Five months ago, seven beagle mix puppies were delivered by C-section, a result of 19 IVF (in vitro fertilization) embryos.
The deliveries mark the first successful IVF pregnancy in dogs since scientists began their attempts in the mid-1970s.
All born from the same beagle mother, two puppies were produced by another female beagle and a male cocker spaniel, while the five other puppies were produced by a third female beagle and a male beagle.
Reproductive Biology Specialist at Cornell University Alex Travis conducted the research and oversaw the birth of the litter, of which he says,
We had people lined up, each with a towel, to grab a puppy and rub them and warm them up. When you hear that first cry and they start wriggling a bit, it's pure happiness. You're ecstatic that they're all healthy and alive and doing well.
The lack of successful IVF research in canines over the decades has been attributed to their complicated reproductive system.
Female dogs only ovulate once or twice a year, at which time their eggs are immature and dark due to fatty molecules, which makes microscopic research tough.
To conquer these issues, Travis and his research team determined the eggs would continue to develop if left in the dog's oviducts -- like human fallopian tubes -- for a day longer than the norm.
Researchers Jennifer Nagashima and Skylar Sylvester discovered that adding magnesium to the sperm prepared it for fertilization as would the female reproductive tract.
Implementing these findings, the team has climbed to an 80 percent fertilization rate, at which point they freeze the embryos until the mother is physiologically ready.
Of the research's benefits and its subsequent implications for endangered species of wild dogs, Travis says,
If you are managing a species such as the African painted dog, and a male dies, you can collect sperm. And if a female dies, you can collect ovarian follicles from the ovaries and try to mature oocytes in vitro. But then what? To be able to use these resources, you need IVF to be able to produce an embryo from the sperm and eggs. Because dogs share so many genetic traits and diseases with people – over 350, which is vastly more than any other species – this technique also gives us new opportunities both to study genetic disease, and with gene editing, potentially prevent it from happening. This will have important implications for both veterinary and human medicine.
As for the seven pups born in July, all but one has been adopted by new, loving homes!