Why sequence Lil Bub? – 1. For better diagnosis and treatment

Many people have asked us why we want to sequence Lil Bub? To satisfy our scientific ego? Because we can? Well, curiosity is part of it, but there’s much more! First and foremost, because we think it can help pets and humans with traits similar to Lil Bub if we can find the genetic cause(s) of Lil Bub’s special looks. It could help diagnosis and also guide treatment(s).

Lil Bub’s osteopetrosis
Lil Bub has a very rare bone disorder, which has been diagnosed as osteopetrosis. It means that her bones become more dense with age, and when she was about one year old, this bone disease was so painful that she could barely move. Luckily Mike, her owner, was very persistent, and with the advice of fans and specialists, they found a treatment that worked for Lil Bub. It’s called Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy. This is a video about Lil Bub’s miraculous recovery:

Does this mean that her therapy is a good treatment for other cats with osteopetrosis? Does this mean that people with osteopetrosis should also be treated with radiotherapy? Is cat osteopetrosis the same as human osteopetrosis? Currently, the answer is – we don’t know. But if you know what causes the osteopetrosis you can start answering these questions.

Better diagnosis -> better treatment
Think of an infection: there are a bunch of bacteria, which cause symptoms similar to the flu, like fever, headache, loss-of-apetite, a runny nose, coughing…. However, the flu is caused by the influenza virus, which is not a bacteria. Importantly, there’s a class of medication called antibiotics, which are ineffective towards viruses, but can kill bacteria. So if your doctor knows you have a bacterial infection rather than the influenza virus, s/he can prescibe antibiotics, helping you get better quicker. So, knowing what causes your sickness is important. The same concept applies to genetic diseases.

For example, if we knew the cause of Lil Bub’s osteoetrosis, we could check if other cats with similar symptoms have the same mutation. If yes, then maybe the treatment that worked for Lil Bub would also work for these cats. We could also check she shares the same mutation as humans with osteopetrosis. If the mutation is shared it would mean that the origin of the disease is shared, and successful treatments from humans could possibly be applied in cats.

Every piece counts! (Photo by Megan via flickr)

Every piece counts! (Photo by Megan via flickr)

The bigger picture… and why the Lilbubome is part of it
Moreover, every single cat or person, for whom we have a genetic diagnosis and a successful treatment, is like an individual puzzle piece. In the long run, we can start putting these puzzle pieces together for a bigger, more detailed picture: If we have data about the different causes for osteopetrosis and the treatments that work for one form but not another, then more targeted (“personalized”) therapies could be prescribed. This way, sequencing the genome of one little cat can help answer a big problem in diagnosis and health care.

Which is why we need your donation: if we can’t raise the money for the LilBubome we’ll be missing out on this piece of the puzzle. And every little piece counts.

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