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News & Views November 2018 Issue

Diagnosing Liver Disease in Dogs Just Got Easier

University of Edinburgh

Dr. Richard Mellanby, Head of Companion Animal Sciences at The Hospital for Small Animals at the University of Edinburgh, helped lead the research on finding an easier way to detect liver disease in dogs. That in turn will translate to faster treatment. Dr. Mellanby is pictured here with a canine pal.

To date, diagnosing liver disease in a dog has meant performing an expensive and invasive biopsy. Thus, it often has not been found until late in the game, making treatment more involved and lowering the chances of survival. But a new finding at the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in Scotland’s University of Edinburgh is about to change all that.

Taking a page out of human medicine, in which it is already known that people with liver disease have high levels of a blood marker called MicroRNA-122 (miR-122), veterinary researchers and medical doctors for people looked at the concentration of that substance in the stored blood of 250 dogs of varying breeds and mixed breeds, including cocker spaniels, labradoodles, and Old English sheepdogs. Their finding: the miR-122 levels in dogs diagnosed with liver diseases, mostly along the lines of cirrhosis, chronic liver inflammation, and fibrosis (thickening and scarring of tissue), were three to four times greater than in the other dogs. The test, reported in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, was found to have a high level of sensitivity and specificity. It was clearly liver disease the high numbers were reflecting, not a raft of different illnesses.

Says lead veterinary researcher Professor Richard Mellanby, Head of Companion Animal Sciences at The Hospital for Small Animals at the University of Edinburgh, “We hope the miR-122 test will allow vets to diagnose liver disease with greater precision than was previously possible. We also hope that this collaboration showcases the advantages of physicians and veterinarians working together to accelerate the rollout of diagnostic tests that aim to improve the health and welfare of dogs.”

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