The Genetic Studies of Dr Elinor Karlsson

For anyone interested in learning how dogs can truly be Man’s Best Friend and even save his life in more ways than one, the work of Dr Elinor Karlsson is essential reading. As part of my ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology course, I had to do some light reading on this subject. It’s exciting and intriguing, and I wish I had more Science residing in my brain cells, but hopefully here is a summary of Dr Karlsson’s scientific ambitions, in a (very small) nutshell:

Why are the genetic studies of Dr Elinor Karlsson and her team so important?

The main principle behind Dr Elinor Karlsson’s research is the premise that humans and dogs share not only many common genes but also a wide range of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, narcolepsy, obsessive compulsive disorder, heart disease, eye diseases, deafness etc. On top of that, these diseases also display clinical manifestations that are remarkably similar in both humans and dogs. Dr Karlsson hopes that by mapping the dog genome, and by getting dog owners to contribute towards a doggy DNA pool (the Dog Genome Sequencing Project) for further research, she and her team will be able to pinpoint exactly where diseases can occur in specific breeds of dogs, as in the exact location or loci on the dog’s genes, and how to prevent/treat/cure them, and, ultimately, how to transfer their findings to human research and testing.

Dogs live alongside humans and are exposed to similar pollutants in the environment. Diseases occur spontaneously in dogs, just as in humans, over the course of their lives. As dogs have a lifespan around 7 times shorter than humans, diseases of “old age”, such as cancer, manifest earlier in dogs and run their course in a few short years. Treatment for dogs necessarily proceeds more rapidly, and results are seen faster. Clinical trials that might take 5-15 years tested out on humans, will only take 1-3 years in dogs. So, it is hoped that dogs can provide a suitable testing ground for new and novel therapies. If it works on dogs, it might just as well work on humans. Dogs could REALLY prove to be Man’s Best Friend, in more ways than one.

More information on Dr Karlsson’s research can be found on this link, which makes for intriguing (if rather scientific) reading:

(Photo of Dr Elinor Karlsson taken from this site: which gives people the opportunity to help Dr Elinor Karlsson’s work by contributing their own dogs’ DNA to her growing database for further research. Photo by Michael J Butts).

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