Dogs with cancer could help test drugs for humans

WASHINGTON — A dog is often called man’s best friend. But the family pet can also be a key ally when it comes to developing new drugs to fight cancer.

At a recent meeting on cancer policy sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, a team of experts explained the notion of using dogs with cancer to test treatments in development for humans. 

“It’s kind of a win-win situation,” says veterinarian Katy Nelson, host of the Pet Show With Dr. Katy on News Channel 8. She says pet owners will be able to get innovative treatments for their ailing dogs for free, while researchers will get a chance to study cancer in its naturally occurring state, rather than inducing it in a lab animal.

Lab animals — primarily rats and mice — have long been used to test new cancer drugs. But before those drugs are administered, their immune systems are compromised so cancer can be induced and take hold. Using dogs who already have the disease may well provide more accurate results. And those who support the move also note the similarities in the ways dogs and humans develop the disease.

“Liver tumors, lung cancer, brain cancer — all of these happen in our pets just as they do in people,” says Nelson.

These dogs would likely be treated much as humans in clinical trials. Their owners will retain control, and these pets will get the benefits of promising treatments that would not otherwise be available to them.

A few small trials are already underway. All drugs involved were already cleared in pre-clinical trials for safety, and there is no shortage of pets that could be helped.

The American Veterinary Medicine Association says there are about 70 million dogs in the United States. The experts who addressed the Institute of Medicine estimated 25 percent of these pets will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime.

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