Researchers hope studying dogs with cancer may help in the treatment of children with similar cancers.
Veterinary oncologist Dr. Chand Kanna treats pets who have cancer at Oncology Services in Springfield, Virginia. He also spent years at the National Cancer Institute researching the potential links between some cancers which afflict both dogs and children.
“So if you take a human osteosarcoma, which is bone cancer, and you look at that under the microscope, the pathologist can't tell you if it's human or dog,” Kanna said.
Most osteosarcomas occur in children and young adults, according to the American Cancer Society. It typically attacks the long bones of the legs or arms and sometimes the pelvis. Osteosarcoma is also the most common bone tumor occurring in dogs.
“Those similarities are most notably where the tumor develops -- the long bones of the body, the microscopic features of the tumor, the pattern of spread of that disease,” Kanna said.
“When my son Daniel was 11, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and he died two years later from the disease after 15 operations, 20 rounds of high-dose chemo, over 130 nights in the hospital, clinical trials, you name it,” Theresa Beech said.
She was horrified to learn there was only one treatment option available for her son when he became sick.
“There's really only one protocol approved by the FDA, and that was last approved in 1979, and it's basically the big guns of chemotherapy,” she said.
Frustrated at not being able to find better alternatives for her son, Beech began her own research, looking into the genetics of the disease and hoping to find drugs used to treat other cancers. She found research on canines and osteosarcoma.
“I know of several things that they’re trying right now to see if they can try certain drugs in dogs with spontaneous osteosarcoma, and then that the idea being that they want to see if they can transition some of this over into kids because one of the issues is getting a good model for kids before you go into a clinical trial can be complicated,” she said.
The Canines-N-Kids Foundation started last year with a mission: Tackle childhood and canine cancers and raise awareness and funds to help study the two.
Kanna is enthusiastic about the collaboration and the studies being conducted in dogs.
“That will determine whether new drugs improve outcomes for dogs,” he said. “And if they do, those treatments will be prioritized for evaluations in childhood cancers.”
Osteosarcoma is just one of the cancers researchers are studying in this manner. The National Cancer Institute has a number of clinical trials looking at similarities in dogs and adults humans in cancers such as lymphoma, melanoma and soft tissue sarcoma.