Dr. Kelly Diehl, Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation

Dr. Kelly Diehl, Senior Scientific and Communications Adviser at Morris Animal Foundation will update us on the most recent research advances in companion animal medicine, particularly related to cancer and the Golden Retriever study, now in its sixth year.

It started out as a casual conversation between a world-renowned researcher in canine cancer and a woman whose family name is synonymous with advancing veterinary medicine. They were discussing a large hurdle to improving canine health – there were no long-term, prospective studies that focused on understanding the genetic, environmental, nutritional and lifestyle risk factors that may be contributing to disease in our dogs – particularly cancer.

Bette Morris, wife of the late Dr. Mark Morris Jr., whose father and mother founded Morris Animal Foundation, and Dr. Rod Page, Director of Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center, had an idea – why not work together to make just such a study happen? And then, with input from others and support of the Foundation’s scientific board members and staff, that idea took form as the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. 

The scientific team decided to structure the study on a concept created by the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term longitudinal study following a cohort of people to identify the important risk factors for heart disease, that began in 1948. In 1972, Framingham recruited the children of the original participant cohort, and in 2002 began following the third generation. Today more than 2,500 scientific publications describe the scientific findings of the 70-year study.

Golden Retrievers were selected as the canine population of interest for the Morris Animal Foundation study for several reasons:

  1. They are a popular breed in the United States which increased the likelihood of sufficient enrollment in reasonable time.
  2. Following a purebred cohort of golden retrievers reduces the genetic variability inherent in a mixed-breed dog population study.
  3. Golden retrievers are suspected of being at high risk for cancer development.

A pilot study launched in 2012 and the race was on to enroll 3,000 dogs across the country, in each of the 48 contiguous states, that would be followed throughout their lives. In February 2015, full enrollment was reached. Owners committed to documenting their pet’s life (including an extensive annual questionnaire), and their veterinarians signed on to conduct comprehensive annual exams; all in the name of understanding why dogs get the diseases they do. 

“Without the help and hard work of so many people, this study simply would not be possible,” said Barbara Wolfe, DVM, PhD, DACZM, Chief Scientific Officer at Morris Animal Foundation. “The sheer size of this study, and the effort it takes to keep this going every day, is remarkable. We are so appreciative of our golden retriever owners, our partner veterinarians, donors and volunteers who are making this study possible. What we learn will truly change veterinary medicine and, we hope, provide our companions longer, healthier lives.”

pet cancer
Dr. Kelly Diehl, Senior Scientific and Communications Adviser at Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation, a leader in advancing animal health, has launched its second annual National Dog Day campaign on Wednesday, August 1. The month-long campaign, which culminates on August 26, National Dog Day, will raise funds for the Foundation’s groundbreaking Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, a $32 million longitudinal study designed to identify correlations to cancer in dogs.

“Dogs play so many roles in our lives, from our personal trainers to the guardians of our homes, and they deserve the best care we can provide,” said Tiffany Grunert, Morris Animal Foundation’s Acting President and CEO. “This month, we’re asking people to remember all the reasons they love their dogs and to help us make the world a better place for them by supporting this amazing study.”

Each year, more than 6 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer; and cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of 2. While cancer care has advanced in the last three decades, the disease still takes the lives of too many dogs too early, and veterinarians and dog owners are too often faced with difficult choices.

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is designed to help advance canine cancer research, as well as research into other diseases. Launched in 2012, the study is the most extensive canine health investigation of its kind ever undertaken in veterinary medicine. With the help of owners and their veterinarians, the study is gathering information and physical samples from more than 3,000 golden retrievers, throughout their lives, to identify the nutritional, environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors for cancer and other diseases in dogs.

For the second year, the campaign will benefit from the support of an anonymous donor who lost her beloved golden retriever, Cody, to cancer. She will generously match all gifts made to the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, dollar for dollar, up to $50,000, now through August 26.

Morris Animal Foundation, headquartered in Denver, Colorado, is the largest nonprofit foundation in the world dedicated to funding studies to improve and protect the health of companion animals and wildlife. During the last 70 years, the Foundation has invested $118 million toward more than 2,600 studies that have led to significant breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments and preventions to benefit animals worldwide.

About Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation’s mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Founded by a veterinarian in 1948, we fund and conduct critical health studies for the benefit of all animals. Learn more at morrisanimalfoundation.org

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