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Scientist at Work: Kimberly Greer

Much like humans, dogs also vary in their longevity. Indiana University East Assistant Professor of Biology Kimberly Greer hopes to learn why some dogs live a long time and others do not. And since dogs and their human owners have many genes in common, what Greer learns in dogs may teach us new things about why some humans live until 100 while others barely make it past 50.

Kimberly Greer

Kimberly Greer

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Greer recently received a grant from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation to study a disease of major consequence to a beloved breed -- pug dog encephalitis (also known as necrotizing meningoencephalitis), which causes seizures, blindness and usually death. In her project, "DRB, DQA, and DQB Gene Sequencing and Allele Determination in the Pug Dog," Greer is looking for variants of three genes that are suspected to play a role in the disease's development.

Greer's latest grant project is a natural next step in her career. Last year, Greer was the lead author of a Research in Veterinary Science paper, "Heritability and transmission analysis of necrotizing meningoencephalitis in the Pug," which demonstrated the strong likelihood that the pug disease has a genetic basis.

Many specially bred dogs have genetic diseases because of the breeding itself; to accentuate a particular trait, breeders often back-crossed closely related dogs, increasing the likelihood that bad versions of important genes would coalesce in individual dogs.

Earlier this year, Greer was invited to be a part of an international strategic planning panel, The Dog Healthspan Workshop, sponsored by the Keck Foundation and organized by Steven Austad, Ph.D., University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies. The workshop was held in San Antonio, Texas from Feb. 27- March 2. The panel collectively organized and focused efforts toward developing a collaborative and cooperative scientific investigation of healthy longevity in the domestic dog.

Greer runs a busy lab. One of her other current projects is targeting oxidative stress levels and whether they are correlated with dog longevity. Cellular resistance to chemical stressors has been positively correlated with longevity in a variety of mammals, including the hamster, rat, marmoset, rabbit, sheep, pig, cow and human, but similar data is lacking for dogs.

Within-species comparisons, as opposed to across-species comparisons, have showed that cells from long-lived birds have superior defense against oxidative damage when compared to those of short-lived birds. Greer wants to establish the level of oxidative stress resistance in the canine as compared to other mammals, as well as within the species.