Morris Animal Foundation to launch 13-year canine cancer study

The Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) is preparing to launch a new, $25 million initiative to try to prevent cancer in dogs.

The Canine Lifetime Health Project, as it is called, was announced at the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in Orlando earlier this month.

Canine Lifetime Health Project objectives

  • Determine the incidence of cancer in golden retrievers in the USA
  • Determine the incidence/prevalence of exposure to potential risk factors (e.g., environmental, nutritional, behavioral and genetic) among golden retrievers
  • Explore associations between potential risk factors and the development of specific cancers
  • Determine the incidence and risk factors for other health disorders
  • Collect, store and analyze blood, DNA and other biological samples to identify potential biomarkers for development of cancer and other diseases
  • Collect and store tumor tissue to confirm diagnosis of cancer (histopathology) and to characterize cancer pathogenesis at a molecular level
  • Develop and evaluate strategies and guidelines for canine cancer screening and prevention

"The goal of this study is to identify genetic, nutritional and environmental risk factors for the cause of cancer and other diseases," said Wayne Jensen, DVM, PhD, MAFs chief science officer. "It’s a one of a kind study."

The foundation decided to study canine cancer since it is the No. 1 cause of death in dogs over two years old, according to the MAF, and MAF donors have identified cancer as their top disease of concern.

In the study, 2,500 golden retrievers will be recruited between the ages of two and five years old. The foundation will monitor the dogs for up to 13 years, with the goal of recording lifetime follow-up information on at least 1,500 dogs.

Owners will be expected to take their dogs in for annual exams and to provide other information about their dog, including online surveys and collection of urine, blood and tumor samples.

On the veterinarian side, practices will be primary care clinics, selected by the pet owners. Veterinarians will provide data and collect samples for analysis.

Jensen said practices can benefit from taking part in the study because the clients involved will be very committed to the care of their pets, and it is a chance to take part in a "one of a kind" study.

"Here’s an opportunity for clinics to give back to the profession," Jensen said. "Once we have statistically significant results, they will be the first ones likely to hear about it."

In addition to gathering information on cancer, the project will also attempt to identify some causes of other diseases in dogs. When the study is complete, it is expected to produce important findings on prevention strategies, early diagnosis and treatment paradigms for cancer and other conditions.

The foundation will start recruiting dogs for the study later this year, after an announcement to veterinarians at the Western Veterinary Conference in February.