World Class Cancer Research at the AHT:

Research into common cancers to benefit

Labradors and Golden Retrievers

It is estimated that last year more than 12,000 dogs in the UK were affected by mast cell tumours, and it is widely acknowledged that Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are two breeds particularly susceptible to developing this type of tumour.

The Animal Health Trust’s scientists, led by Dr Mike Starkey, looked at the DNA of dogs, both affected and unaffected by mast cell tumours, and identified a change in the DNA, a ‘risk factor’, carried by seven in ten Labrador and Golden Retrievers. A dog that has two copies of this risk factor in its DNA is three to four times more likely to develop a mast cell tumour than a dog that doesn’t have a copy of the risk factor. Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Molecular Oncology at the Animal Health Trust, said:

“One in four dogs will be affected by cancer in its lifetime, and that is simply too many. As the only UK charity with a dedicated research programme focussed on cancer in dogs, ultimately we aim to prevent dogs from losing their lives to cancer, and reduce the number of dogs that develop cancer. We work towards these aims by focussing our research on tackling the most common aggressive cancers in dogs: in this case, mast cell tumours.

By studying DNA isolated from blood or cheek cells, we are able to look at the role inherited genetic risk factors play in specific cancers in susceptible dog breeds. We hope, from this, to develop tests for genetic risk factors that will be able to be used to identify dogs in a susceptible breed that have the greatest risk of developing a particular cancer and will potentially pass this high risk onto their puppies”.

Steve Dean, Chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, said: “This new collaborative research into mast cell tumours, one of the common cancers suffered by dogs, is an important step forward in our understanding of this condition. It is helping us to unravel the genetic risk factors that contribute to the development of this aggressive skin cancer in two of our most popular breeds.

“Our ongoing work with the AHT has also recently led to published research that gives us the opportunity to develop an accurate prognostic test for this form of cancer, which would allow veterinary surgeons to make more informed decisions about the appropriate treatment for individual dogs”.

Dr Mike Starkey and the team at the Animal Health Trust now hope to identify other genetic risk variants for mast cell tumours in Labrador and Golden Retrievers. If sufficient risk factors can be identified, it should be possible to make a DNA screening test available to benefit more than 100,000 dogs in the UK.

Dr Starkey added: “Cancer remains one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of dogs, but through research, we are taking major strides forward in finding ways to beat it.”

The AHT’s cancer research receives no government funding and relies solely on charitable donations. With your help, we commit to reducing the suffering of dogs caused by cance