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Multi-million dollar lifetime study of golden retrievers may unlock canine cancer cure

AUSTIN (KXAN) - A multi-million dollar, long-term study designed to give researchers a deeper look into the lives of golden retrievers could also reveal more about certain cancers and the life-saving drugs patients use. A handful of Austin-area dogs are already in the massive study.

One of them is 4-year-old Winnie, who lives in Austin.

"She is wild and playful and sweet," said Holly Deshields, Winnie's owner. "The tennis ball is her absolute best friend."

Deshields enrolled her pooch into the study as a puppy shortly after the family lost Winnie's half-brother Gunnar to a heart murmur.

"There was no sign that anything was wrong with Gunnar," said Deshields. "We got home one evening after dinner and he was 20 months old and he'd passed away in our backyard."

Gunnar's condition is just one that the study may explain, but it is primarily designed to give researchers an in-depth view of canine cancer.

Golden retrievers have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease. Veterinarians like Dr. John Faught, who runs Firehouse Animal Health Center, said this is the right breed to examine.

"The cool thing [the study could find] will be: do vaccines have a problem? Do the drugs have a problem? Do certain diets have a problem? Does living in certain parts of the country have a problem?" said Dr. Faught, who enrolled a few golden retrievers into the study.

The study will last the complete lifespan of all 3,000 dogs, between 12 and 14 years. It could also reveal some things about Austin.

"I think we're going to learn so much out of this study," Dr. Faught said. "You're going to learn a lot about diseases in general and cancer in general that's going to extrapolate over to human health care."

Researchers say they also picked golden retrievers to study because their owners tend to be extremely devoted. In addition to answering a lengthy questionnaire every year, they are required to track and trace everything about their pooch. And the dog must go through a full health examination a couple times annually. That information is then submitted to researchers.

Deshields said the paperwork is a small price to pay for the answers the study could yield.

"It's completely worth it. It has not been a hardship," she said. "I hope it's understanding more of what happened to Gunnar."


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