Dogs have a well-earned reputation as “man’s best friend.” But if you’re a researcher in the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, your best friend at the moment just might be . . . a biobank. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, the inaugural research initiative of the larger Canine Lifetime Health Project, is focused on identifying risk factors for the development of cancer and other diseases in golden retrievers. Researchers hope to enroll a total of 3,000 purebred goldens under the age of two in the study, and throughout the dogs’ lives, multiple biological samples will be collected periodically from each one. Over the past year, about 1,500 goldens – along with their owners and veterinarians – have been enrolled, and there are already more than 12,000 samples in storage. What kind of samples? Whole blood, serum, urine, feces, hair, toenail clippings – all of which must be collected at the vet’s office using special specimen collection kits and then sent to the biorepository/biobank to be properly processed, inventoried and stored. For example, when collected samples first arrive, laboratory staff must:
- Aliquot the serum, and store it in liquid nitrogen (LN2).
- Aliquot the urine, and store it at -80° C.
- Aliquot the whole blood and create Whatman blood spot cards (which are used for inexpensive, ambient preservation of DNA for future polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis).
- Extract DNA from the whole blood and aliquot it for storage at -80° C.
Given that the lifespan of a golden is typically 10-14 years, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is expected to last until about 2027. Over that period, the project will generate an unprecedented number of samples and related data. In fact, this is the first canine study of this magnitude – in part because the specimen storage and data analysis capabilities weren’t possible until now. While the quantity of biological samples accumulated during the study will be enormous, so too will the impact of the research. An earlier study conducted by the Golden Retriever Club of America found that 62 percent of goldens die from cancer, while in the overall dog population cancer causes about 25 percent of deaths. That statistic drove the main focus of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, which will concentrate on bone cancer, lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) and a cancer in the blood vessels called hemangiosarcoma. Researchers also expect to gain valuable insights into other dog diseases, such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, epilepsy, diabetes and obesity. And many of these findings could help shed light on human diseases, too. Often, a canine disease is quite similar to its counterpart in humans, and since studying a dog for 10 years is roughly equivalent to studying a human for 60 or 70 years, researchers expect this longitudinal study of goldens to significantly contribute to our understanding of the onset and progression of certain human diseases. Primarily funded by a $25 million grant from the Morris Animal Foundation, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is now open for enrollment nationwide. For more information and to begin the application process, owners and breeders of goldens can visit www.CanineLifetimeHealth.org.