Animal Models: Dogged Pursuit

Austin, a fluffy white-and-black Old English sheepdog, was still a puppy when his owners called the University of North Carolina's Francis Owen Blood Research Laboratory in Chapel Hill four years ago. After deciding that the children were finally old enough to get a dog, the family had quickly bonded with the rambunctious pup. But within six months of bringing Austin home, they had spent US$10,000 on veterinary bills to deal with extreme bleeding from small scrapes. Austin was also suffering from spontaneous bleeding into his joints and uncontrollable nosebleeds caused simply by overexcitement. The family loved him, but could not take care of him.

Timothy Nichols, director of the North Carolina lab, gets enquiries about haemophilic dogs from around the world four or five times a year. Sometimes he offers advice and information. Other times, he goes and gets the dog. After blood tests confirmed that Austin had haemophilia, two of Nichols' lab members flew to the family's home in New Orleans, Louisiana, where they rented a car, packed it with a cool box full of medication and drove Austin back to Chapel Hill. There, the dog joined a colony that for nearly seven decades has been quietly transforming understanding of haemophilia.

Unlike the rats favoured as animal models for many other diseases, dogs develop haemophilia naturally, have enough blood to contribute to research studies and live long enough to reveal long-term outcomes of treatments. “We have a 60-year track record now showing that if it works well in dogs, it's likely going to work well in humans,” says Nichols...


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