College News


IVF Puppies: Facts and FAQs

Basic puppy facts

IVF puppies

The birth of seven puppies to an unrelated female at Cornell University marked the first successful use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to produce canine embryos after 40 years of unsuccessful attempts by laboratories around the world.

The puppies were conceived and born at the Baker Institute for Animal Health (Baker) in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell (Cornell CVM). Both are located in Ithaca, NY, USA.

The project that led to the birth was a team effort between Baker/Cornell CVM, the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell (Atkinson) and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI).

The team consisted of assisted reproduction experts, veterinarians, and students from Cornell CVM and the SCBI.

The puppy embryos were created from a series of separate in vitro fertilization events over the last 1.5 years. Eggs were collected from several different moms and semen was collected from several different dads for these pairings. The embryos were then frozen.

The seven puppies born were from the same litter, but were the offspring from three separate in vitro fertilization events, using eggs from three female beagles and semen from one male beagle and one cocker spaniel.

Nineteen embryos were thawed and transferred to a single recipient female, a hound. Seven of the embryos implanted. Pregnancy lasts just a bit over two months in the dog.

The puppies—three females and four males—were born by Caesarian section on July 10, 2015. All seven survived.

Two of the puppies were the result of the beagle-cocker spaniel pair. The rest are purebred beagles.

All of the puppies are normal and healthy.

All of the puppies have been adopted and placed in good homes. The recipient female was spayed and adopted.

The puppies were initially identified by small dabs of colored nail polish on their tails. Here are the colors and their current names:

Cannon (Purple): Male cocker/beagle. Named for Patrick Concannon, a beloved Cornell scientist who was a pioneer in dog and cat reproduction and who passed away in early 2015.

Ivy le Fleur (Zebra): Female cocker/beagle. Nickname is Ivy, as in "I-V," a reference to “in vitro.”

Red (Red): Female beagle/beagle. Named for the “Cornell Big Red” sports teams.

Green (Green): Male beagle/beagle. He’s still going by his color.

Cornellia: (Black): Female beagle/beagle. Nicknamed Nellie. Cornellia is another reference to Cornell. Spoken for, but not yet adopted.

Buddy (Yellow): Male beagle/beagle. Originally called Pete, for “petri.”

Kiwi (Blue): Male beagle/beagle. Called Beaker while at Cornell; adopted by a family that names all of its pets after fruit.

Nellie/Black will be kept at Baker temporarily to allow her to cycle and breed once so the team can evaluate her fertility. (IVF has never been shown to affect the fertility of humans or other animals). Then she will go to her new home.

Maned Wolf Photos, L-R, top to bottom: Two of the seven IVF puppies; African Painted Dog; Maned wolf and Darwin's fox. The last three are among the endangered species whose numbers may be increased using the canine IVF techniques pioneered at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine.

 

 

 

Darwin's Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted Dec. 14, 2015

 

Science FAQS

Why was this project undertaken?

Painted dogThe primary purpose of this research is to develop techniques to help maintain populations and diversity of endangered species. Although the first successful in vitro births were of rabbits, back in the 1950s, and IVF has been a critical tool in the preservation of other species, there has never been a successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) birth of canids (domestic and wild dogs).

Now that there is a successful IVF method for dogs, scientists can apply it in several ways:

  • First and foremost, IVF will greatly increase our ability to conserve the genetics of endangered canid species such as the Red Wolf, Ethiopian wolf, dhole, Darwin’s fox, and African Painted Dog. Sadly, two species of wolf from South America have already gone extinct.
  • The combination of IVF and gene editing technology will enable researchers to attempt to replace or repair the genes responsible for genetic diseases and deleterious traits in canine embryos. Specific breeds of dogs are predisposed to certain illnesses. For example, golden retrievers are predisposed to lymphoma; collies have heritable eye defects, and Dalmations suffer from urinary stones. Gene-editing embryos will help prevent heritable diseases before they occur.
  • Canine embryos also will contribute toward a better understanding of the genetic basis of diseases in dogs and humans. Dogs share more than 350 heritable disorders and traits with humans, almost twice the number as any other species.
  • The method can also be used for breeding domestic dogs. This will be the least common application, used only when people want to breed a specific dog that has a fertility problem. Creating a method to perform IVF will in no way contribute to pet over-population.

