(NB this page is still under development but is still thought to be of sufficient value to merit being made available even at this incomplete stage)
What is HSIMS? Launched in February 2019 the HSIMS online database is a development of the SH Test which enables a much more precise application of the test. As suggested by the full name, Hystiocytic Sarcoma Index Mate Selection, it is a breeding selection tool and basically utilises an online database of all the dogs who have taken the test and who have been added by their owner. You have to have your dog tested in order to use HSIMS but you do not have to use HSIMS because you have had your dog tested, although it is is difficult to justify not doing to make the most of the test if you were breeding your dog.
KEY POINT – Having your dog tested does not mean your dog is automatically added to the database, you have to arrange this manually yourself afterwards. Unless you elect to do this no one else need even know you have tested any dog, let alone what your result is.
Will everyone know my dog’s results? The database does not disclose the dog’s test result, whether your dog is an index ‘A’ ‘B’ or ‘C’ is never revealed to anyone except yourself viewing your own dogs. In terms of the HSIMS process the nominal grade of each dog is effectively irrelevant. Using the database is entirely about how each dog interacts with a specific other dog and the actual index grading plays no part in this process.
What does HSIMS do? Simply, HSIMS uses the exact result of each dog’s test, not the allotted ‘A B or C’ grading, and compares it against a potential mate’s result to give an exact prediction for the outcome of this mating.
How does it work? Firstly, a reminder that to get to the given grade the test assesses almost 20,000 points on the dog’s genome implicated in incidences of Histio so therefore indicating a susceptibility to Histio and in terms of the test an increased or decreased risk of developing the disease. If your dog has lots of these indications out of the 20,000 possible it will be scored a ‘C’, if it does not have many it will be scored an ‘A’.
However, this is a very blunt way of denominating the dog’s ‘Histio’ potential because rather than just the three grades there are these 19,683 comparisons available for every dog. HSIMS takes each of these indications for each dog and compares them dog to bitch, completely individually to each potential mating. Where the indications co-incide this will indicate more likelihood of Histio in the progeny from such a mating. Therefore it is possible from this to give a good indication of the likely breakdown of the ‘Histio’ potential of any litter. This is expressed as a percentage of index ‘A’, index ‘B’ and index ‘C’ puppies expected in the litter. Testing has shown these predictions to be very accurate and whilst the lower numbers in litters can (mostly) never absolutely tally with percentages I understand that within rounding boundaries the outcomes have been as predicted.
[For example – You have a prediction of A 20%, B 65% and C 15% for a litter. You then go ahead and end up with 7 puppies. 20% of seven is 1.4 so, as you cannot have 0.4 of a puppy, you could expect at least one index A dog in the litter but you might just get two. 65% of 7 is 4.55 and you can expect 4 index B dogs but maybe you will get 5. Finally 15% of 7 is 0.68 which means you are most likely get one C dog but you might be lucky and get none. The point is the numbers can vary a little but still fulfil the prediction. In this example the most likely outcome is probably 1A, 5B & 1C but any of the numbers could differ by one but experience shows that this will be a good indication of the breakdown of the litter.
KEY POINT – This test is very different from any other genetic test around and this must be understood in order to make it beneficial for the breed. Index ‘A’, index ‘B’ and index ‘C’ ARE NOT THE SAME as ‘Clear’ ‘Carrier’ and ‘Affected’ in the more traditional, well known, recessive gene type of test and therefore this test should not be looked at with this mentality or applied in the same way. HSIMS enables the usefulness of SH test results to be maximised for the benefit of the breed.
What Does this mean for breeding? The idea is that breeders use the HSIMS database as a selection tool to work towards increasing the health of Bernese by decreasing the number of index C dogs. This is much the same aims as the previous simple application of the test which was basically ‘do not mate ‘C’ to ‘C’ but in a completely more detailed and individual dog based way. Do not misunderstand this prediction. It is not a general, ball park, estimated, likelihood for the outcome of two proposed dogs of certain grades but an individual prediction for that mating only. Siblings will not be the same, offspring will not be the same, this has to be done for individual dog to individual bitch.
How Easy it it to use? The simple answer to this is ‘extremely easy’ once you have tested your dog and clicked to put it on the database. Most people being shown it for the first time are amazed how easy it is to use. Each comparison of a potential mating takes just a few seconds to complete and happens as fast as you can enter the details by locating and clicking on the two dogs you wish to ‘test mate’ in the system, one of which must belong to you.
How do I use it? Please be aware the following step by step description refers to the system on a laptop and obviously the layout is slightly different but very similar on a tablet or phone. This process written out step by step will seem very long winded but it is actually very straightforward and intuitive and most people would probably manage it without any guidance and you certainly won’t need to follow these instructions more than once. Each step below more or less describes a single click so you can see it is far far longer to describe it than to do it.
