The following information is from an announcement made by the AKC-Canine Health Foundation.
Dr. Steven Friedenberg, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Dr. Kate Meurs at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has been named a Clinician Scientist by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation.
Friedenberg received the honor in recognition of his research into the genetic causes of autoimmune diseases in dogs.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body attacks a part of itself – like joints, blood cells, or the pancreas – causing common diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or type I diabetes. Most of the time, veterinarians do not know why this happens, but the causes are likely a mix of both genes and the environment. Because dogs share a common environment with people and have the same types of naturally occurring autoimmune diseases, they offer an excellent opportunity to learn about these debilitating diseases.
The two diseases Friedenberg is currently studying are Addison’s disease and immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). Addison’s disease is an endocrine disorder where the body attacks its own adrenal glands. The adrenal glands make important hormones that help humans and dogs cope with stress and control electrolyte balance.
Similarly, IMHA is a blood disorder where the body attacks its own red blood cells—cells that are critical for carrying oxygen throughout the body. This disease is very common in breeds such as Cocker Spaniels and English Springer Spaniels, but is also seen in Labrador Retrievers, Shih Tzus, and other breeds. Current therapies for IMHA involve suppressing the immune system, which can cause additional complications. Friedenberg will take advantage of major advances in DNA sequencing to uncover the gene mutations that cause Addison’s disease and IMHA. By finding the mutations, he believes we can work to decrease the incidence of the disease.
The AKC Canine Health Foundation established the Clinician-Scientist Fellowship Program to support the next generation of canine health researchers in their efforts to prevent, treat and cure canine diseases. Researchers are selected based on the individual’s promise and enthusiasm for pursuing a career in canine health research and the history of the participating college of veterinary medicine in turning CHF funding into research publications that have significantly contributed to canine health.