Looking for Normal


LaboratorySometimes it is easy to understand the importance of a canine research study. Examining how well a medication or diagnostic test works in a certain group of dogs has clear implications for canine health. Veterinarians need drugs to treat illnesses and tests to identify the dogs in which they occur. However, before researchers and scientists can even begin to figure out what is wrong when a dog experiences an illness, and start looking for ways to cure it, they first have to figure out what is normal.  

Although there are many similarities between canine and human biology, far from everything about the two species is the same. For example, there are some substances that are innocuous to humans but toxic to dogs, like chocolate, and so no matter how well scientists understand how a disease works in humans they can not simply assume that everything will work the same way in dogs.

While clinical research asks questions about the effects of specific medical treatments, basic research literally goes "back to the basics." It examines the fundamental questions of biology that allow doctors and scientists to develop treatments in the first place. Although the immediate implications may not always be as clear as those of clinical trials, basic research is critically important to the study of canine, or human, health.

With the help of the AKC Canine Health Foundation, Dr. Cheryl London and her colleagues at Ohio State University have been investigating just such an important, basic research question in canine health. Dr. London’s research has focused on trying to understand whether canine mast cells work in the same way as human and other species mast cells, in order to facilitate the development of new treatments for mast cell related disease.

Mast cells are an important component of the immune system. They assist in the recruitment of other immune cells to the site of injury or disease, and produce chemicals which promote inflammation. However, those same functions can also lead to illness, and mast cells also play a central role in causing both allergic reactions and asthma.

In order to determine whether normal canine mast cells respond to the same stimuli, and produce the same chemicals, as human and mouse mast cells do, the Ohio State researchers developed a protocol to grow the cells from the bone marrow of healthy dogs who were visiting the university’s teaching hospital for sterilization procedures. Then they performed a series of experiments to characterize the canine mast cells’ properties.

What did the scientists find? By and large, canine mast cells produce most of the same chemicals, and respond to many of the same stimuli, as human and mouse mast cells. In particular, Dr. London and her colleagues found that canine mast cells produced a full range of the substances known as eicosanoids – including prostaglandins and leukotrienes. This is important because eicosanoids, which promote inflammation, have recently been recognized as potential targets for treatment in conditions, such as arthritis, that result from abnormal inflammatory processes.

Right now NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen – are the first line of defense against mast cell mediated diseases in humans. This new research suggests that these drugs, which work at least in part by affecting the production of eicosanoids, may also be able to promote similar effects in dogs.

Basic research, designed to explore the simple mysteries of canine biology, may not always be glamorous, but it is essential. Studies like this one provide the foundations needed for the development of future treatments that can save limbs… and save lives.

This work was funded by AKC Canine Health Foundation Grant 975.

Scientific publication:

Lin T-Y, London CA. Characterization and modulation of canine mast cell derived eicosanoids. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology 2010;135:118-127.

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