COLUMBUS, Ohio – There’s a whole lot of slobbering and tail waggin’ going on among some of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center’s most lovable patients, but don’t let their goo-goo eyes and happy-go-lucky behavior fool you. They’re all full-fledged partners of some of the country’s top cancer researchers – and they are hot on the trail of one cancer’s most mysterious allies.
That’s right. Cancer research has gone to the dogs. In this case, dogs with lymphoma – animals researchers hope will help them understand the invisible world of microRNA (miRNA), tiny snippets of nucleotides many believe play an important role in the development of cancer.
“The dogs are some of our most valuable research partners,” says Dr. Laura Rush, assistant professor of veterinary biosciences and a member of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics Program. Rush created and directs Ohio State’s newly formed comparative oncology program that focuses on animal research with immediate clinical importance in understanding and treating cancer in humans.
Although other comprehensive cancer centers in the country include colleges of veterinary medicine, Ohio State is among only a small handful with a long history of melding researchers from veterinary science with clinicians in human oncology in a tightly focused initiative designed to answer scientific questions bridging the gap between animals and humans.
Rush says dogs are perfect animals in which to study lymphoma.
“Lymphoma is a very common cancer in dogs, and their tumors share many similarities with those found in humans,” says Rush. “We already have shown that normal dogs express miRNA, so we are now working to find out which miRNAs are abnormally expressed in those with lymphoma.” Rush says those findings may help point them in the direction of new and better therapies – for dogs and for humans.
Rush has partnered with Dr. William Kisseberth, a veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and both are working closely with scientists under the direction of Dr. Carlo Croce, director of the Human Cancer Genetics program at Ohio State. Researchers in Croce’s laboratory in the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center are among the first in the world to design a microarray enabling genome-wide scanning for miRNA activity. The technology is important because it allows investigators to get a “big picture” look at miRNA functionality across an entire system.
Scientists have only recently begun to examine and understand what role miRNA may play in cancer. MiRNA is different from regular RNA in that it doesn’t encode a protein. Instead, it regulates how other RNA is processed.
Earlier research reveals that miRNA is active in many biological processes, and has been conserved through time and across many species, both plant and animal. Studies show that miRNA plays a role in everything from shaping leaves to controlling cell growth and differentiation at different points in development.
Researchers believe that in cancer, the midget molecules can interfere with gene expression by altering RNA that regulates cell growth and death. Scientists at Ohio State have already shown that malfunctioning miRNA is apparent in about two-thirds of at least one form of cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
“We are very excited about this research,” says Rush. “What we find in dogs will be very important for humans,” she said, adding that the project is a clear win-win for everyone.
The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center is a network of interdisciplinary research programs with over 200 investigators in 13 colleges across the OSU campus, the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute and Children’s Hospital, in Columbus. OSUCCC members conduct research on the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, generating over $95 million annually in external funding.# # #
Medical Center Communications