There‘s a good reason why dogs are often called “Man‘s Best Friend.“
According to recent studies, our loyal companions share more than just our dinner leftovers – namely, cancer.
“Dogs get almost all of the same cancers that humans get,“ said Katherine Skorupski, assistant professor of oncology in the veterinary medicine department in an interview with KQED. “The environment of our patients is the same as the humans, also their tumors are developing spontaneously – often times we don‘t know why they develop, which is what happens in people.“
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has taken a special interest in the field of Comparative Oncology, which conducts comparative studies of humans and animals, often canines, to discern the causes and treatment of cancer.
Skorupski and Dr. Joseph Tuscano, an associate professor for the UC Davis Cancer Center, were two of several UC Davis research professionals interviewed for a KQED television feature titled “Fido Fights Cancer.“ The program aired Nov. 24 and highlighted some of the major advances in canine and human cancer research from UC Davis and several other prominent research facilities.
“I think that there is a unique relationship between the veterinary oncology program and the human oncology program,“ Tuscano said in the KQED interview. “Dogs live in the same environments as people and get cancer just like people. Concentrating investigational efforts on dogs first gives them access to new treatments and provides valuable information quickly on the efficacy of those treatments. It‘s a win-win proposition for both species.“
Animal testing is all but standard in the world of medicine, as most drugs and many major treatments are first tested on rats to determine the potential outcome on a human patient.
“In order to bring a drug to human patients, we have to test it in animals first,“ Toscano said. “And those animal ‘models‘ are typically rodent models.“
The problem that researchers have faced is that rats only share a fraction of the environmental conditions that humans share with canines, limiting the rats‘ value as test subjects.
“A drug that may work in a mouse, may not work that well in a human patient,“ Toscano said. “Instead of spending an enormous amount of money and time on rodent models, many of which don‘t work, why don‘t we use patients that not only themselves will benefit, but will better predict how those treatments will work in humans?“
Concerned pet owners might hesitate at the idea of their beloved dog being used for research purposes. Luckily, UC Davis medical professionals are highly sensitive to the needs of both pets and their human companions, and provide research and treatment procedures designed to maximize the canine‘s quality of life.
“We are always first and foremost concerned with quality of life, and so whenever we are coming up with a therapy, we always talk to the owners about the side effects, whatever they may be,“ said Michael Kent DVM, an assistant professor in radiation oncology. “We‘re only going to try things that we think have a chance of working with minimal side effects, and everything goes through a review committee first.
“So we work hard to make sure that whatever we do will benefit [the patients] as much as possible.“
For more information about how canines are being used to make breakthrough discoveries in the study and diagnosis of cancer, the KQED documentary can be found online at kqed.org/quest/television/fido-fights-cancer.
MICHELLE IMMEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org