Navigation Links
Terriers Join Fight Against a Killer Disease in Humans

'Westies' breed is also prone to pulmonary fibrosis, which has no cure

THURSDAY, Dec. 27 (HealthDay News) -- A feisty breed of terrier could stop scientists from barking up the wrong tree as they research a deadly lung disease in humans.

The illness, called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), affects 128,000 Americans, is typically fatal within three years of diagnosis, and kills more than 40,000 people in the United States annually -- a death toll equivalent to that of breast cancer.

A fatal condition that looks remarkably like IPF also strikes the diminutive West Highland White terrier ("Westie"), however. And recently, medical scientists from the human and veterinarian worlds met for the first time to share information and pool resources against a mysterious killer.

"People may be a little startled at first to learn about this idea -- 'You're kidding me, you actually think there's promise in studying this dog to help my Dad with this disease?' And the answer is -- 'Yes'," said Mark Shreve, chief operating officer of the patient advocacy group Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis, based in San Jose, Calif.

Because the Westie is so tightly bred, and because the illness progresses faster in dogs than humans, it is conceivable that dog-based research might yield valuable clues to the genetics or environmental factors that trigger pulmonary fibrosis in both species, experts explained.

"And if it transpires that it is the same disease, then obviously the options are limitless as to how we can look at information from dogs and use it to understand the disease in humans and vice versa," said Dr. Brendan Corcoran, director of the Hospital for Small Animals at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and a pioneer in researching pulmonary fibrosis in Westies.

According to Shreve, most people find it hard to believe that a disease like IPF even exists amid the wonders of modern medicine.

"We are dealing here with one of the few diseases left on the planet for which there are no proven causes and no treatments," he said.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis occurs spontaneously, although certain factors -- such as smoking or exposure to airborne toxins -- do raise risks for the illness. "IPF is a progressive scarring process in the lungs that gradually robs a person of the ability to breathe," Shreve explained. Some sort of signaling seems to go awry at the cellular level, he said, converting normal, expansive lung tissue into stiff, fibrotic scar tissue.

"Once it starts in patients with IPF, your body just never sends a signal to stop that scar tissue from being produced," Shreve said. "This scar tissue is obviously not lung tissue that is able to process oxygen."

There have so far been very few promising leads in discovering the root causes of IPF, said Dr. Jesse Roman, one of the country's leading researchers in the disease and a professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

"Studies do suggest very specific [cellular] pathways, and there's a number of molecules that everybody is tuned into," he said. "But how you block them and how they relate to what happens in humans, that's less clear."

So, scientists are turning to creative new ways of looking at IPF.

Cross-talk between scientists worldwide led to the first-ever summit on the disease that included both veterinary and human medical researchers. The meeting was held in October on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and was attended by Corcoran, Roman and others. It was sponsored by the Westie Foundation of America and the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Health Foundation.

Westies, which grow to just under a foot in length, are described by the AKC as "courageous and self-reliant, but friendly."

"They're a very popular pet because of their size and their nature," Corcoran said.

However, pulmonary fibrosis does pop up in the breed with regularity, first revealing itself as excessive panting and shortness of breath. The illness also tends to develop in the terriers' late middle-age (about eight or nine years), mimicking its typical onset in humans at about age 50 to 60.

Westies inevitably succumb to the lung fibrosis about a year and a half after their diagnosis, Corcoran said.

Still, "there's still the contentious issue of whether this is the same disease as occurs in humans," he said. The exact prevalence of the disease among Westies is also unclear, he added. That means the first aim of Westies-centered research will be epidemiological -- studying disease prevalence and gathering a core of dogs and their owners that researchers might follow going forward.

Getting postmortem samples of canine lung tissue will also be crucial to a better understanding of the causes of the disease, Corcoran said. But that has its own challenges, he added.

"Getting owners to volunteer their dogs for necropsy is always problematic," he said. In fact, it's often "harder in many instances to get lung pathology samples from dogs than it is from humans," Corcoran said.

