Researcher finds dog-human cancer link

The treatment of a dog's cancer could lead to advances in human treatment.

Devin Henry

By nature, best friends have many things in common – favorite movies, similar hobbies and common interests.

But University researchers have recently found man’s best friend may have something more substantial in common with their masters.

Jaime Modiano, a professor in oncology and comparative medicine, discovered that humans and dogs share a genetic link for certain types of cancer, which could help with human cancer research in the future.

Not only that, but the similarities happened naturally – researchers didn’t need to induce the disease to see it in the animals.

Modiano called it “paradigm changing.”

“This is the first time the abnormality has been documented in a species other than humans where the cancer happens spontaneously,” he said.

Modiano said the cancer is related on the genetic level and it works a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.

Genes fit together like puzzle pieces in different ways, based on what the animal is. The genes remain the same despite the animal.

“The exact same genetic abnormality is associated with what would be exactly the same type of cancer in the two species,” he said.

Modiano said this development could potentially lead to better cancer research, with the dogs as the subject.

Humans and dogs get cancer with the same frequency – about one-third of each species will get cancer at some point, Modiano said. As dog owners bring their pets in for treatment, researchers will be able to look into implications for human cancer through the dogs’ treatment.

“It’s one way in which dogs can help us accelerate the development of cancer therapy that would be really difficult to do if we didn’t have access to this population,” he said.

Jim Mickelson, a professor in veterinary biomedical studies, said humans and animals share many similar genes, and thus share traits such as hair color and conditions like arthritis and diabetes.

“With our genes being very similar, a lot of the genetic conditions that are due to mutations in those genes are similar,” he said.

University researchers are also looking into canine epilepsy, Mickelson said, as well as certain muscle diseases in horses and how they relate to human conditions.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that there can be similar bases for conditions because of the overall similarity in the way molecular biology works,” he said.

Senior global studies student Eleanora Franz said she isn’t surprised to know that humans and dogs share genetic links for some conditions.

While it isn’t cancer, Franz said she knows when her dog, Penny Lane, is sick.

“Penny seems to get food poisoning from anything that doesn’t agree with her stomach,” she said. “Not only does she vomit, when she’s not all energetic and laying in her bed, I can tell that she’s probably sick.”

The Humane Society of the United States reports that approximately 74.8 million pet dogs are owned in the United States.

Modiano, who owns two dogs himself, said as dogs become a bigger part of owners’ families, people will be more willing to have them treated for diseases, a situation which lends itself to research opportunities.

“I don’t want to sound like this is the turning point that’s going to cure cancer,” he said. “It is an incremental, although important, finding in rounding out our understanding of why cancer happens in multiple species.”

That, Modiano said, is the ultimate goal.

“Only as we understand cancer better in its most fundamental basis are we going to be able to develop strategies to help us prevent and treat it in both humans and pets,” he said.