After you’ve taken care of that, I’d like to start my first series as part of Tuesday Thoughts. Yes, a series is the cure I’ve invented for an unexpected hiatus from blogging for 3 weeks. Here we go… This series will cover the projects I’m working on in lab. And, yes, it can be a series because I’m currently working on more projects than I can count on one hand. #too many
We’ll start with my first solo project, which I’m clearly excited about because it gets to be first in the series. In this study, I am exploring the incidence of impaired social behavior in miniature and standard poodles. Clearly, a study as random-sounding as this deserves a little background:
My lab here at MU primarily studies autism spectrum disorders, which are a collection neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by the presence of impaired social abilities, communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors (think hand-flapping). My adviser is an MD, who sees patients in clinic who have autism. He also happens to be married to a former dog show handler. We’re talking Westminster, Eukanuba, etc – the big leagues. Offhandedly, my adviser’s wife mentioned some unique qualities she’d seen in some poodles: they displayed poor eye contact, they had difficulty communicating needs to their owner or handler, or they had strange habits that seemed repetitive.Wow. Does that sound familiar?
Now, it’s important that I make myself clear. We are not saying that there are autistic poodles running around out there. But what we are saying is, “Hey, if there are some genetic differences between the autistic-like poodles and the non-autistic-like ones, we may be able to get one step closer in figuring out the genetic underpinnings of autism.” This kind of thinking drives many aspects of animal model research. But what’s so exciting is how much more similar we as humans are to dogs, rather than to mice or rats.
Well, are there genetic differences? Hopefully time will tell. Right now we are collecting data and waiting to hear if we got a grant that would allow us to do genetic analyses. What’s unique about this project is the impact it could have if we find something interesting. We would not only contribute to autism research but also learn more about dog behavior and how to help dogs with social impairments. Everybody wins. Now who doesn’t like that?
[This post was originally published at my previous blog, Neurolore.]