HEALTH PANEL UPDATE – Summer 2014

Your Health Panel continues to hold very productive teleconferences as well as email discussions in our quest to work towards our common goals for the Saint Bernard breed. We are in partnership with the SBCA Board, working closely with them on which important issues we should direct our time and energy towards, and to determine just where your generous donations should go. As advocates for a healthy and happy future for our breed, we ask that you join us in our commitment to assisting breeders in breeding healthy and sound Saints.

Current projects:

CHIC (Canine Health Information Center):  http://www.caninehealthinfo.org/    We are pleased to tell you there has been much interest in this program.  Historically we have been reluctant to support this program due to the costs and the fact that the statistics reported are skewed. However, after a number of phone calls with their personnel  as to what is required by the OFA, as well as a review of where we stand on genetic diseases and our ongoing work on the upcoming SBCA health survey, we have decided to support the establishment of the CHIC program for the Saint Bernard.

The screening programs we will recommend include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, thyroid testing, degenerative myleopathy (DM), OFA eye certification (formerly known as CERF), and cardiac screening with auscultation from a boarded cardiologist with Doppler echocardiography if a murmur is heard. We encourage all breeders to learn about these tests and we will be providing more information in the future on how to use them effectively. We are also looking into the possibility of entering anecdotal information about idiopathic epilepsy (IE), bloat and other diseases into the CHIC database.  We are currently awaiting approval from the SBCA Board to implement the CHIC program.

There will be no requirement that these tests be completed for breeding animals. These are tests that can be used as screening tools for breeders to help lower the incidence of genetic disease. Additionally, we are encouraging people to let the results be open to the public, whether free of disease or not.  Those who complete all the tests will receive a CHIC number if they choose to have the results be made public.

Idiopathic Epilepsy (IE): This devastating disease has been consistently ranked in the top 3 of the most important health issues affecting Saints. The AKC-CHF earlier this year announced a major new initiative to study IE.  There are two phases, the first will look primarily at the mechanisms of IE (what proteins are involved in triggering it) and phase two will look for the genes involved and potential treatments.  Each phase will take approximately 2-3 years. At the Health Panel’s recommendation, the SBCA Board passed a motion to donate $10,000 to the AKC-CHF’s IE Initiative, making us one of their first Charter Sponsors.  We are very excited about this and will keep you up to date on the progress. To learn more, please visit http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/your-dogs-health/epilepsy/Epilepsy-Initiative-Flyer-V1.pdf

CHIC DNA Repository: As breeders, it’s also very important for you to participate in this. We have asked the SBCA Board to consider helping to cover the costs of collecting and sending blood of affected Saints to the repository, especially for Saints affected with idiopathic epilepsy, bloat (GVD) and osteosarcoma.   As critical research is already underway to give us effective tools for looking for the mutations in IE and bloat with the HI Bloat Initiative, we ask your help in starting a campaign to get blood samples to the repository.  If you know of anyone (even non-members) who has had a dog affected with these diseases, please contact the owners and ask that they contribute a sample.

More information can be found at http://www.caninehealthinfo.org/dnabank.html   This is such an important tool for all breeders – think of where we could be now if this had been available to us old timers 30-40 years ago! Those of you who belong to the local clubs – how about organizing a blood draw at one of your shows or meetings?  Perhaps this could be a coordinated effort with our Local Club Liaison.  And don’t forget the National – it’s free and convenient at the National!

Health Initiative and Charitable Donations for Research:  Dr. Ivan Palmblad is in charge of the HI, assisted by Bobbie Bustos with fundraising. This is ongoing and was created as a fundraising arm of the SBCA Charitable Foundation for health and research. The primary goal is to raise enough funds so that the SBCA can support critical research pertinent to the Saint Bernard. An example is our $50,000 donation to the AKC-CHF’s bloat study.

Now more than ever we need your support. In a few years we may be in a position to have a very good chance to look for the genes that cause IE, bloat and osteosarcoma. When that time comes, each study to identify the gene involved for the Saint Bernard could cost an average of between $50,000 to $70,000.  A lot of money?  Yes. Can we raise it? Absolutely! But it will take time. If we get started now, we will be ready when the opportunity comes to look for these mutations. These tests will give us the opportunity to stop some of the deadliest diseases in our breed in their tracks.

