The Canine Genetics Centre

UK Bernese owners may have come across news of the situation at the Canine Genetics Centre (CGC) based at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School since it moved there from the Animal Health Trust which folded in 2020. For those who take it, the story and the subsequent appeal have been given prominence in Our Dogs weekly canine newspaper this week. 


What is Happening?

Formerly known as the Kennel Club Genetics Centre (KCGC) the Centre provides research and development of genetic testing solely for dogs. As such it will never be as financially viable as a purely commercial seller of tests who have no research costs and it has previously been underpinned by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust (KCCT). The KCCT recently announced it was withdrawing its financial support for the centre from April and instead now supports DNA testing with a private DNA company, Weatherbys. Critics of the move have pointed out that Weatherbys do not perform research just offer existing tests, like many other companies. The CGC is seen as a centre of excellence and many breeds have worked with them and they have developed new tests for conditions found in their breed but also have DNA samples stored with them for further research. Since their move to the University of Cambridge their liaison with the University was underpinned by the KCCT funding.Both research and some current testing is offered by the CGC, in the form of their sister body the CAGT. Last year, the CGC held an Open Day for the Breed Health CoOrdinators where their willingness to take on new challenges as they emerge for breeds was clearly stated. They also offer DNA testing for certain conditions and this is appears to be offered more cheaply than solely commercial alternatives. There were some hints about future funding not yet being certain but I don’t think any of us understood what was to come.

I think it is fair to say that this move by the KC has received widespread condemnation and some incredulity across most of the UK dog world. In the Our Dogs article referred to above, several well known experts, most with strong KC connections, all condemn this action and state the case for the CGC as a valuable asset for our canine world pointing out some of their achievements. Nowhere in the UK offers what the CGC does to the dog world and some breeds have much invested with them in the form of specific research and DNA samples. Prior to Our Dogs being published there was much of disgust and outrage expressed from most breeds within Breed Health CoOrdinator circles.

However, despite commonly expressed views to the contrary, the KC also has a finite budget and the financial aspect appears to be the main thrust of their explanation saying they cannot afford to support year on year losses at the CGC with general funding for the centre but will be focussing on specific individual projects to improve canine health. They also mention working with breed clubs and refer to the Breed Health and Conservation Plans. From the reactions so far this is not being accepted by most informed commentators and it is pointed out in the Our Dogs article that Weatherbys are actually selling tests that were developed by the CGC.

The CGC is now desperately trying to find short and long term funding to enable it to keep going and is appealing to the dog world for help. Initially the aim is to raise a shortfall of £345,ooo to keep the Centre operational for 12 more months whilst they seek to organise more sustainable future funding.


The lead on this is the head of the Centre, Dr Cathryn Mellersh who has circulated the following message amongst Breeds Clubs, Health CoOrdinators and the dog world generally. A link for more information about the Centre can be opened by clicking on the logo.


Cathryn’s Message


Canine Genetics Centre logo





This is why I hope you will be able to help spread this message and engage your “membership” through whatever means possible.


How does the CGC relate to Bernese?

The CGC has no direct connection to our breed today. Many years ago, the nineteen eighties and into the nineties, its predecessor at the AHT utilised funding raised by the Northern Carters to do some early research into our, then largely undefined cancer problem. Dr Matthew Breen, the main researcher on this then took the results to his new role in the USA and in this way they became amalgamated into the efforts to fight ‘Histio’. The fate of the original samples that formed a part of this research was never clear and they are considered long lost. So, including its AHT predecessor, the CGC has had no connection to our breed for about 30 years.

A few years ago when the AHT were offering to produce genomes for individual breeds the cost involved was considerable and it was decided that the Breed Council agreed with me that money raised for our health causes was better spent for our breed, contributing to the international effort to fight Histiocytic Sarcoma, based in France and the US, so we were one of the significant number of breeds that did not take up the offer. I actually had a conversation about this principle prior to this decision with Dr Mellersh who was very pragmatic in her response. I have always appreciated her honesty in that discussion when it would have been more in her interest to push us towards her project and she could easily have tried to persuade me in that direction. In the same way I now recognise her good grace in her current pronouncements in not stooping to criticise the KC.

There is much more to say on this matter and I do not have space to cover the arguments on both sides here, although to be honest the KC’s statement raises more questions than it explains. Those who are interested can readily find out more.

However, whilst our breed has no direct connection to the CGC, the fact it is there for us if ever needed is certainly of value. The reassurance that there is a UK body available to take on any DNA research our breed might suddenly need is surely something that is worthy of possible support. For example in 1986 the ‘Trembler’ mutation appeared in our breed in the UK and whilst the problem was assessed very early and consequently able to be dealt with quite swiftly by the application of population genetics, directed by Dr Willis this was aided by our lines generally being somewhat simpler and more limited in those days probably combined with a greater openness to admit and discuss problems. The modern world would probably primarily tackle such a problem with by developing a genetic test and in the UK the CGC would be the place to go to to produce this test and, as you can read above, they have resolved many such situations.

For us, and many other breeds, the CGC is akin to insurance, it is something you need to know it is in place but in one ongoing sense it is a waste of money UNTIL YOU NEED IT then it suddenly becomes essential because you are not sure where else you could go for help.


Donations – Do you have an Opinion?

So, whilst I am a little torn by the fact that so far our breed has luckily not needed the CGC and we have another more breed specific, ‘ genetic cause’ to support, namely the Hstiocytitic Sarcoma projects, the fact remains that if the dog world cannot help it then the centre will probably no longer be there if ever we do have to tackle a problem. Donated cash for breed health is a finite commodity and of course we want to prioritise our own breed interests. However, as Breed Health CoOrdinator, if you are a Bernese lover with some cash to spare then I would say of course make a donation to the CGC appeal to try and keep it going.

The club, via our ring fenced Health Fund does have some cash available, some raised by hard work and initiatives but largely donated by members to assist with health projects with the specific and stated intention of benefiting our breed. It is appropriate to consider whether to make a donation to the CGC appeal from our Bernese health fund so I am interested in hearing from those who have donated in any way. Do you think we should donate to help guarantee the future of the CGC in case we ever needed it or should we keep our money donated FOR THE BREED, WITHIN THE BREED? If you have helped with our health fund in any way or have any strong opinion on this I would be interested to hear from you as this matter will have to be considered in the coming weeks.

Thank you

Steve Green

BMD Breed Health CoOrdinator