For those of you with epileptic dogs life can be very stressful, particularly if your dog suffers from clusters of fits that are unpredictable and tend to merge together into long periods of abnormal behaviour. For vets too, this is a difficult condition to manage and therefore the genetic unravelling of epilepsy cannot come quickly enough for vets and owners alike.
Keeshonds were one of the first breeds to support the AHT's Give a Dog A Genome Scheme for research into both Epilepsy and PHPT. This work is now being continued on our behalf at the Kennel Club Genetic Centre based at the University of Cambridge's Veterinary School. As many of you will know, the genome is the full complement of DNA that we have in our cells that is organised into separate units called genes. Genes, and therefore DNA, are made up of combinations of four separate nucleotides. Keeshonds with epilepsy will be compared to normal dogs to see whether they differ from them in certain areas of their genome. To look for these differences the KCGC will make use of things called SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphisms. These are the result of natural variation across the genome and represent DNA differences between individuals within separate families or lines. SNPs are used to define the haplotype of an animal where the term haplotype refers to the inheritance of a cluster of SNPs.
By examining haplotypes, patterns of genetic variation that are associated with healthy dogs and those with epilepsy can be identified. For instance, if a haplotype is associated with epilepsy, stretches of DNA near the SNP cluster can be examined to try to identify the gene or genes responsible for causing the disease.
As you can imagine, this process is not quick and the analysis of the data that it yields is complex. But, and this is a big but, at least we are on the way to trying to unravel the disease and that means that we have made progress.