Dogs play many roles—pet, service animal and man’s best friend, to name a few. Now, doctors say that they could be an important part of cancer research. While the term “animal testing” often brings inhumane images to mind, what experts have in mind is on the other end of the spectrum.
According to specialists from the University of Illinois, there are some serious potential benefits associated with including pet dogs with naturally occurring cancer in early cancer drug trials.
“Some tumor types are very similar between dogs and people, and the biology, genetics, and clinical behaviors are conserved despite obvious difference in species,” says professor Timothy Fan, a veterinary clinical medicine professor at the University of Illinois. “Because dogs develop cancers spontaneously, or naturally, just as cancer develops in people, novel therapeutics which exert activities in dogs have reasonable potential to demonstrate similar positive effects in human cancer patients.”
Fan says it should also be kept in mind that initial studies in dogs provide invaluable information when it comes to novel therapeutic tolerability and dosages.
“Overall, the inclusion of dogs with cancer in novel drug development offers potential advantages which could benefit both dogs and human beings alike,” he says.
Researchers have already begun looking to dogs for new cancer treatments. For several years, Fan and his team have been testing a new anti-cancer drug in pet dogs who’d already developed cancerous tumors naturally. It was because of the positive results from that study that the drug advanced to a prospective cancer therapy for humans. In fact, the drug (known as PAC-1) is currently the focus of an early-stage human clinical trial.
However, Fan says there are some drawbacks to using pet dogs in this type of research. For example, cancers that are largely driven by diet, like colon cancer, would not translate from one species to another. (Colon cancer is uncommon in dogs.)
Even so, they make for better models than mice, which researchers say fall short of mimicking the cancer-development process in humans. This is precisely why Fan says there’s value in including pet dogs in the development pathway for novel cancer therapies.