Posted originally 26 July 2018; UPDATED 30 July 2018
Congratulations to the authors (Lisa Moses, Steve Niemi and Elinor Karlsson) for their commentary in Nature (and pdf, below). In “Pet genomics medicine runs wild” these authors have done a great job describing the myriad challenges related to genetic testing in pets. In fact, their concerns reflect those underpinning the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) initiative - the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (HGTD). The IPFD, together with an impressive team of Partners and Collaborators (national kennel clubs, animal industries, veterinary, academic, welfare and other organizations) and our Leadership Sponsor Genetic Test Providers (GTPs), is providing a practical and effective tool to support consumers, veterinarians and researchers. However, as we face these challenges, it is important to not lose sight of the phenomenal potential for genetic testing to support health, well-being and welfare in dogs, as well as aspects of human-dog interactions.
Although the authors of the commentary justifiably call for this segment to have some controls, at the moment, there is no regulatory body that has the authority to impose standards on this burgeoning and unregulated industry - especially not on an international basis or in a timely fashion. Rather than waiting for consensus on controls, the IPFD (an independent, non-profit, registered in Sweden), together with our Partners, Collaborators and experts, as well as concerned GTPs, has created a platform that will provide the foundation to address many of the concerns raised in the Nature article.
The HGTD is firstly a database of GTPs who are voluntarily providing details about their 'quality' - in terms of their people and expertise, accreditation, sample handling, provision of counseling, etc. We are working with OMIA (the recognized registry of test discovery), as well as researchers at the cutting edge of genetics and genomics, to compile accurate information on tests, their validation and appropriate application. This development provides transparency for current practices, allows for critical evaluation of tests and test-providers, and supports a move to identifying best practices. Making this available to the public, veterinarians and breeding advisors is a huge step forward. Please check out the HGTD resource here and note our impressive and committed group of Sponsors and Collaborators.
While it is important to embrace the cautions being raised in the Nature commentary and subsequent articles (WBUR and Science), it is crucial to recognize that there are many good quality GTPs; and many tests with the potential to support individual dog health and/or breed population health. Sometimes the challenge is that the test is not being applied properly. Consumers and even veterinarians may have trouble navigating this complex and rapidly changing world of genetics and genomics – and this also underlines the need for HGTD and collaborative and supportive tools. As in the human world, it is important that consumers understand why they are requesting a test and that professionals are prepared to advise them on the appropriate application in each situation. Various genetic tests and analyses can be applied for identification, forensics, to determine ancestry, for screening for future disease, or for informing diagnosis, therapy or prognosis. But test selection, test-provider selection, the breed and individual circumstances all come to bear on appropriate application and interpretation. In the case of Petunia (in the Nature commentary), the authors suggest that the decision making was not ideal; this may have been influenced more from the way the test was applied (diagnostically in a sick dog rather than as screening test) and interpreted than based on whether it was a good test, accurately performed. (It should be noted that we do not have information on the full aspects of Petunia's case and should not judge the veterinarian or owner based solely on this information; however, we can perhaps accept the author's concerns.) The IPFD has designed and is in the process of looking for funding for additional tools, including an interactive, online module on direct to consumer (DTC) testing to help clients and veterinarians to clarify why they are planning to do a test or tests and how they hope to use the results. The existing and expanding HGTD platform will provide the backdrop, providing needed resources and information to support decision making.
The HGTD development is a work in progress and we are continuing to enroll GTPs and expand our information relative to genetic counseling. Many of our Partners and Collaborators are continually expanding their own educational resources. For example, the American Kennel Club – Canine Health Foundation, in addition to supporting the HGTD, also is providing training for genetic counselling in their residency programs for theriogenology. The IPFD is assembling a cadre of experts from across our stakeholder and discipline groups and have other proposals in the works for efficient and effective support - starting with online interactive 'triage' all the way up to referral to experts.
There is a huge task at hand, and it will take more than a village, but we believe that IPFD, as an independent, multi-stakeholder and international organization is in a position to make a difference. We are working closely with others, including the Hereditary Disease Committee of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, other veterinary groups, as well as breeder organizations and industry; highlighting the important work they have been and continue to be doing, as well as to improving collaborative efforts. Paraphrasing and building on one of our collaborator’s comments in the WBUR article, we share an ultimate vision: DNA testing done in high-quality, dependable laboratories to high standards, with data being used and shared in a way that accelerates discovery, and provided to consumers who understand the process, with appropriate counseling and support from professionals, and breeders can use this information to make healthy dogs.
We are grateful for the ongoing interest in this important area of genetics and genomics, and for the coverage we have had for the HGTD across various sectors. We welcome additional participant GTPs, more collaborators from any stakeholders concerned with dog health and welfare, the advice of experts, the participation of breed clubs and other consumer groups. And we stand ready to provide more information to ongoing discussions. Please feel free to contact us as we work together for healthy dogs and to support those who breed and own them: Dr. Brenda Bonnett, CEO IPFD at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or HGTD Project Director, Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi, at email@example.com.
UPDATE 30 July 2018:
It is important to note that no matter how advanced the technology, or how accurate and valid DNA tests might be, breeding for healthy dogs can never be based primarily or exclusively on such test results. Looking for a 'silver bullet' is inappropriate when dog breeding must consider a wide array of inputs. Readers are directed to an excellent article posted by our partners in the Finnish Kennel Club (find English translation and link here).
Another reminder of the need for a broad perspective on genetic and genomic research and testing is also seen in a comment, below, from Gregoire Leroy, an expert collaborator of IPFD.
The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) is a non-profit organization, registered in Sweden, and initiated in 2014 by a diverse group of stakeholders in the international dog world. The IPFD mission is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of resources to enhance the health, well-being, and welfare of pedigreed dogs and all dogs worldwide. Visit the IPFD online at www.dogwellnet.com for more information.
UPDATE 03 October 2018:
IPFD Collaborators Gregoire Leroy, and Katariina Mäki, as well as IPFD CEO Brenda Bonnett published a short reaction to the previous commentary, in Nature: Leroy, et al, Nature 562, 39 (2018)
Nature Moses and Karlsson_July 2018.pdf