'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.
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