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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience


Why are some individuals prone to obesity and yet others stay lean even when they have ready access to food and don't exercise much? Obesity is highly heritable as are related metabolic traits. We study obesity genetics 'in the round' starting from genetic discovery studies using GWAS and other epidemiological approaches working with 'big data'. We try to ensure we maximise the value of our research for both veterinary medicine and to better understand human biology and medical science.

Capitalising on my background as a vet, we start with animal genetics – dogs, horses and farm animals are excellent models because selective breeding means they show phenotypes of interest and their genomes are conducive to gene mapping. We follow up genetics with cell studies to understand mechanism, focussing on neuronal development, cell signalling and adipocyte biology, including with transcriptomics. We also study whole body physiology in pet dogs volunteered by their owners.

It's important to us that our findings have a clinical impact - you can find some of our advice for owners of obesity prone pets, informed by our research, here.



I spent 7 years working as a vet, in both first opinion and latterly specialist practice, trianing to be a specialist in small animal medicine. A PhD in the genomics of severe insulin resistance syndromes in humans followed and piqued my interest in the biology and specifically genetics of obesity, eating behaiour and metabolism. Combining my veterainary and research training, I started the GOdogs research group in 2014 and have been working on canine genetics ever since.  After a Wellcome postdoctoral fellowship I took up a University lectureship in this department but I retain an affiliation with the Institute of Metabolic Science, also in Cambridge. I offer a clinical obesity referral service via the Queens Veterinary School Hospital, Cambridge.


I am interested in how genes influence metabolism. In dogs, selective breeding has resulted an unusual genetic architecture that 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. Employing both candidate and genome-wide approaches to gene and mutation discovery has been useful and we have studied Labradors, flatcoated retrievers, brachycephalic breeds and golden retrievers so far.

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. All our canine studies are carried out with volunteer owners and their pet or working dogs.

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

We also work on the clinical relevance of our findings and you can see some of our advice for owners of obesity prone pets here.


Prof. Stephen O’Rahilly (Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science)
Dr Giles Yeo (Institute of Metabolic Science)
Dr David Sargan (Dept. Veterinary Medicine)
Prof John Perry and Prof Ken Ong (MRC Epidemiology Unit)
Dr Daniel Fazakerly (Institute of Metabolic Science)

Dr Caroline Gorvin (University of Birmingham)


Key publications: 

Dittmann MT, Lakatos G, Wainwright JF, Mokrosinski J, Cross E, Farooqi IS, Wallis NJ, Halsey LG, Wilson R, O'Rahilly S, Yeo GSH, Raffan E. Low resting metabolic rate and increased hunger due to β-MSH and β-endorphin deletion in a canine model. Sci Adv. 2024 Mar 8;10(10):eadj3823. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adj3823. Epub 2024 Mar 6. PMID: 38446876 Free PMC article

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

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

E Raffan, J Becker, G Yeo, S O’Rahilly, The coding sequence of POMC and obesity and appetite in Labrador retriever dogs. The Lancet. 2017, Feb 26, 383:S86

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

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

Other publications: 

A full list of publications is here.

Teaching and Supervisions


I teach respiratory physiology to the medics, vets and natural sciences students in Cambridge along with metabolic disease physiology to third year physiology students.

I also regularly lecture to clinical vets and nurses.

Research supervision: 

I supervise clinical and non clinical MPhil and PhD students and am always happy to hear from prospective students.

Other Professional Activities

I am a veterinary surgeon with specialist clinical qualifications in small animal medicine. I offer a clinical obesity referral service at the vet school here in Cambridge.

University Assistant Professor in Systems Physiology
European and RCVS Specialist in Small Animal Medicine
Picture of Dr Eleanor  Raffan