Study Of Cancer In Dogs May Help Children

Armen Hareyan's picture

A national clinical trial involving dogs with bone cancer could lead to better treatment for children with the same disease.

"It is, in a sense, man's best friend helping man," says Cheryl London, a member of the Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics program in the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. London leads the study at Ohio State.

The purpose of the study is to define a safe and effective dose and dosing schedule for the immunosuppressive drug rapamycin in dogs with osteosarcoma, the most common form of canine bone cancer.

"One reason we study osteosarcoma in dogs is that, biologically, it behaves very similarly to the disease in children," London says. "We think similar genes are involved, which makes canine osteosarcoma a good model for pediatric osteosarcoma. We think that what we learn in dogs can really translate into new therapeutic approaches for children."

Each year, about 1,000 children develop osteosarcoma, and up to 30 percent will die from the disease, she says.

Three other sites nationally are also involved in the study, which is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute's Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium and by the Morris Animal Foundation.


"Pet owners hope that what we learn may benefit someone else's dog, or even a child, in the future," says London, who also is an associate professor in the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Osteosarcoma is a malignant tumor of the bone that often creates pain and lameness in dogs, London says. Osteosarcoma develops in about 10,000 dogs annually. More than 90 percent of dogs diagnosed with osteosarcoma die of the disease, which often spreads to the lungs and other organs.

Certain dog breeds, including Rottweillers and Greyhounds, are predisposed to developing this type of cancer, which suggests a genetic basis for the canine disease.

Rapamycin inhibits activity of a particular pathway in cells believed to be important for cancer progression and resistance to therapy. The drug is approved for suppressing the immune system of patients undergoing organ and bone marrow transplants.

"In this study, we are looking at whether we can achieve an appropriate dose of the drug in the dogs, and whether it is hitting the target," London says.

Future studies will assess the effectiveness of rapamycin in dogs with metastatic osteosarcoma, alone and in combination with conventional chemotherapy.

"I find it really rewarding to be able to contribute not only to veterinary medicine, but to the human side as well," London says. "Everybody wins with this approach."