Vets’ support required for Lafora DNA test

The Animal Health Trust (AHT) is seeking vets’ help to support a research project to develop a reliable DNA test for Lafora disease, a life-limiting condition that affects some breeds of dogs.

The project, which is being undertaken by Hattie Wright, a Vets4Pets-sponsored research assistant within AHT’s Canine Genetics research team, aims to develop a less expensive and quicker DNA test for the causal mutation than those currently available.

But AHT needs help from practices across the UK to provide DNA samples from more basset hounds, miniature wire-haired dachshunds and beagles with a confirmed diagnosis of Lafora disease, to help it develop an accurate test.

Hattie said: “Lafora disease is an autosomal recessive, late onset, progressive myoclonic epilepsy.  The disease is due to a mutation in the Epm2b gene which results in intracellular accumulation of abnormal glycogen, known as Lafora bodies. It’s thought up to 10% of affected breeds carry two copies of the mutation and become clinically affected at some point in their lives.”

At AHT we want to create a testing process in the UK, drastically reducing the time it takes to get results, and also making it more affordable for owners.

Hattie Wright

Lafora usually develops in dogs aged five and over, which means DNA testing dogs prior to breeding is the most effective way to reduce the risk to future litters. As it’s life-limiting, unsuspecting owners could be faced with costs for treatment, as well as the upset of living with a dog with an uncertain future.

Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “The Animal Health Trust’s Canine Genetics research team does a fantastic job in helping us better understand, diagnose and prevent inherited diseases in dogs, such as Lafora. At Vets4Pets, pet welfare and responsible pet ownership are our primary concerns and it’s fantastic to be able to play a small part in this invaluable research. We’re delighted our funding is continuing to allow Hattie to support the excellent work carried out by the wider AHT team.”

The Animal Health Trust’s Canine Genetics research team, primarily funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, has discovered more than 30 disease-causing mutations in the dog and used this research to develop DNA tests for nearly 50 different breeds of dog.

“The Lafora project is another example of how we’re trying to develop reliable breeding tools that breeders can use to improve the health of breeds affected,” said Dr Cathryn Mellersh, who heads up the Canine Genetics team. “The funding from Vets4Pets is having a positive impact on our work and therefore, is increasing the number of dogs and breeds we can help through our research.”

We are very much a team, and every DNA test we successfully develop for a specific disease-causing genetic mutation in a breed of dog relies upon the varied expertise of the whole AHT team, along with the vets and dog owners, with whom we collaborate.