In collaboration with an amazing community of citizen scientists and veterinary partners, Basepaws is advancing its work to uncover the genetic and dental health factors associated with chronic feline diseases. Feline gastrointestinal (GI) lymphoma, a notoriously hard-to-diagnose disease that is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is an important part of Basepaws’ research program for which we are currently recruiting participants. The genetic and oral microbiome health data from this research could potentially inform the creation of an affordable, non-invasive, and painless Basepaws at-home oral swab test that reliably distinguishes between feline GI lymphoma and IBD. In addition to offering pet parents peace of mind, test results would support veterinarians’ efforts to make accurate diagnoses and implement therapeutic interventions that are appropriate and targeted for either IBD or GI lymphoma.
Background on Feline GI Lymphoma and IBD
Lymphoma is the most frequently diagnosed type of feline cancer, and lymphoma of the gastrointestinal tract is the most common form seen in cats and dogs. A cancer of the lymphatic system, lymphoma affects white blood cells called lymphocytes that are essential to the functioning of the immune system.
The lymphatic system performs many functions that are vital to a cat’s health. This includes the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the cells, the absorption of fat from the intestinal tract, the collection of metabolic waste products, and the removal of infection from the body. Symptoms typical of feline GI lymphoma include weight loss, decreased (and sometimes increased) appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Unfortunately, these same symptoms are also characteristic of feline inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a non-cancerous condition which causes chronic irritation and inflammation of a cat’s gastrointestinal tract. Further complicating matters is the fact that physical exams and diagnostic procedures (e.g., ultrasounds) performed by veterinarians can’t accurately distinguish between IBD and GI lymphoma. This is because the outcomes of these evaluations, such as the thickening of a cat’s intestines or the presence of abdominal masses, present in the same way regardless of whether a cat is affected by IBD or GI lymphoma.
It’s the most emotional ‘not confirmed’ diagnosis to get. You think your cat might have cancer, but your vet doesn’t really know, so you treat for IBD hoping your cat gets better until you know if it’s not cancer. It’s horrible.
– Pet parent of a cat with suspected IBD or GI lymphoma.
An intestinal biopsy—costly for pet parents and invasive for cats—is currently the primary method of confirming IBD versus GI lymphoma. Affordability, convenience, and stress are among the many factors that present a challenge to follow through with a biopsy, and as a result, only around 15 percent of pet parents of cats with suspected IBD or GI lymphoma choose to perform this procedure to confirm an accurate diagnosis.
The Oral Microbiome as a Predictor of IBD and GI Lymphoma
The good news is that Basepaws is well-positioned to address this issue. With the world’s largest feline oral microbiome database and comprehensive shotgun metagenomic sequencing approach, Basepaws conducted a preliminary analysis of 255 oral microbiome samples from cats with a reported diagnosis of IBD against 3,000 cats reported to have no dental or systemic diseases. This initial analysis relied on a citizen science approach using owner-reported data (i.e., no veterinarian-confirmed diagnosis).
Previous studies have shown that the state of the oral microbiome is associated with both gastrointestinal cancer and IBD in humans. Basepaws’ IBD research complements these studies, with preliminary findings confirming that the state of the feline oral microbiome is a reliable predictor of feline IBD.
The Future of IBD and GI Lymphoma Diagnosis and Treatment
Basepaws uses a multifaceted approach to cross-validate data within its state-of-the-art pet health research programs that includes: (1) clinical data collection through collaboration with universities and veterinary clinics, (2) citizen scientist data collection through the distribution of health history questionnaires to its Cat DNA Test customers, and (3) citizen scientist data collection through follow-up studies and veterinary medical records validation.
To better understand the role of the feline oral microbiome as a predictor of GI lymphoma and IBD, as well as the role genetic factors play in disease predisposition, Basepaws is actively recruiting participants for additional studies that incorporate this three-pronged approach. This includes working with veterinary partners for recruitment at the point of care, as well as recruiting cats through our citizen science program that have clinical records confirming their diagnosis.
If your cat has been diagnosed with B cell (large cell) GI lymphoma or T cell (small cell) lymphoma, their oral swab sample will contribute to the advancement of improved diagnostic tools for this disease. Alternatively, if you are a pet parent of a cat that has been diagnosed with IBD, especially a case that is idiopathic (meaning that it is not related to some other disease or known cause), we would love to work with you*. Your participation can help all cats and make a real difference in our efforts to develop a test that accurately detects this disease and distinguishes it from GI lymphoma.
Basepaws is working with universities and veterinary clinics as part of our clinical data collection effort. One of our veterinary partners includes Dr. Nicole Martell-Moran, DVM, MPH, ABVP, of The Feline Medical Center in Houston, TX. As part of this collaboration, Basepaws is subsidizing the cost of performing intestinal biopsies for the purpose of obtaining a definitive diagnosis that differentiates between IBD and GI lymphoma. If your cat is a patient of Dr. Martell-Moran’s with a suspected case of IBD or GI lymphoma, and you would like to participate in our research, Basepaws will cover 30% of the cost of your cat’s intestinal biopsy.**
If you are a veterinary professional in a practice that has a high prevalence of feline IBD and/or GI lymphoma cases, we would welcome the chance to collaborate with you and your team to help streamline current and future diagnoses and treatment plans. Please contact us directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This collaborative work will evolve our understanding of the relationship between feline genetics and the oral microbiome, and it will improve our capacity for earlier detection and accurate diagnoses of GI lymphoma and IBD. This effort will also add to the body of research on linkages between the state of the oral microbiome and gastrointestinal disease in humans and canines.
To learn more about inclusion and exclusion criteria for this study, please visit the Basepaws Research page, which includes FAQs about our citizen science research programs as well as information about becoming an industry and/or clinical research collaborator.
*Please obtain a digital copy of your cat’s medical records confirming a diagnosis by your veterinarian before applying to our programs.
** We are able to offer this subsidy for a limited number of cats.