Dr Cathryn Mellersh, International Award winner 2015

Dr Cathryn Mellersh, from the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, has won one of three awards available as part of the largest and most prestigious veterinary awards in Europe for her canine genetics research, which has significantly improved our understanding of inherited diseases in dogs and enabled the development of numerous DNA tests.

Dr Mellersh, who has a degree and PhD in genetics from the Universities of Newcastle Upon Tyne and the University of Leicester respectively, and who now works as the Head of Canine Genetics at the Animal Health Trust, has won the coveted International Canine Health Awards in the category of International Award.

The awards, run by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and underwritten by  a major gift from Vernon and Shirley Hill of Metro Bank, highlight those individuals who go one step further to promote the health and wellbeing of dogs through their work in the world of veterinary science.

Dr Mellersh has won the award for the work that she has carried out in understanding the inheritance of diseases in dogs, which has enabled her and her team, who work at the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust, to develop DNA tests for breeders to use, to prevent the spread of disease mutations to future generations.

In total her team has identified 18 different genetic mutations responsible for inherited diseases in dogs, which has led to the development of DNA tests for 32 different breeds. The DNA tests, which have now been used to genotype over 68,000 dogs from 50 different countries, make it possible to determine which dogs are carrying the mutations, that could be passed to their offspring were they to be bred from, thus reducing the prevalence of a large number of diseases.

The DNA tests that have been developed are for several different inherited eye diseases, including progressive retinal atrophy, glaucoma and cataracts, and also a number of neurological disorders, including ataxia and sensory neuropathy. Much of Dr Mellersh’s research has been funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust alongside additional funding bodies, Breed Clubs and individuals.

Speaking about the award, she said: “I have been a dog lover all of my life, continually fascinated by the unique relationship dogs have with humans and have always believed that we have a responsibility towards this species that we have shaped to fit our lives.

“Receiving this award is a real honour and I feel privileged to have built a career combining both my love of dogs and genetics. My research has helped to prevent inherited disorders in purebred dogs, but it may also help us understand inherited diseases in all dogs, and maybe humans too in the future.

“I’m very proud of my team at the Animal Health Trust and what they have achieved so far for the health of the dog and thanks to funding from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust we have been able to use state of the art DNA sequencing to find close to 20 genetic mutations responsible for debilitating health conditions affecting about 35 breeds. This has enabled us to work with breeders to develop tests to ensure they don’t innocently breed dogs who will develop these diseases, helping us to prevent inherited diseases in countless dogs, all over the world.

“The fund from this award will help us to make great strides in sequencing the whole genome of several breeds, as well as assisting our current investigations into idiopathic epilepsy and inherited eye disease in a number of breeds, helping us to make a huge difference to the health of several future generations of dogs.”

The winners of this year’s awards were presented by Mike Townsend, Chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, on Thursday 25th June 2015 at the 8th International Conference on Advances in Canine and Feline Genomics and Inherited Disease, this year organised by the Animal Health Trust. The awards were for the Postgraduate Student, International Award and Lifetime Achievement Award and include prize money of £5,000, £20,000 (for each of the two winners) and £10,000 respectively.

The awards are judged by a panel of influential representatives from the veterinary profession and the world of scientific research. These included Professor Peter Bedford, Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Ophthalmology at London University; Nick Blayney, Veterinary Surgeon and veterinary advisor to the Kennel Club; Professor Robin Franklin, Professor of Stem Cell Medicine at Cambridge University; Professor Alan Kelly, Emeritus Dean, Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Professor Donald Kelly, Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Pathology, University of Liverpool; Professor Bennie Osburn, Emeritus Dean, UC Davies School of Veterinary Medicine and Mike Townsend, Chairman of Trustees, the Kennel Club Charitable Trust.

Mike Townsend, Chairman of Trustees at the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, which runs the awards, said: “Dr Mellersh represents everything that this award is about. She has completely transformed our understanding of dog diseases and our ability to test for life limiting conditions, dramatically improving the lives of dogs. She was amongst the first in the world to identify disease carrying genes in dogs that has enabled the huge advancements in testing and technology that we thankfully have today. Her work is truly transforming dogs’ lives and she is continually showing her passion and commitment by attending breeder seminars and conferences and has published multiple papers about her field of expertise.”

Vernon Hill, Founder and Chairman of Metro Bank, and Shirley Hill, whose foundation underwrites the Awards said: “As dog lovers ourselves, whose business is built around welcoming man’s best friend, we’re very proud to sponsor these prestigious awards and hope that the award money will help Professor Mellersh to further her research and develop more DNA tests to help prevent other dog diseases. The award winners are at the forefront of work that is changing the lives of man’s best friend and we are honoured to be able to support and reward them.”

Nominations are currently being sought for the next awards which will be presented at a ceremony at the Kennel Club in London on 24th May 2017. With a prize fund totalling £65,000, the Kennel Club Charitable Trust is urging people to nominate themselves or their peers by 13th February 2017. The awards will be judged by representatives from the veterinary profession and the world of scientific research, including experts in each of the nominees' selected fields. For more information about how to apply visit the Kennel Club website now.

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