How Pet Cancer Data Sheds Light on Human Cancers and Accelerates Development of New Treatments | Pets

How Pet Cancer Data Sheds Light on Human Cancers and Accelerates Development of New Treatments | Pets 41 logo






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Dogs are pets in nearly 50 million American homes. zhao hui/500Px Plus via Getty Images


There have been impressive advances in medicine since President Richard Nixon declared the “war against cancer” just over half a century ago.

But that progress is just the beginning. More is expected in the years and decades to come, particularly after President Biden’s recent announcement of a new initiative “cancer moonshot”along with a commitment toend cancer as we know it.”

One way to help make that happen is through the study of cats and dogs. As a professor of oncology and doctor of veterinary medicine who has been researching cancer in dogs for over 40 years, I learned a long time ago that companion animals can teach us a lot about how to prevent and treat cancer in people.

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There are many reasons why this is true. domesticated cats and dogs they share about 85% of the same DNA as humans. and why both have been closely associated with people for over 10,000 yearsthey have become susceptible to some of the same diseases.

A tabby cat with a brown nose and green eyes looks at the camera.Exposure to tobacco smoke can cause cancer in dogs and cats. Lysandra Cook/Moment via Getty Images

Remarkable similarities in cats, dogs and people.

For decades, researchers have amassed what is now a treasure trove of cancer data in companion animals. These data hold clues, and perhaps answers, about how and why pets can get cancer and how to control or get rid of it.

But because of the remarkable similarities in the biology and habitats of cats, dogs, and people, it’s possible that researchers could also extract this data from pets and extrapolate it to humans. Therein lies the opportunity to discover biomedical innovations that benefit not only your pet, but you as well.

This approach cuts for decades the amount of time it takes for the data to arrive. Consider that veterinarians observe and care for cats and dogs as they age and die over a lifespan of approximately 10 to 15 years. By comparison, collecting similar data from humans over a lifetime takes 60 to 100 years.

You may be wondering if the same information could be obtained from laboratory animals. After all, scientists have been getting important data from them for decades to develop new products. But cancer is artificially induced in laboratory animals, mainly through surgery or injections; companion animals develop diseases “naturally”, and data from them reflect more realistic estimates by serving as pioneers of human research.

Dogs and cats like canaries in the coal mine

cancer is a leading cause of death for cats and dogs. As with people, the disease develops over a long period of time and the same conditions that create cancer in humans apply to them as well.

Here are some examples: Scientists have long observed the similarities in mutations and biological changes in dogs and people with melanoma, lymphoma, and lung cancer. A growing segment of veterinarians, human physicians, and cancer scientists are using these shared features to develop improved therapies for companion dogs with cancer. Many researchers believe that this will help them develop effective treatments also for humans.

Studies show that asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a malignant tumor that forms in the lining of tissues throughout the body in both dogs and humans. Tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer in humans, lymphoma in cats and nasal cancers in dogs. Learning how to decrease toxin exposure in companion animals could accelerate the use of similar strategies to keep humans healthy.

Work is underway to make this happen. In one study, researchers placed silicone sensors on people and their pets to measure their exposure levels to pesticides and herbicides in the home and garden. Exposure levels between humans and their pets. they were surprisingly similar. This study suggests that our pets may serve as harbingers of harmful environmental exposures: the so-called canary in the coal mine.

Scientists are now beginning to integrate the millions of human and canine datasets now available and compare them across species. The rapid and recent development of genetic sequencing technologies, coupled with the proliferation of electronic medical records, has also been of great help.

These factors will greatly accelerate our understanding of cancer risk factors for both companion animals and people. Already, large dog population studies have begun, with researchers collecting the animals genetic, environmental, lifestyle and nutritional information.

By watching your pet closely, you may be able to spot signs of cancer in its early stages.

The Bone Cancer Connection

As noted above, traditional laboratory animals are not always the best subjects for cancer research. The immune systems of mice and rats, for example, they are not as complex as those of humans; those of dogs and cats are much more like ours.

One example: Researchers combined a blood pressure drug, already available generically for humans and dogs, with a chemotherapeutic agent, also approved by the Food and Drug Administration for humans and dogs. They then studied the reused product in domestic dogs with bone cancer. The results were so positive that the doctors started the same protocol in children with bone cancer. That clinical study is not yet advanced enough to draw any conclusions.

But the proposal makes sense. Bone cancer in humans and dogs is genetically indistinguishable. If this approach works, it could cut years, and at much lower cost, from the time it takes to develop a pharmaceutical to treat children with bone cancer.

A general rule: traditional pipeline for a new cancer drug it is at least 10 years at a cost of billions of dollars. But the childhood bone cancer clinical trial started in five years and cost $2 million.

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Whats Next

The connection between people and pets is more than just species similarity. There is now an extensive veterinary medical infrastructure to help dogs and cats during cancer treatment. A constantly growing technology and a large amount of data that crosses disciplines are available.

However, there are still gaps in our knowledge, particularly regarding our understanding of the immune system of companion animals. In addition, the funding available to conduct clinical studies in companion animals is very limited. However, support from the National Institutes of Health has been prepared to overcome at least some of these obstacles.

When science learns more about how to prevent and treat cancer in our pets, we’ll likely minimize the cancer burden for all species.

Rodney Lee Page previously received consulting funding from The Morris Animal Foundation as principal investigator for the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. He has not received funding for 3 years. He is affiliated with The Dog Aging Project, Vaika Inc and Embark Inc as a volunteer member of the scientific advisory board.

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license.