Scientists transforming dog health win International Canine Health Awards

Scientists deemed to be leading lights in the field of canine genetic research, oncology and eye disease, and a postgraduate student aiming to reduce the number of deaths caused by a deadly auto-immune disease, have received one of the largest veterinary awards in Europe for the role they have played in transforming dog health.

The International Canine Health Awards, run by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and held on 25th June at the 8th International Conference on Advances in Canine and Feline Genomics, were presented to Dr Cathryn Mellersh, Head of Canine Genetics at the Animal Health Trust; Professor David Argyle, Head of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh; Professor Sheila Crispin, now semi-retired but who has devoted her life to comparative eye disease as a researcher and clinician; and James Swann, Senior Clinical Training Scholar in Small Animal Internal Medicine at the Royal Veterinary College.

The winners were given prize money to further their work in the field of canine research, underwritten by a major gift from Vernon and Shirley Hill of Metro Bank. Professor Mellersh and David Argyle were each awarded £20,000 for their International Awards, Sheila Crispin was awarded £10,000 for the Lifetime Achievement Award and James Swann was granted £5,000 for the Student Postgraduate Award.

Launched at Crufts in 2012, the International Canine Health Awards were developed to recognise and reward innovative researchers, veterinary scientists and students who are significantly impacting the health and well-being of dogs. The awards are judged by a panel of influential representatives from the veterinary profession and the world of scientific research. The winners have won awards for their work in the following areas:

Dr Cathryn Mellersh

Speaking about the award, Dr Mellersh said: "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."

Professor David Argyle 

Speaking about the award, Professor Argyle said: "Cancer is a disease that has a devastating impact on both the dog and human populations and I am honoured that my work has enabled me to develop a greater understanding of how the disease develops and spreads. I am very proud that this work has been recognised and delighted that the money from the award will enable me to fund a postgraduate student to study the protein we have identified as causing the spread of cancer, enabling us to take this vital research to the next level. This will have huge implications not only for dogs, but potentially for humans as well, meaning that dogs really are a man's best friend."   

Professor Sheila Crispin

Speaking about the award, Professor Crispin said: "I have devoted much of my life to the fascinating world of comparative ophthalmology and dogs, in particular, have figured very prominently in my endeavours. I am privileged and honoured to receive such a prestigious award. My work will continue but the crowning achievements of my research career have been delivering papers to medical and scientific audiences at international conferences in the UK and abroad, primarily on advances in our understanding of lipid disorders in animals and humans.

"I must, however, also mention the joys of clinical work, restoring sight and helping many animals enjoy a better quality of life, be it orphan elephants in Kenya with a variety of ocular problems, animals with cataracts (including a gorilla) and other sight limiting conditions, or a blind Border Collie on a remote island in the Faroes. This most generous award will enable me to continue to visit remote areas to help tackle the many eye diseases of the local animal inhabitants."

James Swann

James said: "I am honoured to receive such a prestigious award for work that I am so passionate about. IMHA is a disease that has a horrible impact on the dogs that suffer from it and, thanks to the Kennel Club Charitable Trust funding, I have been able to research the immunological disturbances underlying the disease. At the moment, treatment is based on steroid medications that cause a large number of side effects and are not always effective in dogs. 

"With the money from this award, I intend to look at therapies used in human medicine and I hope to be able to learn more about adoptive transfer of cells that regulate the immune system as a possible treatment option for autoimmune diseases."

Mike Townsend, Chairman of Trustees at the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, which runs the awards, said: "The winners of these awards have been behind some of the most important breakthroughs in our understanding of canine diseases in recent years. Their ongoing work in their respective fields will have huge implications for the health of dogs in the future and, in many cases, for the human population as well.

"These winners are also remarkable for the time and dedication they have shown to sharing their knowledge and expertise with others. We could not have hoped for more deserving winners and we thank them for helping us to transform dog health through science and genetics."

Vernon Hill, Founder and Chairman of Metro Bank, and Shirley Hill, whose foundation provides the prize funds for the award winners 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 the winners to further their truly innovative research. 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."

Notes to Editors

The International Canine Health Awards are run by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and are underwritten by a major gift from Vernon and Shirley Hill of Metro Bank.

The awards were 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.

The Kennel Club Charitable Trust
Was established in 1987 and has provided grants of over £9m to a range of organisations and charities, with more than half of this money distributed in the last six years.

The Trust awards grants to organisations to help them to achieve its objective of 'making a difference for dogs' and supports work with dogs across three distinct areas:

  • Science - funding research into health problems in dogs
  • Support - helping to train dogs to help human beings
  • Welfare - providing funds for dogs that need help or rescue

To donate to the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, text KCCT15 and the amount you wish to donate (e.g. £5) to 70070.

Metro Bank

Vernon Hill is the founder and chairman of Metro Bank, the UK's first new High Street bank in more than 100 years. The revolutionary bank currently has 16 stores across London and the Home Counties, with plans to expand to 200 by 2020.  Metro Bank operates retail hours, not banking hours. It is open seven days a week (8am- 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am - 6pm Saturday, 11am - 5pm Sunday and bank holidays), every day of the year apart from Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

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Vernon and Shirley Hill, and Sir Duffield, their Yorkshire Terrier, have a deep commitment to the veterinary community including:

  • Sponsorship of The University of Pennsylvania World Veterinary Award
  • Sponsorship of The Hill Pavilion at The University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School
  • Vernon is Chairman of Petplan America
  • Ongoing support of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home
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