Working together to cure cancer across species

The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (AKC CHF) and the V Foundation for Cancer Research are collaborating to fund cancer research for dogs—research that shows a very real possibility of helping humans, too.

It’s the very definition of comparative oncology.

Comparative oncology integrates naturally occurring cancers in animals, especially dogs, into broader studies of cancer biology and therapy that also impact people. Because dogs and people get many of the same cancers, the AKC CHF and the V Foundation believe funding research in this field will ultimately benefit both species.

And they believe bladder cancer is a good place to begin.

Bladder cancer, or urothelial carcinoma (UC), strikes approximately 40,000 dogs and 79,000 people a year, which makes it the perfect candidate for comparative oncology. That’s why the first project the AKC CHF and the V Foundation is jointly funding is the clinical trial of a new, targeted immunotherapy against a specific gene mutation that occurs in bladder cancer.

Nicola Mason, PhD, BVetMed, DACVIM, and an associate professor and veterinary researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, leads the research team. Their grant is $183,146.

Mason told NEWStat, “We are absolutely delighted to be awarded [an] AKC-CHF grant that will support our work evaluating the safety and effectiveness of a bacterial-based immunotherapy for the treatment of bladder cancer in dogs.”

Mason says that UC can occur in any dog, but certain breeds, like Scottish terriers and Shetland sheepdogs, have a higher incidence. Symptoms include increased frequency of urination, difficulty with urination, painful urination, and blood in the urine.

“Common treatment options include the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and chemotherapy. However, most dogs with UC succumb to their disease within 8 to 12 months of diagnosis,” said Mason.

But Mason sees hope for a cure in a mutant gene. “Recently, a mutation in a gene called BRAF has been identified in up to 87% of dogs with UC.”

Mutations in this gene, especially the V600E mutation, are the most frequently identified cancer-causing mutations in human melanoma, and have been identified in other human cancers as well, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, thyroid carcinoma, colorectal cancer, and lung cancers. The V600E B-Raf mutant protein is thought to play an important part as a driver of tumor growth and progression.

Mason said, “In this study, we are using a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes that has been genetically modified to express the V600E B-Raf protein. Listeria monocytogenes is a potent stimulator of the immune system, and the purpose of this study is to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of this V600E B-Raf–targeted immunotherapy to stimulate an immune response against UC that results in tumor regression.”

“Success in this approach will not only provide a novel and effective treatment for this otherwise terminal disease in dogs but will also provide important information regarding targeting this . . . mutation in B-Raf that will have important implications for human cancer patients. We are delighted and honored to have our work supported by the AKC-CHF."

If Mason and her team are successful, both dog and man could come up winners.

Photo credit: © iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

NEWStat Advancements & research News Interesting/unusual