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The Animal Health Trust (AHT; is a charity, and a research institute, that has been helping dogs, cats and horses for more than half a century. The AHT provides specialist veterinary clinical, diagnostic and surgical services, and is dedicated to the study of canine, equine and feline diseases.

The AHT Oncology Research Group needs the help of Poodle owners and breeders to collect samples for a project seeking to identify one, or more, inherited genetic mutations that are responsible for Poodles having an increased risk of developing melanomas. The research is a collaborative project involving scientists from 6 centres in 4 countries, and is part of the European Union-funded LUPA project, a 4-year initiative involving 20 veterinary schools from 12 European countries.

Melanomas are about 4% of all tumours in dogs, and arise from cells (containing the pigment melanin) that occur in the skin (‘cutaneous melanoma’), in the mouth (‘oral melanoma’), under toe nails (‘ungual melanoma’), and in the eye (‘ocular/uveal melanoma’).

The severity of a melanoma depends upon location, and >55% of cutaneous melanomas are benign. Oral melanomas are most likely to spread (to the lymph nodes and lungs). Surgery and radiotherapy (when surgery is not possible) are effective treatment options when a melanoma has not spread.

Chemotherapy is not an effective therapy for tumours that have spread. A DNA vaccine to protect against melanoma has been undergoing safety trials at several centres in the United States. The DNA vaccine is designed to stimulate production of antibodies against a protein involved in the synthesis of melanin.

While melanomas occur rarely in many dog breeds, a number of breeds develop these cancers more often. Black coated breeds appear to be more susceptible to developing cutaneous melanomas, and Poodles are amongst several breeds that appear to have an increased risk of developing oral melanomas.

In the long term, it is hoped that the research will lead to the development of tests to identify dogs that carry the gene mutations conferring an increased risk. This information will be useful to vets as it will identify dogs who may benefit from careful monitoring for early detection of cancer, and thereby early treatment. These tests will also assist breeders to reduce the incidence of dogs affected with these cancers. The research will also increase understanding of how these tumours develop, ultimately assisting the development of new therapies.

Dr. Mike Starkey 
Oncology Research Group 
March 2009

Poodle owners can help this project as follows:

If your dog has a suspected melanoma:

Collect a blood sample, OR cheek swab sample, and send it to Lisa Jeffery (at the address below).

If your vet is taking a blood sample for a clinical reason, ask the vet to save a surplus sample (1-2ml) in an EDTA tube.

Contact us (details below) to request a cheek swab kit

Collect a small piece (3-5mm cube) of the biopsy of the suspected tumour (normally removed for diagnostic histopathology) and send it to Lisa Jeffery (at the address below) 

If you have advance notice of the vet removing a biopsy, contact us to ask for a special solvent (‘RNAlater’), in which to collect the small piece of tissue, to be sent to the vet

Ask the vet to place a small piece of the biopsy of the suspected tumour in a freezer, and then ask the vet to contact us to ask to be sent a special solvent (‘QIAzol’) in which to transport the piece of tissue
B). If your dog does not have cancer (and has not had cancer) and is at least 7 years old:


Collect a blood sample, OR cheek swab sample (as explained above) and send it to Lisa Jeffery (at the address below) 

Please let us know if your dog develops cancer within the following 4 years 


For any queries or more information about the project, please contact:


Dr Mike Starkey (Tel: 011 44 1638 555603;



To submit a blood sample, or request a cheek swab kit or an RNAlater\QIAzol sample collection tube, please contact:


Lisa Jeffery ( Tel: 011 44 1638 751000, extension 1214;



Please send blood and tumour samples in padded envelopes labelled "Animal Pathogen - importation authorised by licence number AHZ/2026A/2004/2 issued under the Importation of Animal Pathogens Order 1980".

Animal Health Trust, Lanwades Park, Kentford, Newmarket, Suffolk, CB8 7UU, UK.


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