Osteosarcoma in dogs and children genetically similar

The findings of a recent study might lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of the disease for the first time in decades

Truman, an osteosarcoma (OS) clinical trial patient at Tufts University.
Truman, an osteosarcoma (OS) clinical trial patient at Tufts University.

The veterinary community might soon see advancements in the treatment of canine osteosarcoma (OS).

This is thanks to a new study published by Tufts University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), which demonstrates the disease is genetically similar in dogs and children.

“The genetic similarity between dogs and humans provides a unique opportunity and a comparative model that will enable the development of new therapies within a compressed timeline,” says Heather L. Gardner, DVM, a PhD candidate in Tufts’ Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences and the study’s lead author.

Using multiple molecular-level testing platforms, researchers sequenced the genomes of 59 dogs. They noted canine OS shares many of the genomic features of human OS, including low mutation rates, structural complexity, altered cellular pathways, and unique genetic features of metastatic tumors that spread to other parts of the body.

“These findings set the stage for understanding OS development in dogs and humans, and establish genomic contexts for future comparative analyses,” says Cheryl A. London, DVM, PhD, the Anne Engen and Dusty Professor in Comparative Oncology at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the study’s senior authors.

The study also identified previously unknown features of canine OS, including recurrent and potentially cancer-causing mutations in two genes: SETD2 and DMD.

OS is the most commonly diagnosed primary bone tumor in dogs and children, researchers say. It affects more than 25,000 dogs annually, but remains a relatively rare cancer in humans overall, with fewer than 1,000 cases per year.

While surgery and chemotherapy can extend survival, about 30 percent of pediatric OS patients die from metastatic tumors within five years. The outcome is much bleaker for dogs, with 90 percent succumbing to metastatic disease within two years, Tufts reports.

“While OS is rare in children, it is all too common in many dog breeds, which makes it a prime candidate for the kind of comparative cancer biology studies that could enhance drug development for both children and our canine friends,” says Will Hendricks, PhD, an assistant professor in TGen’s integrated cancer genomics division and the study’s other senior author.

“Leveraging the similarities between the human and canine forms of OS adds greatly to our understanding of how this aggressive cancer develops and spreads,” adds Jeffrey Trent, PhD, FACMG, TGen president and research director, and a contributing author. “More importantly, it provides an opportunity to develop therapies that make a difference in the lives of children and pets.”

The findings were published in the Nature journal, Communications Biology.

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