An American professor is preparing to market a form of canine gene therapy, which would see dogs injected with substances which switch off the genes that regulate their muscle growth.
Prof Lee Sweeney, from the University of Pennsylvania, has pioneered research into gene transfer technology, a field in which poorly functioning and abnormal genes are manipulated, switched off or replaced.
Ten years ago he created “mighty mice” in the lab with enormous muscles and strength in old age. Now he says experiments on dogs have been so successful that he is preparing to market the treatments to owners of ageing pets across the United States.
He said: “We are now in the final stages of getting all the approvals to offer this through the veterinary hospital as a treatment to try to improve strength in pet dogs.
“As the dogs get weak their owners get upset that they can’t walk around any more. So we’re hoping that within the next year we will begin the era of genetic enhancement in dogs.”
Under the therapy, dogs would be given an injection into the liver of an inhibitor which switches off the gene which produces myostatin, a protein which inhibits muscle growth in animals and humans.
The treatment has passed laboratory trials, but regulatory authorities are now discussing whether the dogs would have to be held in quarantine after treatment, because of possible risks if humans came into contact with their waste after the procedure, Prof Sweeney said.
Scientists hope the same technology could be used in humans, to treat serious genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy.