The North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine has begun enrolling dogs for a study on Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS), an ocular disease that damages the rods and cones within the retina of an affected dog’s eye. The retina then degenerates and the result is complete blindness, as visual input no longer is transported to the brain via the optic nerve, according to the college.
Freya Mowat, BVSc, Ph.D., Dipl. ECVO, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the vet college, has set out to find out why this happens and how to prevent it in her study, “Defining the effect of immune-mediated damage to the pineal gland in the etiopathogenesis of Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome in dogs.” The two-year research study is funded by a $30,000 grant from the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists Vision for Animals Foundation.
“Veterinarians have diagnosed Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome for more than three decades but we still don’t understand it well enough to try to develop effective treatments,” Dr. Mowat said. “Several theories have been advanced but without definitive results. How can we treat SARDS if we don’t understand what causes it?”
Mowat wants to investigate the possible role the dog’s immune system and hormones play in the disease. Her thinking, according to the college, is that the dog’s immune system attacks its own body tissue — the eye and parts of the brain that control hormone release. The study seeks to better understand the underlying mechanisms of the ocular disease by examining the presence of self-antibodies to the pineal gland and its function in animals with SARDS.
“We plan to look for signs of autoimmunity in the blood, and connect that with blood levels of melatonin — a hormone made in the brain,” Mowat said. “If melatonin levels are low in dogs with the disease, we could develop tools to more quickly diagnose the condition so patients that still have some vision can begin treatment at an earlier stage. And knowing the immune system is involved in SARDS will focus our efforts on finding a way of changing the immune system to control the attack, perhaps leading to the development of an effective treatment.”
Mowat and her team will recruit and compare dogs with SARDS to dogs with two similar diseases — progressive retinal atrophy, which is a slowly developing inherited form of blindness, and the endocrine disease Cushing’s disease or pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism, whose sufferers do not routinely experience visual dysfunction, the college noted.
A pilot treatment trial may run concurrently for SARDS patients.
Enrollment for the study will conclude Oct. 31, 2017.
For details, visit the website.