UI Researcher Receives Funding to Study Glaucoma in Dogs

A University of Iowa vision researcher has been awarded an $87,480 grant to study genetic markers of glaucoma in dogs, with hopes the research will bring him closer to identifying markers in humans with the same disease.

The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation presented the grant to Markus Kuehn, PhD, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, for his research with glaucoma and Bassett hounds.

One particular type of glaucoma, primary angle closure glaucoma, occurs in several breeds of dogs but is more prevalent in Bassett hounds, Kuehn said. The same glaucoma occurs in people.

"It occurs naturally in these dogs, but in people we don't really know what causes it," he says. "One reason I'm interested in these dogs is that this disease models a human disease, so we could effectively find genetic markers for both the dogs and people."

Glaucoma is an adult-onset recessive disease, meaning it occurs later in life. For dog breeders, not knowing whether a dog is genetically predisposed to glaucoma makes it difficult if not impossible to eliminate the gene from future generations.

By identifying the gene through a simple blood test, Kuehn said breeders will be able to effectively stop breeding certain dogs and stop the bloodline from producing future carriers.

"The Canine Health Foundation wants to identify dogs who are prone to develop the disease," Kuehn says. "They would like to have some kind of a genetic marker that allows them to determine which dogs are carrying the recessive gene."

Kuehn adds, it's possible that once the gene is identified, future generations may have genetic testing performed and the breed could be rid of this form of glaucoma in five to six years.

Blood samples from the dogs participating in the new study will be drawn by authorized veterinarians and sent to Kuehn's lab. All of the dogs will remain with their owners, regardless of where in the United States their kennels are located.

One of the biggest challenges facing the study is a low number of samples. Kuehn says some breeders aren't eager to admit they have the glaucoma in their bloodline and may hesitate to participate in the study. He hopes to draw more interest nationally.

Kuehn says that the genetic markers for primary angle closure glaucoma (PACG) should be identified by the end of the two-year grant period. From there, he says, his lab can take the study findings and quickly adapt it to human PACG.

"We would know where to look for the gene, so identifying it in humans could really take less than a year," he says.