The American Humane Association (AHA) is teaming up with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to search for the genetic basis of obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs. Starting with a look at the causes of OCD frequently found in three types of purebreds—Bull Terrier, Doberman Pinscher, and Jack Russell Terrier—the two organizations hope this study will eventually help them find clues as to where such behavior in children originates, including where autism might come from.

Scientists from TGen will be conducting whole-genome sequencing to analyze the genomes of these dogs and hopefully pinpoint the genes linked to abnormal behavior. Advisors from the AHA are helping design the study and interpreting the data. Collaborators from Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) are also participating. 

Through the study’s results, TGen and the AHA hope to be able to give physicians and veterinarians new insights that could lead to better treatments and earlier diagnosis. However, the collaborators say they are currently seeking private funding for the study as they were not able to receive federal funds because of the recent budget cuts.

The study, Canines, Kids and Autism, is the AHA’s second study involving dogs and children. The association is also involved in a full clinical trial of the Canines and Childhood Cancer study in partnership with Zoetis, which is investigating the biological and psychosocial effects of therapy dogs on pediatric cancer patients.

“The potential impact of this research for both children and canines is profound,” said Phil Francis, the retired chairman and CEO of PetSmart and an advisor to TGen’s canine research studies, in a statement. “With the number of children who are diagnosed with autism each year increasing, and the legions of pet parents who want their canine friends to live healthy lives, I can think of no better place for potential supporters to contribute their resources.”

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