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Scientists Build Cat Genetic Database to Identify Causes of Disease

17 June 2015

US - The Cornell Feline Health Center recently hosted a visit from Peanut and Motzie (pictured below), two Savannah cats who stopped by the College of Veterinary Medicine to donate blood samples and undergo testing for a feline health screening study for the Feline Biobank.

At 20 pounds and 16.75 inches tall at the shoulder, Motzie is the second tallest cat in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

By donating blood and undergoing examinations by the veterinary specialists at Cornell’s Hospital for Animals, cats like Peanut and Motzie help to build a database of genetic sequences and medical information scientists will use to identify the causes of many inherited diseases of cats, said Biobank director Marta Castelhano.

Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and diabetes mellitus may have some basis in genetics, said Ms Castelhano, and by comparing DNA from cats that have these diseases with DNA from healthy cats, the Biobank hopes to locate the genes responsible.

These answers will help identify cats at risk of disease and may aid in developing more effective treatments, said Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, which helps fund the Biobank.

The Savannah cat is a cross between a domestic cat and a species of wild cat native to Africa called a serval, a breeding that results in a cat with some features of both animals.

The Savannahs are legal to own in Oklahoma, where they live with their owner Deborah-Ann Milette. She said they behave a lot like your typical housecat.

“They’re extremely playful,” said Milette of Peanut and Motzie. “They have a 7 and a half foot high cat tree they can jump on from a dead sit. And Peanut runs around the house with his tail in full fluff chasing phantoms or chasing Motzie.”

Felines of all stripes (and spots) can help with the study, said Ms Castelhano.

Forty-eight healthy domestic cats over the age of 10 are still needed to complete the study, and cats belonging to specific breeds are particularly helpful.

To participate, cats donate a blood sample and undergo a physical exam, blood work, urinalysis, a nutrition exam, an echocardiogram, body measurements, an oncology exam, an eye exam, an oral evaluation, an orthopedic exam and a whole-body computed tomography (CT) scan. The results are useful for the Biobank and are shared with the cat’s veterinarian.

The Cornell team can carry out these specialist exams and DNA sequencing because of the triple strengths of the animal hospital, top-notch research resources and excellent scientists and clinicians working in concert, Ms Castelhano said.

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