It isn’t often that human medical research benefits sick dogs, but that is exactly what happened this week. Degenerative Myelopathy dogs got good news from the University of Missouri thanks to a study for patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The news is so good that is has two parts: a better diagnosis for DM and the clinical trial of a new drug.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is one of the most devastating canine diseases of the spinal cord. It is an autoimmune disease that strikes older dogs between the ages of 5 –14. DM slowly attacks a dog’s central nervous system by killing the outer protective coating of the spine called myelin. Without myelin, nerves are unable to communicate with the brain to control movement. Dogs become paralyzed in the hind end within 6 months to 1 year. Eventually the disease progresses to the front limbs and organs. Certain dog breeds are more susceptible.
Good News #1: How ALS patients found a better way to diagnose DM
Dr. Joan Coates, DVM, MS, DACVIM-Neurology has been studying Degenerative Myelopathy dogs for a long time. In 2009, Dr. Coates and other researchers at the University of Missouri and the Broad Institute at MIT/Harvard found a genetic link between DM and ALS. It had long been suspected that DM mimicked the symptoms of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
This week researchers confirmed the similarities between the two illnesses. They discovered that a biomarker test which is routinely used to diagnose ALS can also accurately diagnose DM. Currently there is no definitive test to confirm the disease.
“DM is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that veterinarians must rule out all other diseases that mimic it before coming to a final diagnosis,” said Coates in a press release. The professor who teaches at the MU School of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery continued. “This requires expensive diagnostic procedures such as MRIs of the spinal cord. Now that we know that DM and ALS are related, we are studying ways to diagnose and measure disease progression with similar diagnostic modalities used in ALS patients.”
Currently the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals offers a home DNA test for DM. It lets owners know whether their dog is a Carrier, At-risk, Normal or Inconclusive for the disease. The only conclusive way to diagnose DM is through necropsy after a dog’s death.
How the new diagnostic test works
ALS is diagnosed by releasing (pNF-H), a heavy protein, into the spinal fluid and blood of humans. The biomarker is released in patients with degenerative spinal tissues and has become a good indicator of ALS.
Dr. Coates ran the same test on dogs. She collected cerebrospinal fluid and blood samples from “DM-affected” dogs and dogs who were suspected to be in the early stages of the disease. The team compared the pNF-H concentrations from these dogs with a group of normal dogs. Dr. Coates found that DM-affected dogs had increased levels of the biomarker just like people with ALS. The normal dogs in the study did not show elevated levels of pNF-H.
It confirmed that the biomarker test worked in dogs who were suspected to have Degenerative Myelopathy. The research team plans to use this new information to “scale up” their efforts and make the biomarker test available to the veterinary community.
Good News #2: Dogs are needed to evaluate a new DM drug
In addition to finding a better way to diagnose DM, Dr. Coates is testing a new DM drug. The medication shows promise in slowing the progression of the disease. Dr. Coates is looking for dogs to be part of her clinical trial. Dogs will be given an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) that will repress the production of a specific protein. The new drug will then be injected into the spinal fluid of the participant while they are under anesthesia. Eight dogs will receive the drug and four dogs will not. Dogs will be monitored for progressive signs of the disease. Participants must be able to visit MU once a month for repeated injections.
If you are interested in learning more about the clinical trial contact Dr. Coates at: [email protected].
The study needs dogs with early signs of DM. They must be Boxers aged 9 and up, Pembroke Welsh Corgis aged 10-11 years old, and other breeds older than 9 years old.
More help for DM dogs with Dr. Clemmons DM diet
R.M. Clemmons, DVM, PhD is another researcher who spent years trying to help DM dogs. Before his retirement as Associate Professor of Neurology & Neurosurgery at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Dr. Clemmons worked with DM dogs for more than a decade. His research led to the development of a four-tier plan to manage symptoms and slow the progression of DM.
Tip: Dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy can benefit greatly from a support harness. It gives their hind legs support while allowing them to use their legs as much as possible. Here are three support harnesses I like: GingerLead, HandicappedPets.com and Walkabout Harnesses.
Here is a list of breeds prone to Degenerative Myelopathy
- American Eskimo Dogs
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- German Shepherd Dog
- Golden Retriever
- Great Pyrenees
- Kerry Blue Terriers
- Pembroke Welsh Corgis
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers
- Wire Fox Terrier
Click here to read about another new study for DM dogs funded by Finding the Cure for DM Foundation. The foundation is working to silence the gene discovered during the Missouri University research.
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