UC Davis’ unique method to treat humans, pets

ZOË REINHARDT / AGGIE

Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures, School of Medicine collaborate to find treatments

By using what they learn from treating companion animals like cats and dogs, the  Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures can help the School of Medicine find treatments for diseases like cancer and diabetes that affect humans and animals alike.

The science/medicine industry relies primarily on lab-based studies and then on studies in [mice, rats and rabbits] to test therapies prior to starting human clinical trials,” said Dr. Dori Borjesson, the director of the VIRC. “The problem with these models is they don’t replicate [diseases] that are influenced by genetics, environment, et cetera. The goal of using real diseases in companion animals first is that it can help sort through the drugs with the most promise as dogs, cats, and horses are outbred, like people, and get natural diseases, like people. So, you can run a small trial in naturally-occurring diabetes in dogs, test your candidate therapy and then go into your human trial with more confidence and an increased likelihood of success.”

The VIRC conducts clinical trials in a way that is similar to how clinical trials are conducted with humans. Rather than inducing the disease, the doctors try to treat an animal that already has the disease. This is fundamentally different from conducting a clinical trial on experimental animals where the animals are induced with the disease and then hopefully cured.

Dr. Boaz Arzi is currently conducting a clinical trial for a potential treatment for feline chronic gingivostomatitis and is applying what he has learned to a potential treatment for oral lichen planus in humans. He makes it very clear that while there are potential benefits for humans, the main goal is to find a treatment for the pets.

“When we start the clinical trial, we don’t do it because it’s good for humans,” said Arzi. We do it because it’s good for pets. And [if we’re successful…] we start looking for treatments in humans.”

Humans and companion animals share the same cells and similar genetics, so the cause of the disease and the response toward the disease are often alike. One of the main areas of research is a treatment for cancer.

Regarding cancer, much has been learned from rodent models. Recent breakthroughs in the field of cancer immunotherapy have further generated interest in pet cats and dogs as models because they have competent immune systems,” said Dr. Robert Rebhun, an associate professor and associate researcher in Surgical & Radiological Science at the Center for Companion Animal Health. “What is really exciting is that these studies have the potential to benefit not only humans, but also our beloved pets.”

 

Written by: Kriti Varghese — science@theaggie.org