From CRISPR's potential for our furry companions to the role of artificial intelligence in feline well-being, the scientific landscape is rapidly evolving. Innovations like organoids and the microbiome's impact on health are reshaping how we understand and enhance the lives of our beloved animals.
In scientific discovery, these advancements are revolutionizing the approach to health research, benefiting humans and animals. Embracing these tools and technologies, Morris Animal Foundation stands at the forefront, championing progress that accelerates discoveries while minimizing the need for animals in traditional laboratory settings.
Here’s a glimpse of how we actively support changes in scientific methods and strategies to solve today's and tomorrow’s health challenges for dogs, cats, horses and wildlife.
CRISPR, short for clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is like genetic scissors that can selectively modify DNA and repair harmful genetic coding mutations associated with severe diseases and other health issues. It represents a groundbreaking leap in genetic engineering, changing how we diagnose, treat and even cure diseases.
In human medicine, researchers are seeing promising results using CRISPR technology to tackle blinding diseases and muscular dystrophy. The FDA recently approved a gene editing-based therapy for sickle cell disease.
Some ongoing CRISPR-inspired projects supported by Morris Animal Foundation include using this cutting-edge technology to find solutions for dogs with heart disease, learning how a herpesvirus induces illness in horses and building rapid diagnostic tools to fight chytrid. This infectious skin disease is decimating amphibian populations around the world.
Let’s not forget cancer. CRISPR is opening up a new research avenue for some of the deadliest cancers affecting our pets. In one study, our funded researchers used CRISPR techniques to understand which genes trigger the growth and survival of an aggressive oral tumor in cats. The team hopes their findings will help identify new targets for drug therapies to improve the quality and survival time of cats with this painful and aggressive cancer.
In another study, our funded researchers use CRISPR to study a genetic mutation associated with a dog cancer called hemangiosarcoma. This cancer is highly metastatic, and the survival time of dogs with this disease is less than 12 months, even with treatment. The team hopes their findings will one day help improve the clinical management of canine patients with this mutation and inform the development of effective, personalized therapies to save more dogs from this deadly cancer.
More animal health researchers are turning to AI to help better diagnose, select treatments and improve outcomes for pets suffering from many diseases.
In one of our funded studies, researchers use an AI platform to analyze and search for patterns of tiny pieces of DNA in the blood of dogs with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. This technology can scan and process large amounts of information more efficiently and quicker than other methods at a fraction of the cost.
In another funded study, researchers use machine learning to improve early diagnosis of pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction in horses. Also known as Cushing’s disease, this common health issue affects more than 20% of older horses.
Organoids – miniature 3-D organ-like structures typically grown from stem cells or lab-grown tissues – serve as valuable models for studying diseases, screening and testing new drugs.
In a newly funded study, researchers are creating organoids from cancer tumor cells, also called tumoroids, derived from cells from dogs with bladder cancer. Between 10%-30% of treated dogs show positive results to immunotherapies to treat bladder cancer. However, little is known about which dogs will most benefit from these costly treatments. Researchers are using organoid technologies to understand better and predict treatment responses to immunotherapies in dogs diagnosed with bladder cancer.
In a recently completed study, our funded researchers used organoid technologies to successfully identify four promising new treatments for pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing’s disease in dogs. These drugs are already available for use in veterinary medicine, showed evidence of slowing pituitary tumor organoid growth and warrant further study as potential new treatments.
Trillions of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, archaea and viruses – live in and on our bodies. The microbiome plays many roles in health and is believed to support immune, heart, gut and brain health, among other benefits.
Morris Animal Foundation has been funding microbiome animal health research for more than a decade, starting with a study to define the bacteria living on healthy dogs' skin and establish a baseline dataset for future research into dog skin health issues, including allergies. Much of the microbiome Foundation-supported research today looks at the gut microbiome to help address obesity, gastrointestinal diseases and other health issues in pets.
In an ongoing gut microbiome study, Foundation-funded researchers want to know if this also holds true for cats. They hope to learn why some overweight cats lose weight successfully when put on a lower-calorie or restricted diet while others do not. The team hopes their findings will inform further research on how we can modify the gut microbiome, possibly through targeted probiotics to help improve weight management in cats.
Another research team is tackling obesity in cats with an entirely different microbiome approach – studying the feasibility of fecal microbiota transplants. This study sheds light on how the intestinal ecosystem in cats plays a role during treatment (fecal transplant) and recovery from obesity.
Let’s not forget dogs! In another ongoing study, researchers are studying how changes in the gut’s microbial composition may contribute to chronic intestinal disorders and associated inflammation in dogs and if dietary supplements can help alleviate clinical signs for these patients.
Science Saving Animals
Science is ever-changing. Morris Animal Foundation believes in supporting innovation, education and inspiration and letting science and global leaders in animal health research guide us to a happier and healthier tomorrow for all animals.
- The Microbiome: A Potential Treasure Trove of Information
- Understanding Obesity, Weight Loss in Dogs and Cats
- Understanding Equine Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction
- Episode 40 – Fresh Scoop Podcast: The Amazing Science of Fecal Microbial Transplantation
- Episode 59 – Fresh Scoop Podcast: The Dog Aging Project, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study and Beyond