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Clinical Trial Shows New Therapies For Dogs with Cancer

Bernese Dog

A clinical trial at Tufts University recently showed success in treating osteosarcoma in dogs.

Truman, a Bernese Mountain dog, was limping for a few days. When his owners became worried, they got him an x-ray. The results revealed that Truman actually had osteosarcoma, a deadly bone cancer. His owners opted to get his leg amputated and then enrolled them in the clinical trial at Tufts.

Almost two years after his diagnosis, Truman remains cancer-free and gets on very well with his three legs.

Cancer in Dogs

Cancer is the number one cause of death in dogs. On average, one in three dogs get the deadly disease. The most likely to get this disease are pure breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Boxers. In the past, there was little information about this disease in dogs. But thanks to several researchers, life is improving for dogs with cancer. 

Researchers realized that dogs could solve some of human cancer’s mysteries, and are actually better models of study for this disease than laboratory mice. This is likely because dogs have almost the same lifestyle as us since we share the same water and breathe the same air. Their disease comes naturally, not like mice in which the diseases are introduced artificially. Also, humans have more in common with dogs than with mice. 

Reasons like that are why clinical studies in oncology have begun to use dogs more often. They are looking for new therapies for canine cancer that might also help in human cancer treatment research. 

The National Cancer Institute has been supporting this work. In 2017, it donated to six veterinary schools for research immunotherapy treatment for four different cancers in dogs. The amount totaled $11.5 million in grants. This investment, as well as others from pharmacology companies, has been a great help for the canine cancer research. “Dogs are helping us understand a very complex puzzle, not only do we have more research, but the sophistication of that research has exploded,” says Amy LeBlanc, a veterinary oncologist who directs the Comparative Oncology Program at the NCI.

The goal of these studies is to help humans, but medications have been created to treat cancer in dogs. In 2017, Tanovea-CA1, which is used to treat canine lymphoma, was conditionally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was also conditionally approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a vaccine to treat osteosarcoma by Aratana Therapeutics.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison developed a technology for targeted radiation that avoids damaging the tissue near a tumor on dogs that have a sinus tumor. The next generation of that therapy works on more tumors like lung cancer. Also, there’s a new liquid biopsy that helps to easily diagnose canine bladder cancer.

These clinical trials have given hope owners of dogs who have cancer. The vaccine study that helped Truman was run by the NCI at 11 universities. One of the conveniences, besides being able to save your dog’s life, is that these clinical trials are free of cost to the owners.

Thanks to the boom in canine research, the largest veterinary clinical study is testing a vaccine to stop any type of cancer before it becomes a tumor. Also, Nicole Ehrhart, who directs Colorado State University’s Columbine Health System Center for Healthy Aging, is studying old age in dogs, which she considers the root problem of cancer. “If we could slow down aging, we would make such an impact on these diseases,” Earhart says. 


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