When you receive the results of your test you will be notified of your Antagene account. When you go into this for the first time you will need to set up your account with a password in a typical way to many other internet based accounts most people have nowadays.
When you return to the Antagene web site in the top right corner is a link entitled “My Account”, you might want to bookmark this page at this point to save typing in the details every time. Click on this link and you have to login to your account which, as if often the case you can enter your details once and ask for them to be remembered.
After login your Account Page opens which includes a list of all the dogs you have registered at Antagene on the left hand side. Click on any of them and they appear on the right with a summary of the tests they have taken with Antagene. For most British people this will only be the ones having had the HS test but for other countries, especially France, this may include dogs tested for other conditions. For lots of people this will show a list of one dog. Note that the actual results of your dog’s test are shown here but no one else will see this section, only you.
Above the dog(s) name(s) are five tabs with the left most one highlighted “My Animals”, you can explore the others if you like but here we are only interested in the right hand one “HSIMS” click on that one to open up your HSIMS record.
You now get a list of your dog(s) in a screen wide chart. The right hand column is the option to include each dog on the HSIMS database. To continue with this process you will need to click on the cross in a circle to add each dog individually onto the visible part of the database.
When you have done this each dog you have authorised will appear in a list below and to the left, entitled “My dogs shared on HSIMS Tool”. Note that you have the option to remove each dog from the visible part of the database by clicking the minus sign in the left hand column. If you remove them you will not be able to carry out any simulated matings though. Click on the little down arrow symbol against (one of) your dog(s) and you will see this dog appears separately at the bottom of the screen to the left. You have actually selected (if you had a choice) which of your dogs you wish to try out a simulation with and you can only try simulations with either the dog or the bitch belonging to you. You have to be the owner of one of the dogs, you cannot use HSIMS to view other people’s matings.
You now have to find a dog to go with yours and you have hundreds to choose from so there are a few selection tools to available to help you. Firstly, by default you are offered “My Dogs Shared on HSIMS” if you have more than one dog. Note that you can only compare a dog and bitch combination which is pretty logical really! If you have a dog and bitch and wish to simulate that mating just click ont he animal you wish to mate with your first choice and it too will appear at the bottom of the screen, adjacent to your first dog. Beneath this is a button with “Start the simulation” on it. Guess what you click on to start the simulation! Normally as fast as you click the process will be completed unless you have a very slow connection and you will have a list of percentage As, Bs and Cs for that potential mating.
If you want to look further afield than your own dogs you can use the tool to search for dogs made visible on the database using the “Define Your Search” button. When you click on this you must click “Dogs of other kennels shared on HSIMS” and then you can search by country, or in the case of France by region as well, and by male or female or both. You can also search by Kennel Name, Kennel or Owner’s name. For any dog of the opposite sex to the one of yours you have chosen you can do an instant mating simulation in the same way as above.
Authenticated – you may notice that some dogs are shown as not authenticated and you will receive an additional notice about this when selecting them for a simulation. I think this means that the test sample was not authenticated in strict accordance with the protocols outlined for the process so Antagene cannot say for absolute certain that the sample and the dog match. For example, with young puppies a cheek swab can be sent by the owners. Antagene have no way of checking the authenticity of the origin of this sample so do not guarantee it. Normal samples are taken by a vet who then controls the process and validates the identity of the dog according to official registration records and chip numbers are validated by the submitting vet. This is why your vet has to submit the sample once taken and not hand it over to the client for posting. As long as you trust the owners ‘not authenticated’ is not a problem.
Finally, when you have undertaken a simulated mating you have the option to download a certificate of the mating outcome. This could be printed off as part of a puppy pack perhaps or just filed for your records.
How many dogs are available in the system? As I write this in August 2019 there are close to 1600 Bernese visible on the database and the number has grown steadily through the year since the system was launched. This is not all the dogs that have been tested as some people choose to test and keep their dogs to themselves, ignoring the option to make them available on the database and it is entirely anyone’s right to do so. Whilst it is encouraging to see lots fo dogs visible in the database the most important thing is to test your dogs and use the system to guide your own breeding. You can add your dogs to the system whilst you use it and then remove him or her again afterwards if you wished , it is a simple click to add or remove a dog. However, most people who put their dogs on leave them on and there are lots of well known dogs on the system and many big name breeders who have many of their dogs visible permanently. Unless Antagene ever release any summary figures we will never know what percentage of tested dogs are on the database so any figures are pure speculation.
How much does it cost? Use of HSIMS itself is free to everyone who has tested at least one dog. It is supplied and maintained by Antagene, the providers of the test. There is obviously the original charge for the test but after that HSIMS costs nothing extra to use as much and as often as you like.
