New DNA Bank Will Catalog Diseases of Cats

Cornell University opens a DNA Bank to better understand the genetic basis for diseases in animals.

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Cornell Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine has opened a DNA bank, administered through its Department of Clinical Sciences, to study the genetic basis of diseases in cats and other species, including dogs, horses, cows, sheep, exotics, wild animals and zoo animals.

After a blood sample is taken from the cat with a known genetic disease, a DNA bank technician will isolate the DNA, catalog it and freeze it for storage for the Cornell researchers.

The archive of DNA will help the researchers improve the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and develop new genetic tests. It could also lead to new drugs and treatments. The DNA bank can also help researchers study complex traits, as in types of cancer, where many genes contribute to susceptibility to disease.

These DNA samples will be used for research purposes, said Rory Todhunter, associate professor of surgery, who added that the Cornell animal hospital is not setting up a genetic testing service yet.

The DNA bank samples will be used for genetic mapping or linkage analysis, a method for locating disease-causing genes.

We anticipate banking about 100 DNA samples a week, said Marta Castelhano, a researcher who currently manages the banks daily operations. We have recorded 139 diseases already, but this is always being updated.

Todhunter said that they will eventually have to focus on certain conditions because of space restrictions. Most cases, especially in dogs, are cancer related, including lymphoma, followed by liver disease, bleeding disorders, behavioral problems, orthopedic diseases, endocrinopathies and cardiac disease. 

Todhunter said he hopes the bank will collect tissue and fluids from surgical biopsies and necropsies, a postmortem examination, within a year. He said that once a mutation in the gene has been identified, the researcher will want to test to see if the mutation is expressed in the tissue.

The DNA bank is funded by Cornells Department of Clinical Sciences, the Center for Vertebrate Genomics, and the Baker Institute for Animal Health.

Posted: March 9, 2006, 5 a.m. EST

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