Research project comparing canine and human genome receives significant support from both the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation and corporations

The Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation has awarded Professor Hannes Lohi a four-year grant of €1.5 million to launch a new research project comparing the canine and human genomes with the intention of updating the canine gene map and using it to model human diseases. The project also involves three companies, who have granted the project a total of €500,000.

The goal of Professor Lohi’s research is to generate a new, more comprehensive functional gene map for dogs, and to compare the differences and similarities in the gene maps of dogs and humans. The resulting data will enable the construction of new databases for the international academic community to promote research on dogs and humans. In addition, the new gene map will be used to determine the underlying causes of brain diseases such as epilepsy, psychiatric illnesses and nerve degeneration. Humans and dogs are genetically similar.

“Our research project is expected to have considerable impact. A more detailed canine gene map enables the identification of disease-related genetic mutations also in the gene regulation areas and their effective comparison with the human genome. Many illnesses result from gene regulation disorders. An updated gene map will also enable the re-examination of previous research material. At the same time, the project provides excellent support to many other ongoing international projects, among them a project mapping the entire genome of 10,000 dogs, a project studying the origin of dogs as well as several projects examining behavioural genes. My research group focuses on mapping a variety of brain disorders," explains Professor Lohi.

“The similar updating of the human gene map (the FANTOM project) has been a true international success. The canine project has every chance of success, as it has access to our previously created resources and the canine biobank as well as our key partners, Professor Juha Kere (UH and Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm) and Professor Carsten Daub (Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm), who have both participated in the FANTOM project,” explains Professor Lohi.  

Extra boost from companies

The research project is also unique in terms of its overall funding model, as three companies have pledged funding: Genoscoper Laboratories, Mars Veterinary and MediSapiens Ltd.  Their investment totals €500,000 during the four-year period. “The involvement from the side of the companies speaks of the significance of the project, and the substantial grant from the Erkko Foundation probably helped garner their interest. And of course vice versa! In this way, the project supports the much-desired concrete cooperation between the University and the private sector,” Lohi states.  

Hannes Lohi, professor of molecular genetics, has led a pioneering canine gene research team in Finland from 2006 onwards, mapping disease genes in dogs which can also lead researchers to human disease genes. He works at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Veterinary Medicine as well as the Folkhälsan research centre. The research group will celebrate its ten-year anniversary this coming autumn. The group has previously received a total of €1.5 million in 2009 and 2012 from the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

Further information:
Professor Hannes Lohi, , tel. 0294125085

Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation:

Canine genetic studies: