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Studying dementia in dogs could help humans

Dr. Gregory Pietsch, is an Assistant Professor of Veterinary Medicine, with his dog Utqi, adopted from the shelter in Utgiagvik.
Courtesy of Gregory Pietsch
Dr. Gregory Pietsch, is an Assistant Professor of Veterinary Medicine, with his dog Utqi, adopted from the shelter in Utgiagvik.

Local veterinarians are hearing about a new study that could help older dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Veterinary Medicine are hoping to advance studies on a drug that could help older dogs, but also translate to helping humans with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Dr. Gregory Pietsch, is an Assistant Professor of Veterinary Medicine, and is looking to study a couple of older dogs.

“Canine cognitive dysfunction is a neurodegenerative disease of dogs, and it is basically doggy dementia.”

Pietsch says it is very similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans.

 ”Dogs are actually one of the only natural models for Alzheimer's disease. CCD is so remarkably similar to Alzheimer's disease in how it presents itself, and we're hoping that things we can learn looking at dogs can be translated into helping humans.”

The veterinary school at UAF is launching a study to find older dogs with certain symptoms, like loss of smell.

“We’ll see disorientation in familiar environments, either inside or outside. They may fail to recognize familiar people or animals. Aimless, wandering, forget their training and commands. Sometimes we can see irritability. They're up at night and sleeping during the day, and we'll see loss of control of bodily functions.”

Pietsch says it's probably pretty common, but difficult to measure.

“A lot of times it's not formally diagnosed because there's just not really treatment options for it.”

But that might be changing. And this study is a step toward that. Pietsch is working with a Maryland bio-tech company called NeuroNascent. They are developing a drug to reverse neurological disorders.

“We call it Cajuvinate, which is canine juvenation or rejuvenation. It's definitely an experimental drug. It's novel.”  It's been patented by NeuroNascent.

Judith Kelleher-Andersson, PhD, NueroNascent Founder and CEO says the drug works like no other, so it's what's called a First In Category therapeutic.”

“and we hope that could be useful for dogs as well as humans with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's even.”

It is different because, Kelleher-Andersson says, it grows new nerve cells in the brain.

“What we've seen in preclinical models is the new neurons being formed actually survive and become functional, and that's truly unique and that's what we believe Cajuvinate does.”

NeuroNascent, Inc. gave the UAF Department of Veterinary Medicine, and the UA Center for Transformative Research in Metabolism (TRiM), Institute of Arctic Biology a $10,000 grant to find out how much doggy dementia there is in Interior Alaska. The first step is outreach to local veterinarians. The study will officially launch Tuesday night at the Interior Veterinary Medical Association meeting.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.