Dorsetdog - Cavalier Foetal Tissue Research Project

Sheena Stevens wrote on the home page of the FTR website

" What is the Foetal Tissue Research Project?

It was very cold and dark in Devon at three o’clock on a Saturday morning in November 2006 when I got up to go to the International Seminar on Syringomyelia at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire. I listened to Drs Rusbridge, Marino, Jeffery, Deutschland and Flint and by mid afternoon had given up taking notes …

There was one person on the speakers’ table who didn’t say very much but I did catch a chance remark about tissue which triggered my interest – so as everyone was packing up to leave I dropped in to the chair next to her. We had a very brief conversation which went roughly along the lines of, “You want tissue, don’t you?” “Yes, but I can’t get it. I’ve been trying for over a year.” “Who have you tried?” “Vets.” “You’ve been asking the wrong people.” So we exchanged email addresses.

And thus it began … Dr Imelda McGonnell is an embryologist with a research focus on head development and associated birth defects, and an expert in skull and brain development. Projects in her lab involve investigating growth factor influence upon cranial skeletal development. The FTR project fits exactly with other research ongoing in the lab as it investigates a common developmental disorder which occurs in animals and humans and is likely to manifest due to disrupted growth factor signalling. She is pure and impartial science. She told me what she wanted and I worked out how to get it to her.

This is the first piece of research that has been done on foetal tissue, and the hope is that it will prove beneficial to both the dogs and to human sufferers from the condition. The research is ongoing, painstaking, and very thorough. One of the team members at the RVC has a research focus on epilepsy, and there have been requests from a cardiologist for mitral valve tissue … and the research now has broadened to include older dogs – see The Promise …

It is, of course, expensive. The Cavalier Club donated funds for the research, and so did the Kennel Club. Because we had managed to get the research up and running, Dr McGonnell was able to apply to other bodies for some funding – and so it goes on.

But from having started with the proverbial piece of used chewing gum and a length of string, we obtained funding from the RVC for a dedicated Ph.D student … and recently obtained a fellowship grant from The Wellcome Trust … so we must be doing something right!

I can thank a variety of people for the stage we have arrived at already – those who’ve helped with publicity, those who’ve been enthusiastic and supportive, organising events to fund raise – but most of all I have to thank those breeders who have gone the extra mile and donated the tissue."

Sheena Stevens