A New Era in Cancer Therapy for Our Pets and People
Kathryn Taylor, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology)
We have been battling cancer in pets for more than 30 years, and for much of this time we have looked toward human cancer therapies for guidance on how to treat and which medications may be best. For decades, people have been investigating cancer therapy and new drugs using laboratory animals such as mice and rats. No one likes to think of any animal being injected with cancer and then further injected with experimental medications only to eventually die or be killed to determine the results of a study. This sounds inhumane and brutal, but has been one of many research approaches for years. We have learned an infinite amount about cancer behavior and therapy from these “ethically challenging” studies. We cannot ignore the benefits of these studies but we can look forward to try and find a more humane and clinically relevant approach.
While mice and rats are similar to people, the cancers that they develop are experimentally induced by the researcher. In other words the cancers are not spontaneous. The cancer cells are derived from cell lines kept in a laboratory, and they do not always behave in the same manner that spontaneous cancers behave in people. Additionally, in order to get the cancers to grow, the animals have been genetically altered to have a reduced immune system which makes these animals even less like the average person with cancer. How can we take a step away from these rodent model experiments and find a better model for human cancer?
The answer is right in front of me every day. Dogs and cats get the same variety of spontaneous cancers that people will get, and we already know so much about them. Our approach in veterinary medicine and human medicine is changing. As the world connects with social media and the internet and research can be right at everyone’s fingertips, we are beginning to realize that instead of working separately toward the same goal of cancer therapy, we should work together. We are becoming One Medicine. Around the world we are working together to solve complicated questions about cancer therapy. For example, since a dog’s average life span is 10 to 12 years, we can learn much more about their response to cancer therapy in just a few years than what we can learn in people. A study that may take 20 years in people can be done in just 5 years in our pets. We can learn more in less time!
Please understand, I am not advocating making our pets laboratory subjects or victims of harmful research. That would be against my veterinary oath and all that I believe in for our beloved pets. However, when I see a pet with cancer and know that I cannot cure them with any current medical therapy, I would love to have the chance to try a new medication that could give us some hope and help us learn more for people as well. Clinical trials in veterinary medicine are being performed at hospitals and Universities across the world with the hope of advancing not only our care for pets but also people. To find out more about these research trials you can visit the following website:
All clinical trials are strictly regulated for the safe and humane treatment of our pets. We take this responsibility seriously. Trust that if you wish to consider a clinical trial for your pet, they will be treated like royalty. Not only will they be helping further our veterinary understanding of cancer but they may just help save countless lives in the future.