This was posted on one of the cavalier lists I belong to regarding how the Foetal Tissue research project came about and what exactly they are trying to do. I’m in huge support of this project and the more people are aware of it the better so I have decided to post it on my blog. It is written by Sheena Stevens.


It was very cold and dark in Devon at three o’clock on a Saturday morning in November 2006 when I got up to go to the International Seminar on Syringomyelia at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire. I listened to Drs Rusbridge, Marino, Jeffery, Deutschland and Flint and by mid afternoon had given up taking notes …

There was one person on the speakers’ table who didn’t say very much but I did catch a chance remark about tissue which triggered my interest – so as everyone was packing up to leave I dropped in to the chair next to her. We had a very brief conversation which went roughly along the lines of, “You want tissue, don’t you?” “Yes, but I can’t get it. I’ve been trying for over a year.” “Who have you tried?” “Vets.” “You’ve been asking the wrong people.” So we exchanged email addresses.

And thus it began … Dr Imelda McGonnell is an embryologist with a research focus on head development and associated birth defects, and an expert in skull and brain development. Projects in her lab involve investigating growth factor influence upon cranial skeletal development. The FTR project fits exactly with other research ongoing in the lab as it investigates a common developmental disorder which occurs in animals and humans and is likely to manifest due to disrupted growth factor signalling. She is pure and impartial science. She told me what she wanted and I worked out how to get it to her. Basically, Cavalier breeders contact me when they have whelp deaths – in fact any death up to about four months of age – I post off a kit, and the tissue is sent to the RVC. We are also asking now for Griffon Bruxellois tissue.

This is the first piece of research that has been done on foetal tissue, and the hope is that it will prove beneficial to both the dogs and to human sufferers from the condition. The research is ongoing, painstaking, and very thorough. One of the team members at the RVC has a research focus on epilepsy, and there have been requests from a cardiologist for mitral valve tissue … so we may manage a three in one!

It is, of course, expensive. The Cavalier Club donated funds for the research, and so did the Kennel Club. Because we had managed to get the research up and running, Dr McGonnell was able to apply to other bodies for some funding – and so it goes on. There was a gap of a year while Dr McGonnell took time out to have twins … but from having started with the proverbial piece of used chewing gum and a length of string, we now have funding by the RVC for a dedicated Ph.D student – a huge expense but the student, a qualified vet with research experience in both London and Liverpool, is now in place. The West of England, the Cavalier Club and the ACKCS Charitable Trust have all made large donations this year, together with smaller ones from individuals. There are a variety of fund raising activities going on – the quilt raffle, the World Wide Walk, a Fun Day in Coventry and others … FTR even has a support group on Facebook!

So … from a cold and lonely start to a long November day I can now thank a variety of people for the stage we have arrived at already – those who’ve helped with publicity, those who’ve been enthusiastic and supportive and remain so – but most of all I have to thank those breeders who have gone the extra mile and donated the tissue.

Sheena Stevens