Humans’ Best Friend


Just as scientists officially mapped the human genome in 2003, scientists have decoded the canine genome. It was discovered that dogs have greater than 80 percent genetic similarity to humans. Many of the genetic mutations that drive cells to become cancerous in people are the same mutations that cause cancer in dogs. Cancers such as bone cancer, lymphoma and bladder cancer that spontaneously arise in pet dogs are microscopically and molecularly identical to cancers in people. In fact, when viewed under a microscope, it is impossible to distinguish between a tumor from a human and a dog.

Dogs not only develop similar types of cancers as humans, but their cancer responds to treatments in similar ways. This means that new cancer treatments first shown to be effective in canine cancers can frequently be predicted to have a similar benefit in human cancer patients. As a result, researchers now recognize that new drug trials in dogs with cancer will result in therapeutic discoveries that are highly translatable and likely to produce comparable medical responses in human cancer patients.

Another advantage of comparative oncology is the fact that dogs age much faster than people, meaning canine cancers and treatment outcomes may be observed in much less time. In studying naturally occurring cancers in companion animals, outcomes may be understood in two years, a fraction of the five to fifteen years it normally takes to determine if a new drug or procedure is successful through human cancer trials.

By studying how cancer responds in dogs, scientists are gaining a better understanding of how new cancer drugs not only treat the cancer but also influence the patient’s overall quality of life during treatment. This benefits dog owners, by providing access to promising new cancer treatments for their pets with cancer, and benefits human cancer patients by providing a rapid way to collect crucial data needed for FDA approval.