Under the Microscope: Man’s Best Friend Offers Important Insights into Cancer
Dogs are an important part of many people’s lives, but did you know they are also contributing to the fight against cancer?
Each year in the U.S., roughly 6 million pet dogs are diagnosed with cancer and over 1 million are treated. By comparison, 1.7 million humans are treated for cancer each year. Through a field known as canine comparative oncology, researchers studying human or canine cancers combine their scientific findings to more quickly understand what causes cancer and to develop new and less toxic therapies for people and our beloved pets.
The V Foundation supports this important emerging field by funding canine comparative oncology studies at cancer centers and veterinary colleges across the nation. The Consortium for Canine Comparative Oncology, a collaboration between North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Duke Cancer Institute, is using grants from the V Foundation to advance collaborative study of human and canine cancers.
“Studying cancers that naturally occur in dogs and humans can lead to better diagnosis, treatment or management of cancers for us as well as our pets,” said D. Paul Lunn, PhD, Dean of the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine.
Better therapies for pets and people
The Consortium for Canine Comparative Oncology funds collaborative research projects focused on cancers that are similar in people and dogs. The V Foundation has contributed more than $700,000 to the consortium over the past three years, more than doubling the funds provided by the lead institutions for these projects.
“The consortium funds studies that grow our understanding of cancers in humans and dogs with the hope that they lead to breakthroughs that would attract future funding from the government or industry,” said Lunn.
Many cancers appear in both people and dogs — and some, including lymphomas, melanomas, brain tumors, bladder cancer and the bone cancer osteosarcoma — also show many biological similarities. Studying cancers in our pet dogs, who are treated by veterinarians for their cancer, is advantageous because their naturally short lifespan means that the full spectrum of cancer is shorter than for humans. So studying what happens with our companion animals who get diagnosed with cancer provides a faster road to new discoveries. It is also much easier and faster to bring a new canine cancer drug to the clinic because drugs for animals do not have to pass the same regulatory hurdles as drugs used to treat people.
All studies funded by the consortium involve canine or human cancers that have developed naturally, and their pet parents have chosen to have them treated. These studies include projects aimed at improving chemotherapy, understanding radiation dosing, developing better treatments for cancerous malignant tumors of the connective tissues called sarcomas, and identifying genetic mutations involved in bladder cancer.
Evaluating new therapies
The consortium is also interested in working with the pharmaceutical industry to evaluate potential new therapies in dogs with cancer. This could be beneficial because cancer drugs that work in dogs have a higher chance of being successful in people compared to drugs tested only in laboratory animals such as mice.
“Our pet animals are better predictors of what may ultimately work in people,” said Lunn. “Knowing that a drug has proven effective in a veterinary species makes it worth the time and money investment required from pharmaceutical companies to get a new drug into human clinical trials.”
The consortium hosts annual meetings that bring together investigators from all over the country and the world. The meetings, which have grown larger each year, help foster a collaborative culture between oncologists studying both dogs and people. In fact, several major cancer centers and veterinary medicine schools have come together to advance the field.
“We are working to expand the relationships we’ve formed in North Carolina into a nationwide network, and the V Foundation is central to this effort,” said Lunn. “This type of network would promote even faster progress toward new treatment methods for cancer in dogs and people.”