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Scientists Are Studying Dogs To Better Understand Human Conditions


A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School suggests that dogs’ DNA may offer some very important clues about certain human conditions, such as autism and OCD. They’ve launched a major study of canine genetics in order to see just how our furry friends can aid us in curing human diseases. Led by Elinor Karlsson, a professor of bioinformatics, the team hopes that studying a large number of different dog breeds and mixed-breed canines will yield useful information about the genetic underpinnings of certain traits in dogs that make them more or less susceptible to certain illnesses.

According to Karlsson, the information they gather can later be used to improve medical treatment in humans because of the fact that dogs and humans share almost all the same genes and are susceptible to a myriad of identical diseases. Other researchers are focusing on pet owners and their pets through investigating canine cognition, and learning more about the ways both humans and dogs think and learn new things. Dr. Karlsson claims that dogs are a far better lab model for human diseases than mice or even primates because dogs actually live with people, and their lifespans are long enough for them to feel the effects of the pollutants in the environment that sometimes lead to disease. Studies in the past conducted by other scientists have revealed useful information about human diseases, including osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that affects both dogs and children. The interesting thing is that osteosarcoma tumors in dogs and children are apparently almost indistinguishable.

They share similarities in the location in which they form and in the way they alter the function of certain proteins, which makes dogs excellent animal models for this disease. In other words, if we can learn how to cure our pooches of osteosarcoma, we’re one huge step closer to doing the same for humans. Of course, these kinds of studies are most efficient if you have a large sample of experimentees. Here’s the good news, though – Dr. Hare, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the Duke University Institute for Brain Sciences, founded a company called “Dognition” in 2013, which collects data from pet owners, putting their dogs through experimental tasks in the form of games. This is a great move because it allows virtually anyone to participate in the study by giving data to the researchers. If you’re interested, check out their website and they’ll inform you how to put your pet through some harmless experiments so you can give your contribution to the study!

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