What does IVF in domestic dogs have to do with wildlife conservation?

When working on a new group of animals, such as canids, it would be impossible to begin by working on the endangered species themselves. Eggs and sperm can be collected from domestic dogs without harming them, and then serve as a model or starting point for moving the technique to wild dogs. New techniques that can preserve an animal’s ability to produce offspring are needed to help save wild dog species threatened with extinction and the other species that are growing vulnerable to this threat. With these tools, we can help preserve genetic diversity before it is lost forever.

The IVF project drew together a group of highly trained and experienced specialists in assisted reproduction who share a strong interest in wildlife conservation. Lead scientist Dr. Alex Travis is a member of the faculty of the Baker Institute for Animal Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. He is a veterinarian and researcher with a career-long commitment to wildlife conservation and sustainability. His expertise includes reproduction—animal and human—especially the function of sperm. Dr. Travis has worked throughout his career to develop methods to help breeding programs for specific endangered species such as the Asian elephant, and broad groups of animals such as cats and weasels, in addition to dogs.

Dr. Travis is also the Faculty Director for Environment at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. He collaborates with researchers from around Cornell and the world to study and implement large-scale solutions to wildlife conservation that focus on addressing human poverty and hunger. For example, he helps supervise a study to increase chicken egg production in remote areas of Africa to improve human nutrition and conserve wildlife by making people less reliant on hunting.

The Atkinson Center has partnered with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) on a number of projects, including a joint PhD program for graduate (not DVM) students who wish to pursue research related to species and environmental conservation.

Dr. Travis, SCBI scientists, and the first joint graduate student had worked together on a project to help improve the fertility of Asian elephants. In 2014 they worked with SCBI scientists to produce Klondike, the first puppy born from a frozen embryo in the Western Hemisphere. The method they used turned out to be a pivotal piece of the canid IVF puzzle, and directly contributed to the birth of the IVF puppies in July 2015.

Why increase the population of purebred dogs when there are so many homeless dogs in shelters?

This is not a technique to make more puppies in the world. We agree pet overpopulation is a serious issue, but it is a separate problem from preserving endangered species and studying the genetics of disease, and it requires separate solutions. The Shelter Medicine program at Cornell CVM educates veterinary students in shelter medicine and provides shelters with medical care—including spaying and neutering to ensure that the animals don’t contribute to overpopulation themselves.

Dr. Travis himself studies sperm biology to develop new male-based contraceptives to help address this issue. He has personal experience with the need: After graduating veterinary school, Dr. Travis worked at a clinic where his duties included performing low-cost spays and neuters for shelters and people who could not afford standard veterinary care for their pets.

Will the IVF puppies be spayed/neutered?

Yes, all of the IVF puppies will be spayed or neutered.

Isn’t it wrong to use animals in research because they live in cages and are killed at the end of the project?

None of the dogs or puppies in this study ever lived in a cage. Eggs were collected from female dogs using the same procedure used daily at clinics around the world to neuter female dogs and cats. This procedure prevents unwanted pregnancy and once it is done, the dogs are adopted out whenever possible. Dr. Travis had previously adopted one of the early egg donors in his work, and that dog happily lived with him and his family for over a decade before passing away this past year due to natural causes. In addition to the two IVF puppies, Dr. Travis’ family also owns another dog, Buck, who was his first embryo transfer puppy. Buck, an 11-year-old Labrador-beagle mix, enjoys playing with the puppies very much.

As veterinarians and researchers dedicated to promoting the health and welfare of animals, we share the public’s concerns over the treatment of research animals. In the case of developing an IVF protocol, desperately needed to conserve endangered species, there is no substitute for actual eggs and sperm. However, for many other kinds of study, there are alternatives to using live animals in research, and new ones are being developed all the time. For example, it is already possible to conduct research using cells, tiny samples of fur and blood, or computer modeling that doesn't require the use of animals at all.

Cornell University has a rigorous policy on the use of animals in research and teaching, with which all members of the university must comply. No animal research can be performed at Cornell without review and approval by a committee that looks at each experiment in terms of ethics, animal welfare, safety and scientific quality. All of these policies and procedures were followed during the IVF puppy project.