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RVC canine diabetes archive used to examine link between immune system genes and diabetes in high-risk dog breeds

Study is the first to examine the association between MHC genes and canine diabetes in individual dog breeds

20 November 2020, at 9:00am

A new study from researchers at the RVC and University of Manchester, together with the University of Oxford, examining links between immune system genes (or “MHC” genes) and diabetes mellitus within high-risk dog breeds, could pave the way for the improved diagnosis and management of dogs suffering from diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus affects approximately one in 300 dogs across the UK. This condition is much more common in some breeds than others, prompting research to investigate the association of a group of immune system genes, otherwise known as major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, with canine diabetes mellitus. Such genes are important in the development of Type 1 diabetes in humans and could be important in canine diabetes.

While previous studies have implicated these MHC genes in canine diabetes, this study is the first to examine this association in individual dog breeds. The research, published in Canine Medicine and Genetics, reveals that particular MHC genes are indeed associated with canine diabetes in certain breeds of dogs, suggesting that further work is needed to understand the role of the immune system in the development of canine diabetes, but that the disease may not be the same in all breeds.

This study paves the way for additional genetic studies in single breeds, aiming to improve the diagnosis and management of affected dogs. This could include a “precision medicine” approach whereby treatments are tailored to needs of particular breeds and individual dogs.

The team studied data from 646 diabetic dogs and 912 breed-matched non-diabetic controls, across 12 breeds which are at increased risk of diabetes, including popular household breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, Border Terriers, Labrador Retrievers and Tibetan terriers. Whilst some breeds did show a link between the immune system gene and diabetes (Cocker Spaniel and Border Terrier); other high-risk breeds such as Samoyed, Cairn Terriers and Tibetan Terriers demonstrated no such link.

Alice Denyer, PhD student at the Royal Veterinary College, said:

“I am pleased to have been part of this important research, particularly given that November is Pet Diabetes Awareness Month.

“It is really interesting to see the variation that we found among the breeds studied, supporting the theory that canine diabetes mellitus is heterogeneous among breeds. Human diabetes mellitus is known to be highly heterogenous, but we do not know currently know how similar canine diabetes mellitus is to the human disease. Undoubtedly there is much more to uncover in this area, and I look forward to working further on this important issue which affects so many dogs in the UK.”