Partnership launches cat health initiative

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catsThe Cat Health Network, a newly formed partnership among some of the most influential feline organizations in the country, approved funding for several research projects to be conducted at U.S. and foreign laboratories this year.

The investigators, and their research projects, include the following:

  • Stephen O'Brien, PhD, National Cancer Institute, "Dense physical linkage map using SNP array for rigorous assembly of the feline genome sequence."
  • Tosso Leeb, PhD, University of Bern, Switzerland, "Genetic analysis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Maine Coon cats" and "Genetic analysis of polycystic kidney disease in Maine Coon cats."
  • Leslie A. Lyons, PhD, University of California-Davis, "Genome-wide association studies of brachycephaly in domestic cats"; "Construction of a high-resolution map for assisting cat genome sequence assembly"; "Genome-wide association study for hypokalemic polymyopathy in Burmese cats"; and "Genome-wide association studies for progressive retinal atrophies in cats."
  • Robert Grahn, PhD, University of California-Davis, "Genome-wide association study for congenital muscular dystrophy in Sphynx and Devon Rex cats."
  • Bianca Haase, PhD, University of Sydney, Australia, "Bodyweight: Investigation of genetic aspects in an experimental cat population."
  • Dr. Kathryn M. Meurs, Washington State University, "Genome-wide association of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in the Sphynx cat."
  • Dr. Niels C. Pedersen, University of California-Davis, "Genetic susceptibility to feline infectious peritonitis."

To assist them in their research, the investigators will receive samples of feline single nucleotide polymorphisms. SNPs are small variations from the common feline DNA sequence that can be used as markers to track down genes responsible for genetic diseases. Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. donated the SNPs, valued at around $1 million, to the Morris Animal Foundation in 2008 in an effort to jump-start the research initiatives. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation, Winn Feline Foundation, and American Association of Feline Practitioners will provide a total of approximately $100,000 annually to fund these approved studies.

The MAF, the Winn Feline Foundation, the AAFP, and the AVMF comprise the Cat Health Network, part of the Animal Health Network that originated at the behest of the AVMF and the AVMA Council on Research after years of planning for an Institute for Companion Animal and Equine Research to fund feline, canine, and equine health studies (see JAVMA, June 1, 2011).

The Animal Health Network was started in early 2011 to bring together like-minded groups to facilitate greater research in a collaborative effort. The first initiative was the species-specific Cat Health Network, a pilot effort launched in response to cats falling behind dogs when it comes to visits to the veterinarian. Research conducted into cat health also falls short of the research conducted for dogs.

"The formulation of the Cat Health Network is a step in the right direction. The decline in feline veterinary visits is alarming and now more than ever before it's becoming critical for us to identify new ways to improve the health and welfare of cats," said Dr. Letrisa Miller, AAFP Research Committee chair in a Sept. 6 CHN press release.

The CHN's mission is to improve feline health and welfare through funding of targeted health studies in cats, particularly in the areas of cancer, chronic renal disease, diabetes mellitus, feline lower urinary tract disease, and pain management.