Your donations to the HI are tax deductible.  You may also donate to the AKC- CHF Donor Advised Fund, however the one main advantage to donating to the SBCA’s Health Initiative is that it allows us to fund worthy programs that are not run through the CHF. We are also looking at accepting targeted gifts which until now we have not been able to do. At first glance it may seem that we have a large nest egg – approximately $70,000. It is tempting to want to use this money rather than have it sit there, to want to put it to work. But we have resisted the temptation to fund smaller worthy projects. Why? Genetic mapping is expensive! It is anticipated that most breeds will have unique mutations causing the IE signs.

This means we have to fully fund our own research. Examples of some associated costs: epilepsy study using next generation sequencing is over $85,000; identifying the genetic cause of epilepsy, over $106,000; epilepsy mapping/linkage research is over $60,000. In addition, we may want to support the next generation of bloat research as the researchers narrow down the causes, as well as fund osteosarcoma studies which may be Saint specific as well.  So you can see that the funds are NOT as plentiful as may first appear in the SBCA’s financial reports and to the contrary, we need every dollar spent on work that will benefit our breed the MOST. This is our goal – to be able to support critical research specific to OUR breed when the time comes. We are not close yet, but we can attain this goal if we are careful about the use of funds and convince people like you that our goals are worthy of your gift.

Health Survey:  Lynn Jech is in charge of this project. We ask that you all take a few minutes to complete this easy survey when it is available in the near future. It will take less time to complete than scratching off winning numbers in the lotto – and it will truly benefit our breed! It will consist of just a few questions asking about the general health of your dog(s). In addition, if you are a breeder, we are hoping that you will enlist the help of your puppy buyers as well by having them sign up for this yearly questionnaire so that we can monitor the health of our beloved breed into the future. One does not have to be a member of the any club in order to help our breed. This data will also help us determine more accurately the prevalence of diseases and help track whether or not the conditions are becoming more prevalent over time. We’ll be able to track life spans and we can then better determine how to improve them. At this time, the results of the survey will be kept anonymous unless you would like to voluntarily include the AKC number of your Saint(s). Nothing will be disclosed without your permission. We will let everyone know when the survey is being sent out and we sincerely hope you will participate.

Health Data Base: Kelly Golden will oversee this important aspect of our work. This will take some time to establish but as mentioned it will be a very important tool for us to track health issues by providing a Saint’s health history and test results. It will be kept anonymous until such time we have permission to make the information public. We understand this is a sensitive area for everyone.

Grants: Support the breed through our fundraisers and contributions. We understand that every dollar contributed by you should be wisely spent, thus only projects and grants that have a good scientific design will be considered for support. Our decision to support will be based on the disease’s impact on our breed as well as the potential impact of the funded research on understanding and eradicating genetic disease. We will review relevant grant proposals and once we find grants to support, we will recommend our support to the SBCA Board and SBCA Charitable Foundation’s Trustees for final approval before any funds are dispersed.

Educational Material and Seminars: We will provide reading material and website addresses when we can, as well as seminars at the National open to all. We want to initiate a public awareness campaign about these diseases as well as the merits of testing and selective breeding. Part of our educational program will be to provide helpful information on other issues though while not as serious as these mentioned, certainly have an effect on the welfare of our breed. We want serious breeders to be helped as well as the pet owner who simply wants to share their life with a healthy Saint Bernard for a long time. Some informative websites you may wish to peruse at your leisure include: http://www.canine-epilepsy.net/basics/basics_index.html, http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/deptsOncology/owners/OSA.aspx  and http://www.akcchf.org/research/participation-needed/clinical-trials.html

We would like to hear directly from you. Our Health Panel members and contact information are listed below. Tell us about your particular experiences and health concerns. Tell us what testing you do in your breeding program, what testing do you recommend that all breeders perform?  We understand testing can be a very personal and subjective issue, not to mention expensive – we want to explore all viewpoints and we will always value your input and privacy in our decisions for our breed.  We are all in this together.

Our committee –

David Trachtenberg DVM, Chair, drtbergsaint@aol.com
Matt Agnese, mattagnese@me.com
Bobbie Bustos,  roberta.bustos@yahoo.com
Kelly Golden, kmarasaints@q.com
Lynn Jech, jech.saints@juno.com
Brenda McWhorter,  twbrsaints@windstream.net
Ivan Palmblad, cache684@comcast.net
Laura Weiland,  momhassel@aol.com
Cheryl Zappala, czappala@q.com