If ever there was doubt about whether dogs truly are man’s best friend, consider this:
The past decade in medicine has seen growing knowledge of genetic similarities between dogs and humans, along with increased funding and collaboration between veterinarians and cancer researchers.
Taken together, all of that means dogs are helping in the development of cancer drugs — medicines that work for them, and for us.
Most cancer clinical trials fail. Many use laboratory mice as models, which don’t share as many similarities with humans as scientists would like. Laboratory mice don’t naturally get cancer.
But canines are exposed to our environment, including the same air and water. Dogs do get cancer naturally, and their tumors often look and behave almost exactly as ours do.
A human who wants to take part in a clinical trial for a new drug must generally “fail” the standard of care, which is often chemotherapy. But getting to that point can leave a body worn down. Pet owners don’t have to follow that standard, which means they can undergo experimental therapy while still in good physical condition — offering researchers a better picture of the therapy’s effects.
Last year, researchers at Colorado State University ran a successful trial in dogs with osteosarcoma, a common type of canine bone cancer. It showed that a human blood pressure medication, combined with a canine cancer drug, could stabilize and shrink tumors in half the dogs treated.
Based on those findings, a similar trial for patients with osteosarcoma is underway.
Finding new ways to treat cancer? Buster deserves a belly rub for that.