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Project CARE

What is Project CARE?

Project CARE (CAnine mitRal diseasE) is a targeted research campaign dedicated to the discovery of causes and new treatments for canine mitral valve disease.

Why is Project CARE Necessary?

Canine mitral valve disease is the most important heart disease in dogs. The disease:

  • Accounts for 75 percent of heart disease in dogs
  • Affects five to seven million dogs in the United States alone
  • Is the leading cause of death and disability in dogs

What is Project CARE Doing?

Basic Research

  • We investigate the basic cellular mechanisms that cause mitral valve disease in dogs and humans.
  • Recent discoveries have identified basic causes of mitral valve disease that could explain why this disease is common in dogs and humans.
  • Recent discoveries are pointing the way to new treatments the could prevent or slow progression of mitral valve disease.
  • Recent discoveries have been Published in veterinary and human research journals.

MitralSeal: Transcatheter Mitral Valve Replacement

  • Breakthrough treatment for dogs with severe mitral valve disease
  • Uses a minimally invasive approach to deliver a valve prosthesis into a beating heart without the need for open-heart surgery
  • Practical and curative treatment for dogs with advanced mitral valve disease and heart failure

What is Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)?

Mitral valve disease is a progressive degenerative disease of the mitral valve that afflicts both dogs and humans.

MVD begins with the cells in the mitral heart valve.  Abnormal cells cause changes in the heart valve tissue that eventually lead to deformation of the structure of the heat valve.  These structural changes lead to “backward flow” of blood through the valve (known as mitral regurgitation).

Once mitral regurgitation begins it is invariably progressive causing the workload on the heart to increase dramatically. This ever-increasing workload on the heart eventually causes the heart to fail causing the clinical condition known as congestive Heart Failure.

Congestive heart failure is manifested by accumulation of fluid in the lungs (also known as pulmonary edema) and leads to symptoms such as  worsening cough, shortness of breath, and restlessness when sleeping.  Congestive heart failure can be controlled with medications that remove and control fluid accumulation in the lungs for a period of time.  However, treatment of congestive heart failure does not correct the underlying MVD and mitral regurgitation.  Congestive heart failure is inevitably progressive and will reach the point where it cannot be controlled by medication alone.

Who Does MVD Affect?

MVD is the leading cause of heart failure and heart-related death in dogs and is the leading cause of disability and death in older dogs.  Any dog can develop MVD, but toy and small breeds of dogs are most susceptible.  Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have the highest incidence of MVD and it occurs at an earlier age in this breed.  MVD often is proceeded by a condition known as mitral valve prolapse in humans, which occurs in two percent of the population. MVD is the most common heart valve disease in humans.

What are the Symptoms?

Congestive heart failure is the direct result of MVD and causes the lungs to fill with fluid. The resulting symptoms are:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Restlessness and inability to sleep
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

Symptoms of heart failure can be controlled with drugs for a period of time, but patients often cannot enjoy normal activities and struggle to survive the day. Ultimately, congestive heart failure is 100 percent fatal.

What are the Barriers to Treating and Preventing This Disease?

Treating congestive heart failure does not treat the underlying cause of mitral valve disease. The underlying triggering causes and cellular mechanisms that lead to MVD are not known in dogs or humans. Research into the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms that mediate mitral valve disease could lead to new treatments aimed at preventing or slowing the degenerative changes in the mitral valve.

Open-heart surgery with valve replacement or repair are options for human patients, but at a huge cost in suffering and dollars. This is rarely an option for dogs. Today, we are without treatments for dogs with severe mitral regurgitation and heart failure secondary to mitral valve disease. Alternatives such as MitralSeal are needed to treat advanced mitral valve disease in dogs.

Why Act Now?

Current medical treatments only treat the symptoms of heart failure that result from MVD. Ultimately medical treatment of heart failure always fails. Human patients with advanced MVD can undergo open-heart surgery and valve replacement or repair at an annual cost of about $9 billion in the United States each year. Unfortunately, open-heart surgery generally is not an option for dogs. Project CARE is devoted to discovering the underlying causes of MVD with the ultimate goal of developing treatments to prevent or slow the progression of MVD and develop new and practical treatments for dogs with advanced mitral valve disease.

How Will This Research Effort Help?

Better understanding of the causes and mechanisms of MVD will eventually:

  • Help relieve the suffering to dogs and their families caused by MVD
  • Offer hope to families of Cavalier King Charles spaniels and other breeds of dog known to have a heritable predisposition to MVD
  • Bring relief to the more than 120,000 human patients who either die or are hospitalized each year as a result of heart valve disease

Translational Benefits

Mitral valve prolapse is a precursor to MVD in humans and occurs in approximately 2 percent of the human population. Myxomatous mitral valve disease is a common heart valve disease in humans. Currently, the only treatment option for humans with advanced MVD is open-heart surgery and valve replacement or repair.

Unfortunately, both dogs and humans suffer from MVD. Fortunately, treatments to prevent, slow or cure MVD will likely apply to both dogs and humans. The research discoveries of Project CARE will eventually bring relief to the more than 120,000 human patients and to the many thousands of dogs that suffer or die from MVD each year.

How Can You Help?

Project CARE is a grassroots research initiative that depends on donations from dog owners, caregivers, and people directly affected by MVD. One hundred percent of donations directly support the research effort. You can make a gift or host a benefit event. Make a Gift Today.

Contact Us:
Colorado State University
Veterinary Teaching Hospital
300 West Drake Road
Fort Collins, Colorado, 80523

​(970) 297-4476

(970) 297-1205

(970) 297-4476
Cardiology Message Line:
(970) 297-0389