Published: 24 Sep 2019 | Last Updated: 10 Aug 2023 10:32:04

In what is believed to be a world-first, researchers have identified the conditions required to generate pluripotent stem cells from domestic cats, a finding which could have significant benefits for feline and human health.

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC), in association with the Animal Health Trust (AHT), The Beryl Evetts and Robert Luff Animal Welfare Trust (BERLAWT) The Winn Feline Foundation and Boehringer Ingelheim, have created these cells as part of a study into feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a common and severe heart condition affecting about 15% of the feline population in the UK; translating to over 1 million cats. It is caused by genetic mutations which affect the heart muscle cells. To date, there are no treatments proven to stop or reverse it, leading to a very poor prognosis for affected cats and significant upset for their owners.

This is partly because a major issue with studying heart diseases at a cellular level is that heart muscle cells do not survive in a laboratory environment. When studying human heart cells, this has been overcome by turning ordinary skin cells into pluripotent stem cells (cells able to turn into any tissue in the body). These are termed ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’, or iPSCs. It is then possible to generate heart muscle cells to study from these iPSCs.

induced pluripotent stem cells
Feline induced pluripotent stem cells can differentiate into cardiac and other cell types. Cells expressing cardiac troponin T (green) and sarcomeric actin (red) as shown in the left image, indicate cardiac differentiation. Also shown (in the right image) are cells expressing βIII-tubulin (red) indicative of neuronal differentiation. Nuclei are stained blue.

The research, carried out by Dr Luke Dutton under the supervision of Professor David Connolly, Dr Jayesh Dudhia and Dr Debbie Guest, as part of his PhD at the RVC in collaboration with AHT, has now identified the conditions required to create iPSCs from domestic cat cells. While creating iPSCs has been done before in wild cats, it is believed that Dr Dutton’s breakthrough in creating iPSCs from domestic cat cells is a world first. This breakthrough sets the scene for further research into how to turn these iPSCs into heart cells and then, once successful, testing drug therapies that could improve outcomes for cats with HCM.

Furthermore, the translational benefits of this project are potentially very significant, as around 1 in 500 people in the UK have HCM, and the condition manifests in humans in the same way. If the therapies that researchers test on feline heart cells turn out to be effective, this sets the stage for testing these treatments on humans.

Funding for the research was provided by BERLAWT, The Winn Feline Foundation and Boehringer Ingelheim.

Dr Dutton, author of the study, said: “This is an incredibly exciting project, which is only made possible by the generous funding of the BERLAWT, Boehringer Ingelheim and The Winn Feline Foundation. Not only is this study the first reported generation of iPSCs from domestic cats, but these cells can now be used in a novel disease model. This will allow us to study the disease processes present in these cats in ways that have not been possible with the ultimate goal of identifying new therapeutic agents that may slow or even stop the disease process. We would then hope to translate these agents into the feline clinic.”

Dr Debbie Guest, Head of Stem Cell Research at the Animal Health Trust, said: “This is the first report on the successful generation of domestic cat iPSCs. These cells not only bring hope to cats suffering from HCM, but allow us to develop new tools to study conditions affecting other tissue types in the future.”

Notes to Editors

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About the RVC

  • The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a constituent College of the University of London.
  • The RVC is ranked as the world’s number one veterinary school in the QS World University Rankings 2019.
  • The RVC offers undergraduate, postgraduate and CPD programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
  • The RVC was the first veterinary school in the world to hold full accreditation from AVMA, EAEVE, RCVS and AVBC, and currently holds full accreditation from RCVS, AVBC and AVMA and conditional from EAEVE.
  • In 2017, the RVC received a Gold award from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the highest rating a university can receive.
  • RVC is a research led institution with 79% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2014.
  • The RVC also provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals: the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital, in central London, and the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (Europe's largest small animal referral centre) and Equine Referral Hospital, both located at the Hertfordshire campus.

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