Research lending better understanding to common diseases

Posted: January 2, 2015 at 8:46 am

(CNN) -

In a mural from the year A.D. 79, a dog leads a blind man across a marketplace in Pompeii.

Dogs have lent their eyesight to people who need it, perhaps since the friendship between human and beast began. And now, mapping the genes of blind dogs could lead to treatments for the visually impaired.

By uncovering canine eye mutations, veterinary researchers are coming closer to understanding two of the most common diseases that cause blindness: glaucoma and retinitis pigmentosa.

It turns out that dogs' eyes are similar to humans', the veterinary researchers say, and what goes for theirs often goes for ours, too. So much so, that a U.S. foundation for research into blindness has funded some of their work.

A random phone call

Andras Komaromy's research journey began 10 years ago with a phone call from a breeder, who was watching dogs slowly go blind from a strange retinal disease.

"I drove more than 500 miles from Philadelphia to Michigan to examine the affected dogs," the research veterinarian said in a statement. He eventually moved there and researched the disease at Michigan State University.

The dogs were all of the same breed, Swedish Vallhunds. The hereditary disease appeared to be relatively new. Scandinavian veterinary eye examiners began seeing it in late 1990s.

The Swedish Vallhund is small, stocky and pointy-eared, with thick gray to red fur in a pattern resembling that of a German shepherd. Despite its compact size, it's tough and fearless, the American Kennel Club says -- a "big dog in a small body."

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Research lending better understanding to common diseases

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