of their higher submissive tendencies (deferential behaviour hypothesis). According to this hypothesis, this helped minimize conflicts over resources and ensured the safe coexistence and cooperation in which humans lead and dogs follow.

Teamwork counts for wolves

Forming the background to the study are certain fundamental considerations in the field of behavioural science. As humans and dogs have been exposed to similar environmental pressures, this could conceivably represent a case of convergent evolution. Some research suggests that dogs acquired specific predispositions for cooperative interactions during the domestication process due to reduced aggression and increased tolerance. Against this background, better cooperation with humans would be expected in dogs than in wolves. However, wolves are a highly cooperative species, working together to raise the young, hunt and defend their territory.

Early socialization with humans is crucial

The research team led by Friederike Range therefore hypothesized that dogs did not develop any new traits during domestication, but rather that the collaborative skills of their common ancestors – wolves – form the basis for the evolution of dog-human cooperation (canine cooperation hypothesis). In contrast to the hypotheses of other scientists, the researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna therefore did not assume that dogs will outperform wolves when cooperating with humans. As Friederike Range says, “Based on the canine cooperation hypothesis, we expected that wolves would cooperate with humans as well as dogs if early and intensive socialization is given.” The present study fully confirms this assumption.

For the experiment portion of the study, 15 grey wolves (11 males, 4 females, age: 2 to 8 years) and 12 mixed-breed dogs (7 males, 5 females, age: 2 to 7 years) were tested at the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbrunn, Austria, where animals are socialized with people very early on and have close ties to them. The results of the experiment show that dogs and wolves, when socialized with humans and kept under similar conditions, work similarly successfully with humans, albeit in very different ways, which explains why dogs make the better pet.

The article “Wolves lead and dogs follow, but they both cooperate with humans” by Friederike Range, Sarah Marshall-Pescini, Corinna Kratz and Zsófia Virányi was published in Scientific Reports.

Source:  Vetmeduni Vienna media release

Chemical pollutants in the home

New research by scientists at the University of Nottingham suggests that environmental contaminants found in the home and diet have the same adverse effects on male fertility in both humans and in domestic dogs.

Chemicals in homes

Chemicals commonly found in homes, at concentrations relevant to environmental exposure, have the same damaging effect on sperm from both man and dog. Credit: © Tatyana Gladskih / Fotolia

There has been increasing concern over declining human male fertility in recent decades with studies showing a 50% global reduction in sperm quality in the past 80 years. A previous study by the Nottingham experts showed that sperm quality in domestic dogs has also sharply declined, raising the question of whether modern day chemicals in the home environment could be at least partly to blame.

In a new paper published in Scientific Reports, the Nottingham team set out to test the effects of two specific man-made chemicals namely the common plasticizer DEHP, widely abundant in the home (e.g. carpets, flooring, upholstery, clothes, wires, toys) and the persistent industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153, which although banned globally, remains widely detectable in the environment including food.

The researchers carried out identical experiments in both species using samples of sperm from donor men and stud dogs living in the same region of the UK. The results show that the chemicals, at concentrations relevant to environmental exposure, have the same damaging effect on sperm from both man and dog.

Leading the work, Associate Professor and Reader in Reproductive Biology at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Richard Lea, said: “This new study supports our theory that the domestic dog is indeed a ‘sentinel’ or mirror for human male reproductive decline and our findings suggest that man-made chemicals that have been widely used in the home and working environment may be responsible for the fall in sperm quality reported in both man and dog that share the same environment.”

“Our previous study in dogs showed that the chemical pollutants found in the sperm of adult dogs, and in some pet foods, had a detrimental effect on sperm function at the concentrations previously found in the male reproductive tract. This new study is the first to test the effect of two known environmental contaminants, DEHP and PCB153, on both dog and human sperm in vitro, in the same concentrations as found in vivo.

Rebecca Sumner, who carried out the experimental work as part of her PhD, said “In both cases and in both subjects, the effect was reduced sperm motility and increased fragmentation of DNA.

Dr Sumner added: “We know that when human sperm motility is poor, DNA fragmentation is increased and that human male infertility is linked to increased levels of DNA damage in sperm. We now believe this is the same in pet dogs because they live in the same domestic environment and are exposed to the same household contaminants. This means that dogs may be an effective model for future research into the effects of pollutants on declining fertility, particularly because external influences such as diet are more easily controlled than in humans.”

Professor Gary England, Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and Professor of Comparative Veterinary Reproduction said:“Since environmental pollutants largely reflect a Western way of life such as the effects of industry, the chemicals present in the environment are likely to depend on the location.  An important area of future study is to determine how the region in which we live may affect sperm quality in both man and dog.”

The full research paper, ‘Independent and combined effects of diethylhexyl phthalate and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 on sperm quality in the human and dog’  is available here.

Source:  University of Nottingham media release