These must be the dog days of summer
Weimaraners offer clues on spina bifida
With dogged determination, scientists at the University of California at Davis have identified a gene they believe can be an important risk factor for neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, which is caused by the incomplete closure of the spine.
The researchers, with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and University of Iowa, originally identified the gene in four Weimaraner dogs with spinal dysraphism, a disorder that impairs motor skills and causes partial paralysis of the legs.
They could not find the gene in other dog breeds they studied. But in examining gene samples from 149 people with spina bifida, they identified six samples with a mutation of the gene.
“Dogs are excellent biomedical models for humans since they receive comparable medical care, share our home environment and develop naturally occurring diseases comparable to those in humans,” the researchers wrote in the online journal PLOS Genetics.
The authors also noted that gene samples were taken from pets and not laboratory animals, and they also stressed that more research was needed before a definite link could be made between the gene mutation and neural tube defects in humans.
Researcher Noa Safra, a veterinarian who has had Weimeraners as pets for years, says, “My first Weim had affected puppies 15 years ago (I was a vet student then) and that is what: a) drew my attention to the disorder, and b) started my sample collection.” One of those puppies from years ago had DNA included in the study, she says.
Murphey will see you now
Dr. Michelle Eads doesn’t have a large staff at Pinnacle Family Medicine, the solo practice she operates in Colorado Springs, Colo. But since 2008, the office has had an official greeter.
The greeter’s name is Murphey, a golden retriever whose staff Web page lists her duties as bringing smiles to faces, lowering blood pressure and making patients feel loved “with big doses of warm fuzzies.”
“She has a very favorable effect on people, especially kids,” explains Eads, who says her patients appreciate that she runs an atypical practice in general. She was an early adopter of nonface-to-face “virtual visits” and runs a direct-pay operation.
After one particularly long and frustrating phone call in 2008, Eads decided she was tired of “playing ‘Mother May I?’ ” with insurance companies. “I spent two hours on the phone trying to get one claim paid—that was the final straw,” she recalls.
Having a golden retriever on staff, however, might be the aspect of Eads’ unconventional practice that patients appreciate most.
“She usually greets them or sits down next to them,” Eads says. “She gets right away who’s in dire pain.”
Veterinarian Noa Safra has long loved Weimaraners, but her pet Evie wasn’t part of the study.