The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded a $500,000 grant to fund a study aimed at increasing the understanding about the interactions between cancer and the immune system in dogs with naturally occurring tumors. The researchers will then apply that knowledge to the understanding of human cancer.
The study is a collaboration between Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Medical Center of New York and Technical University of Denmark.
“The dog as model of human cancer offers a number of advantages for testing therapeutics,” said Jonathan Levitt, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology & immunology at Baylor, who is leading the study. “Dogs have a long lifespan, they are genetically diverse and we believe their immune systems may work similarly to that of people.”
The researchers will determine whether spontaneously arising canine organ-site tumors are sufficiently similar to those of humans to employ canine cancer as a model for trials of experimental combination therapies for human use.
“If it works out, this will be a win/win opportunity for both human and veterinary medicine,” Dr. Levitt said. “We can gain valuable insights into novel human cancer therapeutics while providing life-saving cancer treatment for pet dogs for whom successful cancer therapies may not exist. We will sequence mutations in canine cancers from bladder, breast and skin and compare them to those already studied in human tumors. This will allow us to ascertain whether these mutations can trigger immune responses in the dogs similar to those in people.”
Another major goal of this study is to characterize the immune cells that infiltrate canine tumors and compare them with those in the respective human cancers. Knowing the type of cells that infiltrate tumors is important because it may help predict the susceptibility of each tumor to specific therapies, according to Baylor.