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AKC-CHF SYMPOSIUM: Harmonization of Genetic Testing and Breed-Specific Resources

Brenda Bonnett

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2019-AKC-CHF-National-Parent-Club-Canine-Health-Conference.pngI was honoured to again be invited to speak at the 2019 AKC Canine Health Foundation National Parent Club Canine Health Conference August 9-11 in St. Louis, Missouri.

This is a great event that brings together breed club health committee members, other interested breeders, stellar researchers, and others from the dog community.

There was a broad coverage of CHF sponsored research topics, as well as a definite focus on genetics and genetic testing, reflecting the continued need for information and support for the dog community on these issues.

In addition to lectures, there were two panel discussions which allowed attendees to ask questions of the scientists.  The first was on Saturday afternoon.  I gave my talk on Sunday, and that session was also followed by a panel discussion. 

A pdf copy of my talk, with post-talk notes, is attached: BONNETT CHF Harmonization of Genetic Testing and Breed Specific Resources 11Aug2019_with notes.pdf

As I note in this document, I heard a lot of frustration from those asking questions, and others who approached me over the weekend.  As I said to all of them, "It is not surprising that you are confused and frustrated... the world of genetic testing IS confusing and frustrating!".  Although many exciting developments in genetic research were presented over the weekend, and other talks focused on application of testing, there were few if any simple, yes/no, black and white answers.  'Genetics' underlies all life in our universe, is the basis of all evolution... it is not now, nor will it ever be, simple, uncomplicated and, perhaps, never really fully understood.  Even while we are struggling to get a hold on the appropriate use of the many tests available for single-gene disorders, some researchers are moving ahead on diseases with a more complex inheritance.  And even now the research world is moving more and more into whole-genome sequencing, which may be available at a reasonable price within a couple of years.  And then what?  We will know more and more about the genetic makeup of individuals and breeds.  But will we have the detailed information needed on the meaning of all these results?  The key information for properly integrating genetic testing into best breeding practices?  Probably not.  As is the current situation, the technology will likely advance faster that our ability to deal with it in a practical sense.  And, for all the potential good, there are significant risks to applying tests in the face of insufficient clinical/population-based information.  This same situation is also arising in human medicine; a topic I touched on in my recent talk at the American Veterinary Medical Association meeting.  

Leigh-Anne Clark from Clemson University gave a great talk on risk across the various combinations of a three genes associated with dermatomyositis - combinations which highlighted the added complexity of multi-gene disorders. (see abstract: pg. 68) Her work also showed the kind of explicit risk percentages that are needed to really understand the results from genetic testing.  We recently posted on Facebook a link to a video of a previous talk Dr. Clark gave which is well worth viewing.

Another recurring challenge brought up by attendees involved breed clubs' frustrations in communicating health strategies to their members and in achieving compliance with recommendations.  I mention in my talks 'Decision making by Facebook'.  Unfortunately, the latter drives a lot of the focus for many in kennel and breed clubs.  Several clubs brought up instances where rare diseases, or diseases with unknown importance in their breed, were being pushed forward to have a genetic testing strategy, sometimes taking emphasis away from common, known, important conditions in the breed.  Several of the experts recommended not basing testing strategies for such condition just because a test was available, but rather looking at the big picture of health in the breed.  It became quite clear that many of breed club's frustrations stem not from a lack of research or information or having complex information, but on an inability to effect behaviour change in their members through traditional channels of education.

This was a common theme at the IDHW as well and we brought in experts on Human Behaviour Change for Animals to educate us.  I personally think that learning how to communicate more effectively is desperately needed.

All these concerns and experiences underlie IPFD's work on improving and expanding the tools needed to deal with genetic testing and health strategies in breeds.  See my talk from the CHF meeting for information on the latest work on the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (HGTD),  a coming development, the  Health Strategies Database for Dogs that will catalog all conditions in breeds (not just those for which there are genetic tests based on identified health issues from breed clubs, kennel clubs, and others worldwide.  We are starting a project in Golden Retrievers as a prototype of our Get a GRIHP! tool to pull all relevant information together for a breed.  

akc-chf-logo-hgtd.pngIt is so wonderful to meet with those people so passionate about health in their breeds. 

Thanks to AKC-CHF and all the attendees for a great experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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I wonder if there is a possibility for a viable and productive/useful partnership/joint venture between IPFD and BetterBred.com.  BetterBred's "Rebeka" provided us with a valuable breeding simulation based on our pre-existing U.C. Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) information for our Black Russian Terrier (BRT) matched with test results for another female BRT which also had DNA information in the BetterBred database.  This sort of genetic/health/breeding "counseling" service is what is needed on a large-scale basis to the general dog breeding industry..., so much so that the marketing and profitability potential would seem nearly limitless.  Certainly, most of us know that genetics is complicated and as of yet still a very inexact science.  However, as things are right now, without BetterBred and reliable private breeding counseling services, a BRT breeder feels as if they have to first become an amateur geneticist..., keep your fingers crossed that the testing is accurate..., combine that understanding with their knowledge of longevity, phenotype, conformation, movement, hip and elbow x-Rays, thyroid testing, cardiac test, eye test, Hyperuricosuria (HU), juvenile laryngeal paralysis and polyneuropathy (JLPP), coat color, and temperament..., then conduct the breeding and hope for the best without ever having benefit of a canine health provider's aggregate professional input.  While this is an enormous step in the right direction from where things used to be in a standard breeding schema, it still lacks the sensibility and scientifically-based judgement necessary to make the best possible decisions.  Add the fact that a great many breeders simply do not have the resources, education, or time to dedicate to making breeding decisions using this level of science, and we are very quickly right back to "Well..., they both look pretty good so let's breed them and see what we get."  Our dogs deserve the very best we can offer them in living long, happy, healthy lives.  Experienced dog owners know that canine health is a "pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later" prospect.  One can pay upfront for orchestrating the best possible breeding and hopefully avoid at least some health problems later..., or simply pay thousands of dollars in Veterinarian bills trying to prolong life and keep their precious companion as active, happy, and as comfortable as possible.  However, as we all know it often comes down to euthanasia simply due to medical costs.  Euthanasia exacts such a huge emotional toll on owners and Veterinarians.  Let's do what we can to come out of the dark ages and into the bright light of science.

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