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Canine Athlete Initiative Special Emphasis Request for Proposals

Introduction to the Canine Athlete Research Program

The mission of the AKC Canine Health Foundation is to support research that will prevent, treat and cure canine disease. In line with this mission, the Canine Athlete Initiative was founded to advance high-quality basic, translational, and clinical biomedical research to support the health, well-being, and performance of all canine athletes.

The intent of the Research Program associated with the Canine Athlete Initiative is to support both basic and clinical research that pertains to the specific needs of canine athletes and working dogs. Basic research can involve a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including immunology, genetics, molecular biology, structural biology, metabolism, infectious disease and pharmacology as they pertain to the canine athlete; however, basic science applications must have a fully defined translational endpoint in order to be considered responsive to this RFP. Clinical research including, but not limited to, orthopedics, surgery, regenerative, sports and rehabilitation medicine will similarly be considered responsive to this RFP. Alternative modalities such as laser therapy, ultrasound, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Acupuncture will be considered if the proposed research is designed to support the evidence-based inclusion of these modalities in the practice of sports medicine. Nutrition research as it pertains to sports medicine, rehabilitation and athlete performance is a major component of the Canine Athlete Research Program and will be an important component of this funding portfolio. Finally, we consider grants that have industry partnerships or a One Health emphasis to be highly favorable. The CHF recognizes the power of early academia-industry and DVM-MD-PhD partnerships for the additional resources that these partnerships bring to canine health research.  It is now evident that collaboration with industry and/or human medical centers increases the potential for moving research from the laboratory bench to the veterinary clinic faster and more efficiently than if academia works alone.

Research Objectives

The four pillars of Canine Athlete Research Program are:

  1. Bone biology and disease
  2. Musculoskeletal biology and disease
  3. Osteoarthritis
  4. Pain Management

Bone and Cartilage Biology and Diseases
The ultimate goal of research in the area of bone and cartilage biology and disease is to develop better diagnostic tools, treatments, and prevention strategies for the fractures, dislocations, cartilage, tendon and ligament damage associated with athletic participation. Research in the area of bone biology can be inclusive of the genetic and cellular mechanisms involved in the buildup and breakdown of bone and tissue but must have application to treatment of bone-associated injury or disease. Research into cartilage development, growth, disease and aging, as well as application of emerging technology in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering for cartilage replacement are areas of emphasis within this research program. Finally, the role of nutrition in bone and cartilage development and healing post-injury is considered a topic of special interest.

Musculoskeletal Biology and Diseases
Research in the area of musculoskeletal biology and disease can focus on understanding the fundamental biology of tissues that constitute the musculoskeletal system, and on translating and applying this knowledge to a variety of diseases and conditions. Research may also include the study of the causes and treatment of acute and chronic injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Finally, this program area can support the development of new technologies for imaging musculoskeletal tissues to improve the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, or technologies that will aid in the repair of damage caused by trauma and/or overuse to otherwise healthy musculoskeletal tissue. Therapeutic approaches of interest in the programs include drugs, nutritional interventions, joint, bone and cartilage transplantation, and gene therapy. Tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and musculoskeletal fitness are additional areas of emphasis within the context of musculoskeletal biology and disease. Supraspinatus Tendinopathy, Shoulder instability, Cranial Cruciate Ligament disease, Tendon tears, Iliopsoas Tendinopathy, Achilles Tendinopathy, Lumbosacral instability, fibrotic myopathy, biceps injury and medial compartment disease of the elbow are conditions of emphasis within the musculoskeletal biology and disease research program. Further areas of special interest include:

  • Research and advancements in diagnostic musculoskeletal ultrasound for tendon and ligament injury; needle arthroscopy for intra-articular soft tissue injury
  • Use of orthopedic devices (braces, orthosis, support systems) for soft tissue injuries as an alternative to surgery or as adjunctive treatment following surgery
  • Rehabilitation modalities for soft tissue injuries including therapeutic ultrasound; Laser therapy; TENS; E-Stim, ShockWave Therapy; Under water treadmill therapy and deep water swimming (hydrotherapies)
  • Objective gait analysis to obtain "normals" for different breeds as well as for use in objective follow up through the recovery phase after soft tissue injuries
  • Prevention of soft tissue injury through conditioning and sports-specific exercise and training
  • Carpal injuries (hyperextension; flexor carpi ulnaris strains) 

Osteoarthritis is a well-recognized but under-funded area of canine health research. One major goal of the Canine Athlete Research Program is to advance our understanding of osteoarthritis development and the mechanisms underlying enhanced disease susceptibility. Research studies in the area of osteoarthritis can include studies involving genomics, proteomics, and imaging related to the disease. Research designed to enhance the use of minimally invasive diagnostics such as ultrasound and needle arthroscopy will be viewed favorably. Further, the CHF is committed to pursuing research that will identify risk factors for osteoarthritis as well as research that will improve disease prevention and treatment strategies. Special topics of interest include enhancing the evidence-based use of:

  • Oral joint modifying agents (glucosamine; chondroitin sulfate; Omega-3 fatty acids; methylsulfonylmethane; Avacado/Soybean Unsaponifiables)
  • Intra-articular treatments (Hyaluronic acid; Platelet Rich Plasma; stem cell therapy)
  • Therapeutic ultrasound; Laser therapy; TENS; E-Stim, ShockWave Therapy; Under water treadmill therapy and deep water swimming (hydrotherapies)

Pain Management
Pain is a critical canine health problem. Historically, little research has been dedicated to defining, measuring and treating pain in dogs. Pain often results in disability and, even when not disabling, has a profound effect on a dog’s quality of life. Through the Canine Athlete Research Program, the AKC Canine Health Foundation will support research on all conditions in which pain is a prominent feature. The CHF recognizes that some primary conditions, both acute (such as injury) and chronic (such as osteoarthritis), are significantly complicated by co-morbid pain disorders. Further, we recognize that we under-appreciate that diseases such as cancer are in and of themselves painful and are often accompanied by treatments that exacerbate pain. Finally, we recognize that chronic pain is not merely a symptom but represents a disease in and of itself, causing long-term detrimental physiologic changes and requiring unique assessments and treatments. Subtypes of acute and chronic pain detailed below are of special interest in the Canine Athlete Initiative, with the goal being to prevent, treat and manage pain in all areas significant to canine health:

  • Inflammatory Pain
  • Visceral pain
  • Chronic and acute urologic pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Spinal cord injury pain
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Cancer Pain
  • Bone pain
  • Skin and gastrointestinal allergy-associated pain

The AKC Canine Health Foundation is not currently accepting grant applications in this research program area.  However, it is possible that some grants awarded in other research program areas may be cross-listed as Canine Athlete Initiative grants.  Additionally, researchers should contact the Foundation's Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Shila Nordone,  to discuss athlete-focused research.

Please read an open letter to applicants concerning changes to our grant process from previous cycles.

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