Purebred Dogs Are Helping Us Cure Cancer
Health & Beauty / /
Is there anything more than just a bond with our ‘best friends’?
The idea of a dog helping to cure cancer probably makes you think of golden retrievers sitting in front of the patient. But there’s something much greater: their own tumors.
Around a quarter of all purebred dogs die of cancer. Modern medicine has allowed some of these dogs to get treatment, just like us. Chemotherapies have positive effects mainly due to similarities between canine’s and human’s cancers.
“For the most part, dogs get everything we do,” says Elaine Ostrander, a distinguished investigator at the National Institutes of Health. “You see some striking similarities that you don’t see in mice or other animal models, and that makes them an increasingly terrific system to study the genetic basis of disease.”
Other benefit is the genetic similarity to one another due to siblings mating. The offspring of two siblings is likely to inherit rare disorders which this way can easily become common if there is a small gene pool, but it’s excellent if you want to study cancer genetics.
It is not the case with humans. However, there are a two notable cases—an APC mutation for colorectal cancer and the BRCA mutations for breast cancer, in which cancers can be traced back to inherited mutations. In these cases the mutation has to lead to genetically similar group like a family so that sequencing methods would be able to pick out which gene has the mutation.
But because all purebred dogs are as related to one another as we are to our immediate family members, every cancer they get is similar to the hereditary human cancers we already know about. Once we study purebreds more, researchers hope we’ll be able to find novel ways to treat human cancers.
Mouse, on the other side, can’t be that helpful for testing the new therapies, mainly because they don’t get cancer the way we do.
“To study them, we usually induce cancer in particular parts of their body, which is useful for performing precise experiments and understanding very particular genes. But a breast cancer with only one induced mutation isn’t anything like a naturally occurring breast cancer, which has at least a few more genetic anomalies driving its progression,” says Ostrander.
Dogs, unlike rodents, get these cancers naturally. That means treatments that work on canine cancers often also work in humans. And that’s great news for both of us. So much of animal work in labs necessarily involves giving a creature cancer only to try to cure it. Dogs already have cancer—so any research we do on them will help their outcome, too.