How Curing Cancer In Dogs At Ohio State Helps Humans, Too

June 30, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Man's best friend is helping us to better understand cancer in humans.

Comparative oncology explores the biology and therapy of naturally occurring cancer in animals. Scientists are now finding that certain types of cancer in dogs are remarkably similar to those in humans, in both how they develop and how they behave in response to treatment.

Both humans and pets benefit from clinical trials in the veterinary setting. The pets and their owners have access to advanced, state-of-the art care at little to no cost, and critical information regarding the disease process and response to therapy is gained that can be used to advance the treatment of human disease, says Cheryl London, a member of the Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics program in the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

"The goal of what we do in dogs with cancer is to evaluate potential new therapies so that we can help to understand how the drugs may work on cancer in humans," says London, who is an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State.

For example, London led the initial research effort evaluating a new small molecule inhibitor called toceranib in dogs with tumors. The results from this clinical trial supported the subsequent development of a similar drug, sunitinib, in humans with cancer. In 2009, toceranib (marketed as Palladia) became the first drug approved by the FDA specifically to treat cancer in dogs.

Of the 71 million households in the United States, 62 percent own at least one pet, and many companion animals, particularly dogs, develop many of the same diseases seen in humans, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, according to London.

Of the 77.5 million dogs in the United States, more than one million will develop cancer each year. Canine cancer therapies are similar to those used to treat humans, as well, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and now small molecule inhibitor drugs.

Data generated from clinical trials in companion animals can provide important new information to help guide subsequent and/or ongoing human clinical studies. The integration of efforts in veterinary and human medicine will likely enhance translational outcomes for both species, says London.

"A clinical trial in children with bone cancer can take five years to accrue enough patients, and then another five years for outcomes. So, you have 10 years before you know something new, which is why the field moves so slowly," says London. "In veterinary oncology, we can complete a study in dogs with bone cancer within one year and have outcomes within two to three years."

Ohio State is one of 20 academic comparative oncology centers involved in the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (COTC) and centrally managed by the National Institutes of Health – National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research Comparative Oncology Program.

The COTC functions to design and execute clinical trials in dogs with cancer to assess novel therapies. The goal is to answer biological questions geared to inform the development path of these agents for future use in human cancer patients.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State's Center for Clinical and Translational Science helps support clinical trial efforts at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and has also assisted in the generation of a large biorepository of animal tumors and normal tissues. The availability of such tissues for research has markedly enhanced the ability of researchers at OSU and Nationwide Children's Hospital to perform much needed genetic and molecular studies that are critical to advancing the understanding of cancer biology in both dogs and humans.

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute ( is one of only 40 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States designated by the National Cancer Institute. Ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top cancer hospitals in the nation, The James is the 205-bed adult patient-care component of the cancer program at The Ohio State University. The OSUCCC – James is one of only seven centers in the country funded by the NCI to conduct both phase I and phase II clinical trials.

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