Cancer is the No. 1 cause of natural death in canines, a fact that has prompted a $30 million effort to cure canine cancer within a dog’s lifetime—the next 10 to 20 years.
The fundraising is being led by the Morris Animal Foundation, which is coordinating research opportunities with a network of global scientists including veterinarians, oncologists, epidemiologists, geneticists and molecular biologists.
Scientists are ready and willing to work with each other, says Patricia Olson, DVM, chief executive officer and president of the foundation.
Morris Animal Foundation hopes to raise the $30 million between now and April 2012. The monies will fund clinical trials, prevention studies related to genetics and the canine genome, funding of a tumor tissue bank and the establishment of an endowment to guarantee continued research efforts.
A clinical trial is already under way involving the evaluation of a new treatment for osteosarcoma in dogs. Other focus studies are still being evaluated by researchers.
The initiative is also attracting corporate support, including a $1.1 million donation from Pfizer Animal Health. The money will go toward the Canine Comparative Oncology and Genetics Consortium, which recently launched the Pfizer-CCOGC Biospecimen Repository. Morris and the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation provided the initial funding.
The foundation has a goal of raising $22 million by getting 1 percent of the 44 million dog-owning households within the United States to donate of at least $50 in the name of a current or past pet dog.
“Each of our own pet dogs is at risk to suffer the devastating effects of cancer,” Olson says. “One in four dogs will die of cancer and cancer is the number one cause of disease-related death in dogs over the age of 2 . Sadly, many of the most popular dog breeds are especially susceptible to developing cancer.”
Members of the National Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium to receive funding include the Animal Medical Center (New York City), Auburn University, University of California-Davis, Colorado State University, Cornell University, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri-Columbia, North Carolina State University, The Ohio State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Tennessee, Tufts University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Although MAF’s mission focuses on animal health, the dog has proved to be a crucial player in solving the human-cancer cure puzzle, Olson says.
“This is the ultimate win-win situation,” Olson says. “As we treat and cure cancer in our pet dogs, we may help alleviate the ravages of cancer among humans. This animal-human bond is simply inspirational.”
There are many similarities between canine and human cancer, according to a December Scientific American article, “Cancer Clues from Pet Dogs,” which was co- written by David Waters, DVM, Ph.D., a professor of comparative oncology at Purdue University and director of the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation in West Lafayette, Ind.
For instance, osteosarcoma closely resembles the osteosarcoma in teenagers in its skeletal location and aggressiveness. Under a microscope, cancer cells from a teenager with osteosarcoma are indistinguishable from a golden retriever’s bone cancer cells.
Other similarities discussed in the article: dogs and humans are the only two species that naturally develop lethal prostate cancers; the type of breast cancer that affects dogs spreads preferentially to bones, just as it does in women; and the most frequently diagnosed form of lymphoma affecting dogs is similar to the medium- and high-grade B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas in people.
Dogs are also ideal study models because, compared with humans, they have shorter life spans, which allows scientists to study multiple generations, Olson says.
“The future is extremely bright,” Olson says. “Whether it is this initiative or how we utilize new techniques going forward, it’s going to be a very promising profession. Once again, the dog is going to be our best friend. That’s our tag line, best friends helping best friends. We are going to help the dog, which we should for all of the things they have given to us. I think in doing so, we might help ourselves.”
The foundation will provi de veterinary clinics with educational materials, such as posters that highlight the campaign and a listing of which dog breeds are most likely to get cancer.
Veterinarians and pet owners can call (877) 364-2873 or visit www.curecaninecancer.org to make a donation.
Morris also plans to launch a Feline Affirmative Action initiative next year, which will focus on raising funds for feline research and training scientists who will conduct the studies.