How Dogs Are Paving the Way in Cancer Research

Dogs, with their pure hearts and boundless supply of affection, have made life better for humans for a long time. Dogs aren’t just making people feel better by giving them slobbery kisses on bad days; they’re literally helping researchers make discoveries about cancer.
Doctors from Duke Cancer Institute and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are collaborating with veterinarians from North Carolina State University to learn about cancer in dogs. They want to use those findings to better understand the same illnesses in humans. They are researching cancers that naturally manifest similarly in humans and canines. Right now, they are studying lymphoma, bladder cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma. To read more about soft tissue sarcoma, click here.

Traditionally, researchers worked with mice and rats to study cancer. While this helps gather basic information, Kathryn Meurs, associate dean of research and graduate studies at N.C. State, explains that it also posed a series of problems. One issue is that rodents and humans are simply too different on a physiological level. Often, cancer has to be induced in rodents. On the other hand, dogs naturally suffer from many of the same cancers that humans do. Another discrepancy is that when rodents are involved in cancer research, they’re raised in a lab. They spend their whole lives breathing one type of air and eating one type of food. These limited conditions are entirely different to the variety of external factors humans are exposed to.

On the other hand, since dogs are companion animals, they often live pretty similar lives to humans. They walk in the same parks, live in the same houses, and sometimes even sleep in the same beds. This means that they’re exposed to a lot of the same external or environmental factors as humans, which is a useful constant when you’re trying to understand how cancer operates in humans.

Since dogs are relatively similar to humans in weight, their physiological markers and vital signs are comparable. Understanding an individual dog’s medical history, as well as the medical history of previous generations in the dog’s family, can also provide insight about the role genetics plays in their illnesses.

While dogs share a lot of similarities with humans, their genetics are still a lot easier to work with than their human counterparts. Since they’re easier to study, it’s possible to make advancements that could save lives much faster. It’s important to note that the clinical studies of dogs are similar to studies with human subjects, with safety regulations enforced to prevent harm.

The program is currently in its second year, and the researchers hope to continue receiving funding. Although it’s too soon to see the concrete results, it’s exciting to be on the brink of an innovative way of researching cancer, as dogs pave the way to a better form of individualized care.

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