An animal welfare academic whose award-winning research is helping to improve health in pedigree dogs has joined the Life Sciences team at the University of Lincoln, UK.

Dr Lisa Collins, new programme leader for Bioveterinary Science at Lincoln, is one of the world’s few animal welfare epidemiologists – applying the study of the patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions to animals.

While at The Royal Veterinary College in London, she was principal investigator in a study examining inherited defects in pedigree dogs.

The team discovered that every one of the top 50 most popular breeds of dogs was predisposed to at least one inherited disorder linked to its physical appearance.

For the subsequent paper, The Veterinary Journal awarded Dr Collins the George Fleming Prize for the most meritorious and innovative paper published in 2009.

In 2010 a report by Sir Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society of London, called for sweeping changes among breeders to improve the health of the animals. Dr Collins’ research helped inform Sir Bateson’s proposals and she now sits on the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding, set up as a result of the report’s recommendations.

Dr Collins said: “The Kennel Club, who had commissioned the inquiry with The Dogs Trust after concerns highlighted in a BBC documentary, has now put every single breed through a review process and standards are being changed.”

Dr Collins is currently involved in two major European projects, which she will continue at Lincoln. The first is a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded study to create a mathematical model that can predict poor welfare in groups of pigs.

Working with Queen’s University of Belfast, The University of Nottingham and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast, Dr Collins aims to develop a statistical tool as an early warning system, predicting which groups and which individuals within them are likely to have a welfare problem at a later stage.

She said: “Developing validated tools to assess animal welfare remains one of applied ethology’s greatest challenges, so we have designed a wide-ranging experiment that will incorporate a large amount of detail from each animal. Validated indicators could then be used to develop a predictive early warning system so that any potential welfare problems can be detected and mitigated in advance.”

The study will also investigate whether pigs that do have poorer welfare also have a poorer functional memory and whether they also perceive time to be passing at a different rate.

The second project focusses on animal nutrition and the strategies that could be employed to improve the efficiency of feed for pigs and chickens.

Called ECO-FCE, it will provide the pig and poultry industries across the EU with strategies and tools to accomplish the task of feeding a growing world population in an efficient and ecologically-friendly manner.

The team will use state-of-the-art genomics technology to gain an improved understanding of the digestive system of pigs and chickens. This information will then be combined with data collected from over 10,000 published scientific studies to develop unique and effective system models to help those in the industry understand, manage and measure the impact of different factors on feed use efficiency and environmental impact.