You Snooze, We Win

Narcoleptic DobermanHave you ever seen a narcoleptic dog? I haven’t, but these researchers at Stanford have had more than 80 of them over three decades of research — now they’re working with Zebra Fish. (I had no idea there were narcoleptic fish.) But unlike most poor lab-research subjects, these dogs have also found home in the hearts of their researchers as they have made a significant impact on the study of narcolepsy (you can see some videos of their research). They have traveled with the researchers, appeared on TV, and have been adopted to live a fulfilling life. The article talks about the challenges of mating a narcoleptic dog (when they get excited, they fall asleep. I know lots of women who wish that their… nevermind.) and how they have even made the cover of research papers.

Even in research papers, Dr. Mignot referred to the dogs by name, not number. “We really felt we had a personal connection with the dogs,” he says.

The search for a cure took a leap in 1999 when Dr. Mignot, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and his colleagues discovered a gene in the Stanford dogs’ DNA that causes narcolepsy.

“The dogs laid the foundation for much of our current thinking about narcolepsy,” says Thomas Scammell, a sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston.

The landmark paper describing the discovery of the narcolepsy gene was published in the journal Cell in August 1999; a picture of a Doberman pinscher was on the cover, with “Prancer” (from the Santa’s reindeer litter), inscribed on his collar.

Take a look at a YouTube clip of a narcoleptic dog. It’s cute, and sad at the same time. Only if all animal research could be so humane.

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