Th­ese must be the dog days of sum­mer

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS -

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.

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