FORT COLLINS — Scientists at Colorado State University want a few good golden retrievers — 3,000, actually, for a long-term study of canine cancer and other dog diseases.
The longitudinal study is patterned after the famous Framingham Heart Study which started in 1948 and has tracked the health of a group of human residents of Framingham, Mass., — and their descendants — ever since.
Man's best friend has never been examined in such comprehensive way, said Rodney Page, director of CSU's Flint Animal Center, which is partnering with the Morris Animal Foundation.
"There is a lot of interest in this from all corners, including people, dog owners and dog lovers," said Page, the lead investigator on the project.
Researchers need young, purebred golden retrievers for the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, which will span 10 to 15 years..
"Our donors with dogs have told us that cancer is their greatest concern. We look forward to working with Colorado State University to get a better grasp on all the factors that could contribute to cancer and overall health problems," said David Haworth, president and CEO at Morris Animal Foundation, which will manage the study.
Golden retrievers were picked because they are one of the most common breeds in the United States and they also more prone to developing cancer than other breeds, Page said.
Goldens are ideal in other ways as well, including their ability to adapt to just about any human lifestyle.
"You have goldens that are couch potatoes and goldens who run trails with their human companions," Page said. "They fit in a broad spectrum of activity."
To join the study, the dogs must be healthy, younger than 2 years old and have a proven three-generation pedigree. Pet owners must agree to regular visits with their veterinarian and to complete on-line questionnaires about lifestyle, diet, reproductive history, environment, exercise, medications and other health concerns throughout the dog's life.
"It does require a commitment from the owners of these dogs," said Page. "They must record their pets' activities and health issues and partner with veterinarian who would help provide the information and samples we're requesting. The veterinarians will have to devote a little more time to physical exams and collecting samples."
Cancer is believed to be the No. 1 cause of death in dogs over the age of 2, but there is no valid database to determine how frequently cancer occurs or how to assess any of the influencing factors, he said.
Common fatal cancers of dogs include lymphoma, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels that usually starts in the spleen or liver) and mast cell tumors, which is a cancer of a particular blood cell of the immune system.
Page said since dogs share our environment and are equally at risk for exposure to many of the same factors humans are exposed to, the study could help the fight against cancer in humans.
"Our hope is that we will be able to identify some significant modifiable risk factors that will improve the health of dogs and potentially provide clues for human health improvement as well," he said.
Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/montewhaley