Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

February 27, 2006

Heart Failure in People, Pets Focus of Collaboration

Three University of Guelph scientists studying a fatal disease in Doberman pinschers hope their work will help lead to better diagnostic and treatment options for human and canine heart patients.

Professors John Dawson, Glen Pyle and Lynne O’Sullivan are hunting down genetic mutations that cause “weak heart” or dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). It’s the second leading cause of heart failure in dogs and strikes up to one-half of Dobermans.

Learning what causes the disease in dogs may provide clues to causes and treatment of congestive heart failure, which afflicts more than 350,000 Canadians and is the fastest-growing cardiovascular condition in aging populations worldwide, the researchers say.

“We’re focusing specifically on DCM mutations, but information from that would tell us why hearts become diseased and why people and animals die,” said Pyle, of the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).

DCM affects middle-aged to older Dobermans and usually kills about 140 days on average after the onset of congestive heart failure. Currently, dogs show no sign of a problem until very late in the disease. In people, heart failure is the most common cause of hospitalization and also leads to rapid and terminal decline. Between 25 and 40 per cent of Canadians die within a year of diagnosis.

In congestive heart failure, the weakened heart muscle is unable to pump blood around the body. What causes that weakening is unknown, although the researchers suspect something goes wrong with the proteins in the muscle, causing the heart muscle to weaken and allowing the organ to dilate like an overfilled balloon. In addition, the disease causes cells to malfunction even as they appear normal from the outside.

For their pilot study, the professors plan to study heart tissue from dogs that have died of DCM. They’ll comb through the animals’ genetic material to look for mutations. They hope to find particular genes that code for mutant structural or regulatory proteins.

The researchers expect their work will ultimately benefit both veterinarians and medical doctors. Vet researchers may be able to develop a diagnostic test to see whether a particular animal carries a mutation or come up with more effective drugs to treat it. “For dogs, it would be a simple way to detect the genetic markers of the disease,” said Dawson, of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

O’Sullivan, a professor in OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies, added that about one-third of human DCM cases are hereditary and probably all cases in purebreds like Dobermans are also genetic. She says information from their work may help breeders check dogs before mating.

The researchers expect their animal model may help doctors learn more about causes of heart disease in humans and how to treat it. Their work is supported by OVC’s Pet Trust.

All of the professors say their new cross-campus collaboration demonstrates Guelph’s strengths across biological sciences. “We are able to follow from genes to the whole animal among the three of us,” Pyle said.

The professors may be reached via email or by calling (519) 824-4120 and their respective extensions.

John Dawson, Ext. 53867

Glen Pyle, Ext. 54772

Lynne O’Sullivan, Ext. 54943

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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