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How Dogs May Aid in Cancer Treatment

May 11, 2016 07:03 AM EDT
Veterinarian Makes Home Visits To Euthanize Dying Pets
Recent collaborations have proven that animal medicine has become increasingly like human medicine.
(Photo : John Moore/Getty Images)

Recent collaborations have proven that animal medicine has become increasingly like human medicine.

A new study being conducted by researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Gueilph Ontario, in collaboration with the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (NCI COTC) is gearing towards how pets may show a better way to treat cancer.

According to the initial release published in, the study began after Valeria Martinez brought her nine-year-old rottweiler, Cujo, to OVC. Cujo was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that is also seen in the human population.

While this type of cancer mostly occurs in dogs, osteosarcoma is also found in humans. According to American Cancer Society, about 800 new cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed each year in the United States and about half of these are in children and teens.

Scientists have not discovered the cause of most cases of osteosarcoma, and only doctors in major cancer centers have a lot of experience treating these cancers.

Despite aggressive treatments such as limb amputation and chemotherapy, most dogs still die from metastatic disease, the same goes with humans.

"Just like in people, osteosarcoma in dogs is a highly metastatic disease, meaning it comes back," says Dr. Paul Woods, a veterinary medical oncologist at the OVC, which is part of the University of Guelp, in an interview.

The aforementioned is one of the main reasons why the doctor is testing rapamycin, a promising therapeutic agent with both immunosuppressant and anti-tumor properties in Cujo to delay or prevent metastases to occur.

Cujo was treated and took part in a series of cutting-edge clinical trials which aims to improve the quality of life for both dogs and people.

"Cujo is the first dog entered by OVC into a new clinical trial with the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (NCI COTC). It's the first such collaboration between OVC and the NCI COTC, and is funded by the non-profit Morris Animal Foundation," the release said.

"About 160 dogs from up to 20 American institutions and OVC will take part in the trial; OVC is the only Canadian partner. The trial is expected to last eight to 12 months," it added.

After getting rapamycin, Cujo also underwent four rounds of chemotheraphy. Valeria said the dog starts to live normally, even with his one leg amputated.

William Hendricks, an assistant professor at TGen specializing in canine cancer studies explains in an article why dogs are relevant in advancing any kind of treatments in humans.

"Dogs and humans have a great degree of genetic similarity that enables us to transfer knowledge across species," Hendricks said in an interview with National Canine Cancer Foundation.

"So, if we find a particular mutation in a canine cancer, that mutation often occurs in a very similar position in a human genome," he added.

In addition to some genetic similarity, Hendricks added that the fact that pets and humans share the same physical environment provides doctors more reasons to compare canine diseases and human diseases.

According to The Tribune, some of the newer treatments for dogs involve using immunotherapy, and a bacterial vaccine that takes care of any remaining cancer cells.

"Some of the first dogs treated with this protocol back in 2012 were still alive three years later. The vaccine currently is being evaluated by the USDA for a conditional license, which would allow dogs outside the trial to get treatment by the middle of next year. For human patients, the vaccine could go into clinical trials as early as this year," the article notes.

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