As many of you will know the ISCGB has a long relationship with the Animal Health Trust. In 2005 the Canine Genetics Team at the AHT, started working to identify the genetic mutation responsible for the devastating inherited neurological disorder Cerebellar Ataxia (CA) that is known to affect the Italian Spinone.

Dr Cathryn Mellersh, head of the Canine Genetics Team, led this research and was instrumental in obtaining significant funding to supplement amounts raised by the ISCGB, SCOA, ASC and various private donations. At that time, research was far more costly and without this grant it would have taken much longer to raise the amount needed. In 2008 Cathryn’s team announced a breakthrough in identifying the gene, and went on to develop the test for Cerebellar Ataxia in the Italian Spinone, what amazing news. At last breeders could use a test that gave a 95-97% accurate result to determine the CA status of their breeding stock.

In the meantime, a study to find out the "Prevalence of idiopathic epilepsy in the Italian Spinone" was ongoing. The close relationship with the AHT Genetics Team continued with owners and breeders supporting the study by sending DNA samples of affected dogs and non-affected for a control group. Dr Mellersh, Chris Jenkins and Dr Sally Rickets and neurologist Dr Luisa de Risio have all supported our wonderful breed with updates at breed forums. Dr de Risio also freely offered advice to GP vets regarding medication for seizuring Spinone dogs.

Sadly, on the 31st July this year the AHT closed its doors for the last time making all staff employed by them redundant.

The Genetics Centre was funded by the Kennel Club and the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, they had invested substantial amounts of money into the Genetics Centre to help geneticists improve the health of purebred dogs. One of the main priorities for Dr Mellersh was to safeguard all the thousands of DNA samples stored at the AHT and the continuation of their very precious work. Their move has now been confirmed but will take time as the wheels of big organisations take time especially when large amounts of money are involved. The limitations imposed by COVID have also delayed this move. The genetics team visited Cambridge in November to finalise the new laboratory space and were very positive about the future.

Dr Mellersh hopes that it won’t be too long before they are up and running and that Spinone breeders will continue to use their DNA testing service once it is established, not least because any profits will be re-invested in to canine genetics research. Dr Mellersh is very conscious that breeders have had to wait a very long time and many must need to test their dogs urgently.  In the interim I am contacting several DNA Testing companies recommended by the Kennel Club to request their protocols and costs for developing a CA DNA test.

Investigating epilepsy in the Spinone is one of the new Genetics Centre’s very top priorities going forward and as such they have ring fenced funds that are available to Chris Jenkins, as part of his PhD funding, to this project and just as soon as they are established in their new home work will resume. For years many people have made donations to the Italian Spinone Health Fund which was held at the AHT. Unfortunately, all AHT funds previously ring fenced for specific purposes are no longer available. Sadly, this may include any funds remaining in the ISCGB health fund. The committee has asked the Honorary Treasurer to contact the liquidators to find out the current position on this.

Elaine Kirkham ISCGB Health Co-ordinator