Researchers look to K-9 DNA to identify human autism genes - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Researchers look to K-9 DNA to identify human autism genes

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Phoenix-based scientists at TGen are beginning to examine whether dogs might hold the key to unlocking the mystery behind childhood autism.

The non-profit genomics organization is raising funds to initiate a study looking at doggie DNA they hope will translate into possible life improving advancements for children suffering from autism.

"Science has been studying the genetics of autism for a very long time," says Matt Huentleman, PhD with TGen.

TGen has had success in the past studying K-9 DNA and getting results translated to help humans.

"This type of breed has a cancer that is similar to the human version," says dog breeder Valana Wells.

Wells breeds Clumber Spaniels, a British hunting dog. Several years ago she submitted the DNA of one of her dogs for a cancer research study. Scientists seek out the DNA from purebred dogs because it is, they say, a hundred times simpler to analyze than human DNA.

In the autism study, researchers are looking to establish a link between obsessive compulsive behavior in certain dog breeds with the autism markers in a human.

"The hope is if we can identify the genes that might be linked to that type of behavior. That type of obsessive compulsive behavior, then that becomes a significant candidate gene for human autism," says Dr. Huentleman.

Researchers share the results of what they find with the dog owners who submit DNA.

When the study begins, TGen will seek out DNA samples from around 300 dogs including Bull Terriers, Doberman Pinschers and Jack Russell Terriers.

"Through the DNA study of the dog, we're trying to solve the riddles of human disease but as we do that we are also helping the dogs themselves," says Wells.

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