"However, one of our plans is to try and build up a group of concerned owners who will volunteer to donate their dog when that day arrives. We've been having some discussions on that already with our colleagues in America," Corcoran said. "Hopefully, the more publicity that we get with this condition, the more we may get owners coming forward and volunteering their dogs for research."

Corcoran and the other experts said that a cure for IPF is definitely not around the corner -- the disease has been as tenacious in keeping its secrets as, well, a terrier.

But Westies may be just the foe in the fight against IPF requires. Corcoran pointed out that the dogs' tight breeding means genetic research could yield important clues. And their shorter lifespan -- a seventh of that of humans -- means scientists can watch the disease in "fast-forward," which might also speed research.

Westies are also free of certain confounding factors, such as smoking, that often muddle human research. "The dogs might turn out to have a very pure form of the disease that allows you to investigate the disease itself and not worry about other factors," Corcoran noted.

Given all of this, "why wouldn't you look at a Westie and research how the disease progresses?" said patient-advocate Shreve.

"We think it's a very creative approach to trying to help out humans," he said, "and our patients don't really have the patience to hang around waiting for a miracle.

More information

To learn much more about IPF, visit the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis.

SOURCES: Brendan Corcoran, Ph.D., professor and director, Hospital for Small Animals, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; Jesse Roman, M.D., professor, medicine, and director, pulmonary allergy and CCM, Emory University, Atlanta; Mark Shreve, chief operating officer, Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis, San Jose, Calif.

Copyright©2007 ScoutNews,LLC.
All rights reserved  

Related medicine news :

1. Preclinical study suggests organ-transplant drug may aid in lupus fight
2. Computers help chemists fight emerging infections
3. Study shines more light on benefit of vitamin D in fighting cancer
4. Texas Supreme Court Rules Against Medicare HMOs in Hospital Reimbursement Fight
5. HIV Drug Might Fight Cancer
6. ADA Challenges Marylanders to Step Out to Fight Diabetes Epidemic
7. UVa researcher awarded $3.6 million grant to fight drug-resistant bacteria
8. Drug, Pacemaker Fight Irregular Heartbeat
9. Scripps Research scientists shed new light on how antibodies fight HIV
10. The fight against colorectal cancer
11. Especially Yours and Paula Young Team up with Diahann Carroll and Jaclyn Smith in the Fight Against Breast Cancer
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Terriers Join Fight Against a Killer Disease in Humans
(Date:11/24/2015)... UT (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... It ... Magazine. For a business, it is critical that the first impression be positive and ... they are not likely to buy anything or want to return. They will also ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... their knowledge and experiences at a live taping of the next CURE ... the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers 2015 Symposium at Georgetown University Hotel & Conference ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... Aided by seed funding from the Ron Foley Foundation, researchers at Western ... how to detect and treat pancreatic cancer (PC). , WCHN researchers will focus ... (ncRNA), genetic material that is present in the blood of patients with PC. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... its exceptional customer service: the TrustDale certification. The award recognizes good companies for ... stone honing , tile and grout, and hard surface restoration company earned this ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... World Patent Marketing ... a household invention that revolutionizes the vending machine industry by providing healthy and ... worth $2 billion," says Scott Cooper, CEO and Creative Director of World Patent ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015  Boston Scientific Corporation (NYSE: ... Oppenheimer 26th Annual Healthcare Conference on December 8, in ... Susie Lisa , vice president, Investor Relations, will participate ... beginning at approximately 8:35 a.m. ET. --> ... in a 30-minute question-and-answer session with the host analyst ...
(Date:11/24/2015)...   Renowned UAE ... s advice and insights on supplements and healthy diet ... 50% of Dubai residents are not ...   femMED launches comprehensive solutions for women , ... residents are not consuming enough to keep themselves healthy. A local ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 2015 Abaxis, Inc. (NasdaqGS: ABAX ), ... for the medical, research, and veterinary markets worldwide, announced ... will present at the 27 th Annual Piper ... 11:30 a.m. ET. The conference will be held at ... York City . Abaxis, Inc. is ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: