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Eleanor Raffan

Canine and comparative genomics of metabolic disease

I am interested in how genes influence metabolism.  In dogs, selective breeding has resulted an unusual genetic architecture which makes mapping disease associated loci remarkably tractable with much smaller numbers than in human populations.  We study pet dogs and use comparative genomics to identify genes that are responsible for determining obesity susceptibility in dogs and humans.  The mechanism of action and physiological consequences of variants of interest are tested in the lab in cellular models, and at a whole-dog level by examining their effect on eating behaviour and physiology.

Our overall aim is to better understand how genes link to obesity in both dogs and humans, in order to reveal mechanistic links and identify targets to improve obesity prevention and treatment. 

I am a veterinary surgeon who has worked in general practice and at the vet schools in Liverpool and Cambridge. An RCVS and ECVIM specialist in small animal medicine, I have a PhD in the genetics of rare forms of severe insulin resistance in humans.  In 2013 I set up the GOdogs Project, investigating the genetics of obesity in dogs.  I am based at the Institute of Metabolic Science on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus but our canine studies are carried out at the Dept. Veterinary Medicine where I am an Associate Lecturer.

Key Publications

A deletion in the canine POMC gene is associated with weight and appetite in obesity prone Labrador retriever dogs.  Raffan E, Dennis RJ, O’Donovan CJ, Becker JM, Scott RA, Smith SP, Withers DJ, Wood CJ, Conci E, Clements DN, Summers KM, German AJ, Mellersh CS, Arendt ML, Iyemere VP, Withers E, Söder J, Wernersson S, Andersson G, Lindblad-Toh K, Yeo GSH, O’Rahilly S. Cell Metabolism. 2016 May 10;23(5):893-900. 

Development, factor structure and application of the Dog Obesity Risk and Appetite (DORA) questionnaire. Raffan E, Smith SP, O’Rahilly S, Wardle J. PeerJ 2015 Sep 29;3:e1278.

The coding sequence of POMC and obesity and appetite in Labrador retriever dogs. E. Raffan, J. Becker, G. Yeo, S. O’Rahilly. The Lancet. 2014, Feb 26, 383:S86 

The big problem: battling companion animal obesity. E. Raffan. Vet Rec. 2013 Sep 28;173(12):287-91. Full text

Founder effect in the Horn of Africa for an insulin receptor mutation that may impair receptor recycling E. Raffan, M.A. Soos, N. Rocha, T. Tuthill, A.R. Thomasen, C.S. Hyden, J. Gregory, P. Hindmarsh, M. Dattani, E. Cochran, J. Al Kaabi, P. Gorden, I. Barroso, N. Morling, S. O’Rahilly, R.K. Semple. Diabetologia 54(5):1057-1065 May 2011 

ERaffan profile

Dr Eleanor Raffan

Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Career Development Fellow, Associate Lecturer

Group members: 

Jodie Wainwright

Eloise Cross

    Plain English

    We know genes are important in obesity - between 40-70% of our tendency to gain weight as humans is down to our genes.  Breed predispositions suggest genes are important in dogs too.  We study pet dogs to find out which genes are important, and why.  By comparing the DNA of dogs of with different amounts of body fat, we focus on genes which are immportant in regulating how the body controls food intake and energy expenditure.  We study those genes in the laboratory to find out more about how they act at a molecular level.  We also try to find out more about how those genes cause obesity by using playful experiments that test how dogs behave around food, measuring how much energy they use at rest, and other metrics such as blood pressure.

    There is more about what we do and our results so far on the project website: