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Will Studying Fido’s OCD Lead to Earlier Autism Diagnoses?

By / Jan 28, 2014 (Chris Amaral/Photodisc/Thinkstock)

The American Humane Association is partnering with several research organizations to gain new insights into autism by analyzing the genetic cause of obsessive-compulsive disorders in dogs.

Where human genetic study of age-related hearing loss might require 4,000 samples, a parallel study of dogs might require as few as 30 animals.

The American Humane Association is hoping a groundbreaking study of obsessive-compulsive behavior in dogs may help lead to earlier diagnoses of austism.

Earlier this month, AHA announced that it was partnering with the nonprofit organization Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to look at the genetic basis of OCD in three types of purebred dogs:  bull terriers, Doberman pinschers, and Jack Russell terriers. To conduct the study, scientists at TGen will analyze the dogs’ genomes to try and decipher which genes might lead to atypical behaviors.

The two organizations are calling on private donations to help fund the “Canines, Kids, and Autism” study, citing a lack of federal funding for autism research.

“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,” Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association president and CEO, said in a statement. “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.”

Because of their unique history, the uniformity of many breeds, and the fact that they suffer from many of the same disorders and illnesses as humans, dogs provide researchers a more efficient method of uncovering health risks, TGen states on its website. “Where human genetic study of age-related hearing loss might require 4,000 samples, a parallel study of dogs might require as few as 30 animals.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a group of complex development disorders within the brain and can be associated with motor coordination and attention difficulties, intellectual disabilities, and physical health ailments, according to the national nonprofit and advocacy group Autism Speaks.

Roughly one in 88 children in the United States has been identified with an ASD—an almost 78 percent increase from nearly a decade ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also reported that ASDs are more commonly identified in boys (one in 54) than in girls (one in 252) and that they occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

AHA advisors will help researchers from TGen, the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School with designing the study and interpreting data.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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