Publishing Health Data Using Open Access, Customised Online Platforms, and the Benefits to Researchers, Breeders, and the Public
The Kennel Club has been recording and publishing health test results for DNA tests and the British Veterinary Association/Kennel Club Health Schemes (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and eye schemes) since 1965 in firstly the Kennel Club Gazette and latterly the Breed Record Supplement. The Kennel Club initially launched Online Services to provide general health information. Then in May 2011, the bespoke online interface, Mate Select, was established specifically to publish and disseminate breed population and health data recorded on the Kennel Club Breed Register. Now, 2 years on, Mate Select, as an online publication resource, is being reviewed with the objective to establish what, if any, impact this method of health data reporting has had on the accessibility of canine health information.
Prior to the launch of Mate Select, it had been recognised that while publishing health information was valuable to dog breeders, there were numerous practical limitations to doing so in hard-copy publications, such as the Breed Record Supplement. A primary limitation being that this form of publication is not open-access or easily searchable - particularly over time. Records were published in the quarterly Breed Record Supplement at an average of approximately 40,000 individuals each year. Conversely, Mate Select is a free, unrestricted online interactive tool that receives approximately 300,000 searches each month, designed to provide breeders with free, accessible health information for individual dogs. This provides access to any breeder, enabling them to make informed choices that can have a positive impact on the health of any potential puppies produced, as well as the breed in general. The system was produced with expansion in mind and is able to accommodate advances in molecular and population genetics. All of the results published are linked to each individual dog's record within the Kennel Club database, allowing imputation using customisable, defined criteria for ongoing assessment and monitoring. This resource is particularly useful as guidance when prioritising health conditions or establishing breeding restrictions such as Kennel Club DNA Control Schemes.
Mate Select in its current state is divided into tools that reflect an individual dog's health (such as gene test results), and resources for considering breed-wide implications of individual mating selections, such as inbreeding. Together, this provides dog breeders with efficient and practical resources for reducing the risks of specific heritable condition and incorporating inbreeding and genetic bottle-neck mitigation strategies into their breeding plans, particularly in the selection of breeding stock. The Health Test Results Finder, which manages over 100,000 online searches each month, publishes all health results for approximately 80 breed-specific, individual single-gene mutation DNA tests. BVA/KC Health Schemes published records currently consist of over 260,000 hip scores, 21,000 elbow scores, 116 Chiari malformation/syringomyelia (CM/SM) scores (introduced in 2012), as well as the results for over 134,000 clinical eye examinations. Recording of either DNA test results or clinical examination "schemes" is expandable under the system and allows for improvements to the confirmation of data - such as parentage profiling (in the case of assigning hereditarily clear status) and notations where examined dogs have been microchip-confirmed for DNA tests. In addition, the data yielded from dogs undergoing clinical examination schemes allows for the development of tools for the future, such as estimated breeding values (EBVs). Linking the data to a pedigree or dog registration record adds confidence to the examination status recorded and allows the population geneticist to review scheme uptake and results to calculate a threshold at which EBVs for a population can be developed with confidence. Publication of tools that require frequent updating and recalculation, such as EBVs, would be impossible without an online interface.
By definition, the development of a breed creates a population that can be increasingly limited without outcrossing or otherwise introducing new genes into the system. Therefore, tools that can provide a means to slow the rate of inbreeding and/or reduce individual litter inbreeding coefficients are of value to dog breeders. Mate Select tools, developed in conjunction with the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust, provides three coefficient of inbreeding (COI) "calculators": Breed COI, Individual (dog) COI, and the Mating COI. For the dog breeder, the tool most practical is the Mating COI calculator. This allows dog breeders to perform hypothetical matings using a dam and sire they are considering to estimate the inbreeding coefficient for the resulting puppies. This number can then be compared to the breed average (which is provided for comparison after each search), to encourage breeding below the breed average and thus a decrease in the overall degree of inbreeding. This is, again, a resource that would be impossible without an interactive online interface. In the long term, breed-wide COI data can be assessed to monitor change and encourage improvement.
In summary, by recording health test results against pedigree data, Mate Select provides a robust, diverse and unique data resource that enables the public to make informed decisions. Using a freely accessible, searchable, and interactive interface has significant advantages over hard-copy publication. There is every indication that publishing health test results allows for the reduction or elimination of some heritable diseases, and therefore any robust method that makes this information more efficient and available is to every dog's benefit. Although it is too early to determine the full impact that Mate Select has had on the health of the UK canine population, it is hoped that through improved accessibility and transparency of published test results, breeding trends toward the production of healthier dogs will occur more rapidly.