What is a DNA bank?
A DNA bank, sometimes called a gene bank, is a repository of DNA samples, usually in the form of whole blood. It is a way of storing DNA for long periods against future need. In the case of purebred dogs this usually means saving for future research. If enough samples are on file a research project will not be delayed waiting for dog owners to volunteer samples, a process that can take months or even years. Most studies focus on one or maybe a few breeds, so it is important that every breed have a significant number of samples in a DNA bank. Some breeds do this on their own but costs and long-term administration can be problematic for volunteer-based entities. An alternative is an all-breed DNA bank like that offered by OFA though it’s CHIC program.
Isn’t all DNA I provide on my dog stored somewhere?
Not necessarily. The material submitted for a DNA profiles and parentage verification is not generally unavailable for other purposes and may be stored for a limited time (programs vary). DNA submitted for that purpose usually isn’t in a form that leaves sufficient material for research. Samples given to one study may or may not be available for others. The best way to guarantee that samples are available for future use, particularly after the dog has died, is to submit them to a DNA bank designed to support canine health research in your breed or multiple breeds at any qualified research institution.
If I give DNA from my dog to research, shouldn’t I get the results?
A donation of DNA should be looked upon in the same manner you would a monetary donation to research: A gift to help further the project. Not every project will have concrete results on every dog that could be shared. This isn’t a fault in the research but more to do with the processes and goals of the particular study. Sometimes, if a successful study leads to a DNA test, owners of dogs whose samples were used may be given results but you shouldn’t expect it unless that was a condition agreed to by the researchers regarding ahead of time in regard to all samples submitted, not just yours.
Even if individual results are offered, research can take years; it can be a long time before there is anything to tell you. Contact information can become outdated. If lots of people are involved, the time and expense for individual contact can make it impossible. Articles summing up the research for breed magazines help, but if the results are highly technical that may not happen. Sometimes a project isn’t successful and you probably won’t hear anything because the questions being asked are still open.
The important thing is that you do continue to provide DNA samples for research projects. Even if you don’t hear anything afterward, your contribution was appreciated and you should consider it vital to continuing research.
Why do researchers want samples from healthy old dogs?
Researchers want older healthy dogs to serve as “controls” when they are comparing DNA from dogs known to have cancer to those that do not.
Information on who the samples come from is totally confidential, but when they want to run a set of samples they will select from their cache of older dogs without cancer DNA from dogs that are unrelated at the grandparent level with those of the affected dogs in that particular sample batch. This eliminates the risk of false hits due to DNA that is common due to near relationship. While your dog might not fit in one control batch it could easily do so in another.