Every year, one out of every 88 children in the United States is diagnosed with some form of autism, with these numbers steadily rising over the last decade. Alarmingly, it is believed that now one of every 54 young boys has some form of the disease. Though the instances of children on the autism spectrum are increasing year to year, the amount of funding given to autism research is far lower than with other childhood diseases, and this has led to fewer researchers examining the autistic spectrum.
Undeterred, however, a new groundbreaking study looking at autistic tendencies present in certain breeds of dogs is being announced, with implications that could lead to earlier diagnoses in children, is being made available for funding. American Humane Association, the first national humane organization and the only charity working for the protection of both children and animals, announced a study partnership with the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) that seeks to uncover the genetic basis of obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs.
The research findings from this Canines, Kids and Autism study could also lead to clues about the origins of such behavior in children, especially the growing number of those with autism. The study will look first at the causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder commonly found in three types of purebred dogs: Bull Terrier, Doberman Pinscher and Jack Russell Terrier.
Using state-of-the-art technology, TGen scientists will conduct whole genome sequencing to analyze the genomes of these dogs in hopes of pinpointing those genes that might be responsible for atypical behaviors. The study aims to provide both physicians and veterinarians with new insights for earlier diagnoses and innovative therapeutics.
Joining American Humane Association and TGen are collaborators from the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. SARRC's previous collaborations with TGen include the consent and collection of nearly 500 biospecimens families with autistic children. Tufts' Dr. Nicholas Dodman and his team, which includes Dr. Edward Ginns at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is renowned for his work in the area of animal behavior disorders. He played a significant role in sample collection and association discovery in OCD-like behaviors in the dog with this work reported in the peer-reviewed journal, Molecular Psychiatry.
American Humane Association advisors will collaborate with the research team, and assist in study design and data interpretation.
The recent federal budget cuts mean federal funding is not available for this study, so the collaborators are seeking private funding for this novel research.
"The potential impact of this research for both children and canines is profound," said Phil Francis, the retired chairman and CEO of PetSmart Inc. and an advisor to TGen's canine research studies. "With the number of children who are diagnosed with autism each year increasing, and the legions of pet parents who want their canine friends to live healthy lives, I can think of no better place for potential supporters to contribute their resources."
A core part of American Humane Association's 137-year-old mission is the study of the human-animal bond. The study, Canines, Kids and Autism is the organization's second study involving dogs and children. The association is also involved in a full clinical trial of the Canines and Childhood Cancer study in partnership with Zoetis, which is investigating the biological and psychosocial effects of therapy dogs on pediatric cancer patients.
"Dogs are such a special part of our lives, and it is incredible what we are continuing to learn about how our species is linked with theirs," said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association president and CEO. "This unique study in collaboration with our colleagues at TGen will hopefully shed more light on understanding more about autism. But, to realize this goal, we need the generous support of funding partners. Your contributions can help bring a better understanding to a disease which affects so many of our precious children."
Source: The Translational Genomics Research Institute