Sadly, canine cancer rates are on the rise. In fact, cancer has become the leading cause of canine death, slowly rising in levels of incidence over the last ten years. Incidences of cancer in humans is also increasing. This convergence of data events is giving oncology researchers new tools for understanding and treating cancer in humans.
Comparative oncology is a new field of study that has emerged wherein oncology researchers study the parallels between cancers in pets and cancers in humans for the purpose of developing more effective treatment methodologies. Currently 22 laboratories across America are engaged in stage 1 and 2 clinical trials based upon the comparative oncology research model. Cancer specialists, research scientists, veterinarians, and physicians, are working collaboratively to discover and bring to market the most effective cancer treatment therapies in the shortest time possible.
The Human Genome Mapping project was completed in 2003. At the same time, scientists also mapped the genetic code of dogs. It was discovered that 80 percent of canine genes are similar to human genes. This makes an enormous difference when it comes to research. Typically, studies are performed on mice, in a laboratory setting. Their cancers do not occur naturally, rather they are injected with the disease. Their gene similarity to humans is only 67%. The opportunity to observe naturally occurring cancer and how it behaves in the body is not possible with mice. Therefore cancer research on mice is limited in its efficacy.
Canine cancer of the bladder, lymphoma, and bone cancer are identical on the molecular and microscopic level to these cancers in humans. Canine genes also mutate in similar ways. Scientists say that when looking at a tumor under a microscope it is impossible to know if the host is a human or dog. These similarities open the doors to endless research endeavors that will speed the process of delivering life-saving cancer treatments.
Canine populations are very diverse, living in a wide variety of conditions, consuming different diets and reacting to a multitude of environmental triggers, similar to people. Fortunately for researchers, there are a lot of dogs to observe, as more and more pet owners are willing to invest the financial resources in treating their pets. The good news is that cancer treatments that produce good results in dogs have a high probability of producing similar results in humans. The benefits work both ways, as dog owners have more access to novel drug therapies and researchers have a vastly improved mechanism to understand how the drug will behave in human cancer patients.
Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, behaves almost identically in dogs and humans. The consequence is that researchers working with canine osteosarcoma patients are developing novel drug therapies for children with this cancer. The same techniques that are being used to reconstruct the bone following tumor surgery in dogs is being applied to bone tumor surgery in children, including all follow-up care. A new immunotherapy recently introduced in canine treatment of bone cancer that slows down or even prevents the cancer from reaching the lungs was so successful that the FDA approved a fast-track request to make the drug available for humans.
Indeed, a dog truly is a man’s best friend.