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Cocker Spaniel Cataract Research

American Spaniel Club Foundation Committed to Fully Fund University of Pennsylvania Cocker Spaniel Cataract Research

ASC Foundation will work together with American Spaniel Club, Inc. Board of Directors and members to generate the funding commitment.  

After the a report from Doug McFarlane (Director/Scientific Research Chair) during the April Board meeting of the American Spaniel Club Foundation (ASCF), the Board in attendance unanimously committed to fully fund research on Cocker Spaniel cataracts proposed by Dr. Gustavo Aguirre of the University of Pennsylvania.    As requested by Dr. Aguirre, next step is ASCF will work with University administrators to finalize a contract formalizing a 3 year ASCF commitment to his research lab at the University at an estimated total cost of nearly $163,000.  Most of the money will go to funding the staff required for this type of research.  After a symbolic personal financial commitment by each ASCF Board member in attendance to the research, the ASCF Board simultaneously approved launching a rigorous fund raising effort that will be co-chaired by Laurie Foley and Elena Duggan, two ASC members who are experienced in large scale fund raising work.   

Following this commitment, ASC President Calvin Ward and the ASC Board echoed support to ASCF for funding this research with a unanimous vote of support by those in attendance.  ASC and ASCF working together with our membership and fanciers around the globe gives confidence that we can successfully fund this exciting research.

For those not familiar with the research proposed by Dr. Aguirre or who had some questions, here is a bit of background.  The purpose of Dr. Aguirre’s research is to identify the gene and mutation responsible for inherited cataracts in Cocker Spaniels, and subsequently, to develop a genetic test that can identify genetically normal, affected, and carrier dogs.  The mode of inheritance for this condition for many years now has been characterized as autosomal recessive meaning that affected dogs have inherited the mutant gene from both parents.  This forms the basis for the research that will be conducted by Dr. Gustavo Aguirre’s laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cocker Spaniels like many breeds have a spectrum of clinical characteristics which affect dogs at various ages.  The focus of this research is to identify the gene/mutation for the most common form of cataracts, one occurring in the 4-10 year age range.   There seems to be somewhat limited data on the rate of occurrence for this condition in Cocker Spaniels, as no one organization has concentrated on collecting survey data in recent years.  Anecdotally, we all either have had cataracts in our Cocker lines or know someone who has had cataracts in their breeding stock.  In ASCF discussions with Dr. Aguirre he cited a study based on CERF data from 2000-2008 that suggested cataracts were diagnosed in 7.3% of all Cocker Spaniels examined in those years.  Dr. Aguirre feels this number is somewhat suspect since it includes both acquired and inherited cataracts and the latter category might include different genetic causes.  Nonetheless, as Dr. Aguirre pointed out, the consequence of even a lower number is cause for great concern.  For example, if we assume that say 5% is a more accurate number that translates into approximately 30% of all Cockers examined would be carriers of this condition. 

Many ASC members are probably aware that Dr. Aguirre, with help from Deb Rudman and many other dedicated breeders in the northeast, has started collecting DNA along with his clinical exams to get an initial set of data to begin the research work.  There has been some concern expressed that the collections are regionally limited.  This is due only to current limited staffing and as Dr. Aguirre assured us.  Once the contract with ASCF is finished and funding is provided, Dr. Aguirre can begin to hire the dedicated personnel that will facilitate broadening the collection process and support the work of the study at the University of Pennsylvania.  In the meantime while the ASCF finishes the contract, we will launch our fundraising work to accelerate what has already been ably collected by ASC members.  Further communications will be coming in that regard from our co-chairs.    

Thank you to the ASC members who brought this research to ASCF attention and urged us to consider funding it.  We look forward to working with the fancy in helping ASCF meet this financial commitment for the betterment of our breed.  While success is never guaranteed in research, this is an excellent opportunity to potentially make a big difference for our breed.

Charles Born, Communications Director for American Spaniel Club Foundation

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