How important is it with everything else to consider? It is worth reiterating that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE is saying, or has ever said, this test in its previous application or HSIMS should be the sole guiding principle for Bernese mating selection. There are many, many things for Bernese breeders to consider, for example just in the area of health testing UK breeders have to account for hips, elbows, Histio, and 2 DM tests which are all recommended by the BMDC of GB Code of Ethics for members. This code also recommends consideration of the CoEfficient of Inbreeding for each potential mating and looking at EBVs for Hips and Elbows now they are available. You then may have other more occasional and general health issues such as entropian, epilepsy, fertility, dogs being of generally good health before you even bring massive factors like character, type and conformation into the mix. HSIMS is one tool for breeders to use but with Histio, despite certainly being under diagnosed, accounting for close on 25% of reported BMD deaths it surely is a tool that should have some current priority for BMD breeders with the overall health of the breed at heart.
Why isn’t everyone using it Whilst it is clear that some people choose to undertake the test but keep this private and not make their dogs available on HSIMS some breeders are openly apathetic or even hostile to the test which is obviously disappointing. Some of the reasons people give are discussed on the main Histio article on this web site, see link below. Most of these do not stand up to any logical scrutiny but that does not stop people sticking to them.
How can I test my Bernese? Guidance on using the test itself is available on this website on the main ‘Histio’ page which has links to the necessary Antagene page. (see link below)
What do the test results mean? As explained above you will get a result of A, B or C for your dog but there can be no definitive guidance on what to do with this. The original advice was not to use a ‘C’ with another ‘C’ but this is very generalised. What has always been very clearly stated by the researchers behind the test is that ‘C’ dogs should not be discarded as they account for a significant proportion of the population but just use them carefully.
However, ‘C’ dogs have a great range within their ranks and some ‘C’ dogs will go with others very differently, there is scope for much variation within the grade. HSIMS does away with all the speculation and gives a prediction for every single potential mating. Using the database for tested dogs, you can for example take any one of your own dogs on the database and simulate a mating against any dog of the opposite sex also in the database. As explained above the system will quickly give you a predicted percentage of the ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ puppies they will produce, the proposed parents’ actual grading is irrelevant to this process. What matters is exactly how they combine together.
These slides from a presentation I did explaining the system to the KC may help to clarify matters and the decisions you will have to think about.
In the first chart Matt is the potential stud dog for two bitches who are also both grade ‘B’. This seeks to show that you cannot predict results without testing and just assume that close relatives will give identical results.
This slide continues this theme by showing litter brothers results with three different bitches. Dog 3 is clearly a generally better dog for all of these bitches but Dog 1 would be a disastrous dog to use for the breed and the breeder, especially with Edna and Fame.
This slide shows an excellent dog for both Edna and Fame from a ‘Histio’ point of view, and for Edna could not be any better. However, after research he was seemed to be poor constructionally and lacking breed type so he was not considered any further. This illustrates that the test is important but cannot be given total priority above everything else. It is just one thing to consider.
This slide seeks to explain the crux of decisions if you are looking for a stud for your bitch. Is it better to produce all ‘B’ and not any ‘C’ or less ‘B’ and produce some ‘A’ but also some ‘C’ dogs. There is no magic answer but by using the database and the test you can make an informed choice. It may depend on lots of other factors you are including in your decision and illustrates why breeding decisions are complex and need information to help make them.
Where can I find out more Antagene have a page explaining why breeders should use HSIMS, you can access it here
There is also much more information about Histio and the test within this web site of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain.
Summary The test itself is completely revolutionary and ground breaking stuff but HSIMS is a fantastic tool to make full use of the test. There is nothing else like this test anywhere, we are unique amongst breeds in having this for a complex condition and HSIMS is a brilliant invention to make use of it. Others may be in development but we have the first one, there are only 14 such tests in the whole world of human medical science. We do have a big problem with this disease and at the moment this is the only way we can begin to tackle it. After years and years of hopelessness we should embrace the possibilities of this test, understand the limitations, but realise it is our first and only chance to begin to turn the tide against this cruel disease and as a breed make full use of HSIMS. We will not change the Bernese Histio situation significantly world in a single generation and there are many other considerations in breeding choices but unless due consideration of HSIMS results become the normal practice in our breed we will never start to address our cancer problem. Breeders have to play a longer term numbers game to improve matters and there will be set backs and problems with individual dogs but overall if breeders keep ‘doing the right thing’ the breed will start to move this problem in the right direction.
Steve Green BMD Breed Health CoOrdinator
HSIMS page of BMDCA a useful guide to the HSIMS process from the American breed club web site