An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday discussed genetic testing dogs afflicted with cancer . These tests could help develop individualized treatments for human patients. The good news is that indirectly, our loved dogs will likely benefit from this work.
The reason for the research is that in many cases chemotherapy does little to extend survival times in some cancer cases. However, there does seem to be individual variation, meaning one patient responds very well while another may not respond at all. If we are able to find a genetic basis for these differences, and work out which mutations indicate which therapy would work best, it could benefit many pets and people.
Certainly, targeted therapies have benefit. A targeted therapy is one which aims at a very specific “target”, like a silver bullet. The idea is if the disease depends on this target, neutralization means curing or at least effectively treating the health problem.
This idea works well for disease where single targets in the body are to blame. A pretty good example is diabetes in dogs- give insulin, and most of the time the disease is well-controlled.
The only problem is that cancer seems to be the endpoint of many different pathways. And my opinion is that there will be a few canine cancers that rely heavily on single mutations in the genes. However, I do not believe this approach will cut a large swath through the cancer epidemic.
This is because cancer development is not largely a genetic disease.
To be sure, genes are involved, especially when it comes to purebred dogs. However, an older theory is gaining traction once again. This is called the tissue organization field theory. This idea is covered in the Guide, but the short story is that cancer development may not be due to genes but rather to the environment around the cell. And of course the environment around the cell can be affected by….lifestyle, diet, and environment.
For some odd reason, these cancer risk factors for humans are understood and accepted, but in veterinary medicine we have not yet made the connection. Luckily, the Wall Street Journal article makes mention of the similarities between dog and human cancers, and the information human oncologists can get from dog cancer. And those of us who focus on four legged family members can use this information.
The successes of dogs receiving full-spectrum care outlined in the Guide can be chalked up to this way of thinking. If humans can benefit from dogs research, dogs can benefit from human research too!
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.