Golden retriever study confronts heartbreak of cancer with unparalleled veterinary research effort
"I need to make an appointment to euthanize my golden," says the hesitant voice on the other end of the phone line. "Lymphoma."
"Why does this have to happen?" pet owners ask, and while I can say, "Genetics, probably," with some degree of confidence, no one knows exactly why certain breeds are more predisposed than others to neoplasia. We know even less about the influence of outside factors such as nutrition and environment. Given that cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs older than 2, our lack of understanding surrounding this disease process represents a large hole in our veterinary medical knowledge base.What's missing from our database?
In 2009, at a meeting of veterinary oncologists, the question was asked: What's missing from our database? The answer, said the oncologists, was just too big to take on. "They said, there's this really big thing but nobody can do it, so Morris asked, why don't you give us a try?" recalls Haworth. After more than three years of intense planning, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study was born.
While this has never been done in veterinary medicine, there is a precedent that has been set in human medicine: The Framingham Heart Study, which has been running continuously since 1948. "The Framingham study," Haworth says, "is the longest running longitudinal study in human medicine. It's now in its third generation, and there have been 2,400 publications out of it." The goal of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is similar: to create a comprehensive database of 3,000 purebred golden retrievers during the course of their lifetime.
The depth of detail covered in the study is ambitious. "We know 66 percent of those currently enrolled get their primary water from the municipal water supplies," Haworth says, and most of that obtained from one particular bowl per dog. "The U.S. Geological Survey has data on all heavy water contamination, and we can overlay this. That tells you the level of detail we're looking for."