Focus on Canine Cancer Research
Cancer can be a devastating diagnosis for both humans and our beloved canine companions. There are 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States and a fourth will develop cancer - including those in the bone, breast, pancreas, liver, prostate, lung, and skin. Veterinarians report that owners increasingly want to treat their pets rather than just managing their discomfort, but treatment options are limited and cost of radiation and chemotherapy can be prohibitive. The AKC Canine Health Foundation is committed to funding studies that will prevent, treat and hopefully one day cure canine cancers. Currently, we are funding 18 OAK grants and 14 ACORN grants that focus on a range of dynamic new options for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, we are supporting studies that will better define the underlying molecular mechanisms within a cell that cause cancer, and identify the specific genes that confer susceptibility to disease. As such, the AKC Canine Health Foundation is a leader among a growing network of foundations and organizations that seek to promote and facilitate canine cancer research.
While canine health is our focus, CHF recognizes that our funded research will also contribute to a better understanding of human cancers. Dr. Heather Wilson, DVM, DACVIM Oncology, Texas A & M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says, “Many drugs and therapies that were tested in laboratory animals and taken straight to human clinical trials fail miserably. It is simply not enough to prove that we can kill cancer in an induced artificial environment such as a laboratory animal (in other words, we can cure just about anything in a mouse). The mouse will always be necessary for research, but there is an important extra step that can significantly help determine how truly effective a therapy may be. Dogs get cancer for the same reasons we do and they do it with an intact immune system (unlike laboratory mice). It is important to show that a susceptible cancer pathway or target exists in more than one species. This gives credence to the fact that it is a viable therapeutic pathway and not a fluke in a single case or immortalized cell line used to create tumors in the laboratory.”
For these reasons there is a major initiative underway to promote the collaboration between human and veterinary researchers and clinicians. This initiative, known as One Health, is a movement to forge co-equal, all inclusive collaborations between physicians, osteopaths, veterinarians, dentists, nurses, and other scientific-health and environmentally related disciplines, including the American Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). Additionally, more than 600 prominent scientists, physicians, and veterinarians worldwide have endorsed the initiative. According to Wilson, “The One Health approach to canine cancer is the most promising aspect of canine cancer research today. Many of the human cancer researchers are finally buying into the canine model of spontaneous disease that we have been preaching for so long. These new partnerships allow us to really pursue cutting edge research in our veterinary patients benefiting humans and canines alike.” To learn more about the One Health Initiative visit www.onehealthinitiative.com
Examples of the success of the One Health approach already exist. According to the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation, one of the earliest studies with significant impact on human cancer was the study of dogs with osteosarcoma (a common type of bone tumor) utilizing a limb sparing surgical procedure by researchers at the Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine. Prior to the development of this technique, limb amputation was the only treatment option, so a surgical technique allowing for tumor removal without amputation (i.e. limb-sparing) was a very significant step forward. As this technique was perfected in dogs, it was adopted by human oncologists for use in children with osteosarcoma, preventing many limb amputations and re-inventing the standard of care for people.
In an effort to further the One Health Initiative, The Texas Veterinary Cancer Registry (TVCR) was recently formed. A joint effort of the CARE Foundation, Baylor University Medical Center (BUMC) at Dallas, and the Texas Veterinary Oncology Group, The TVCR is an animal care network and registry formed to identify, register, facilitate, and promote the medical treatment of pets with cancer. The TVCR will collect, compile, and analyze crucial information from pet-owners and veterinarians about pets that have been diagnosed with various forms of naturally-occurring diseases (most often, cancer). This information will be used to advance the care and treatment of animals with cancers with the hope of eventually matching animals with relevant clinical studies. Their ultimate goal is to enhance the treatment of both human and veterinary cancers through the collection and dissemination of new information regarding cancer therapies.
The registry will allow owners and veterinarians to share detailed information about their pet’s disease in an anonymous and confidential fashion. It will also allow pet owners to connect with other people whose pets have similar diagnoses and discuss treatment options and outcomes. Through this connection, pets will benefit from leading edge treatments and a better quality of life. For more information about registering your pet visit www.texasvetcancerregistry.com
Two CHF-funded cancer researchers who see the One Health model as the most promising step in disease research are Jaime Modiano, VMD, PhD (University of Minnesota) and Matthew Breen, PhD (North Carolina State University). Drs. Modiano and Breen, along with other colleagues, have formed the Canine Comparative Oncology and Genomics Consortium (CCOGC), a canine cancer tissue bank that researchers around the world can access for research samples. Dr. Breen has also put together what he terms a “genomics toolbox” that more efficiently identifies changes in genes and chromosome arrangements in cancer tissue. The CCOGC is an important resource for researchers providing them with small volumes of blood, urine, tumor tissue, and samples of corresponding normal tissue. CCOGC has a number of regional collection sites. Researchers who are interested in contributing samples to CCOGC can learn more at www.ccogc.net
As researchers who study canine and human disease gain a broader appreciation for the value of the canine model of spontaneous disease, the door is open for exciting breakthroughs in cancer research. “Canine cancer research allows us access to new therapies that we may not have had access to in the past with the potential for new veterinary products that are affordable and efficacious,” said Wilson. “We need new therapies, we need new drugs, and we need to move beyond describing survival times in terms of months and get a point where we can say years. Because dogs represent a group of individuals as diverse as we are, they are truly a perfect companion in the fight against cancer.”
Help Future Generations of Dogs
Participate in canine health research by providing samples or by enrolling in a clinical trial. Samples are needed from healthy dogs and dogs affected by specific diseases.