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Breakthrough Canine Cancer Research Helps Dogs and Humans Live Longer, Healthier Lives


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An innovative cancer treatment process improving survival rates for dogs could soon take the phrase “man’s best friend” to a whole new level, according to a research project funded by the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

shutterstock 94948384Through CHF’s support, Texas A&M University is continuing a ground-breaking lymphoma treatment therapy research project that uses laboratory expanded T-cells to help extend the lives of dogs that unfortunately develop cancer. Lymphoma is the most common form of canine cancer, accounting for up to 24 percent of all cancer cases diagnosed. It is rarely curable. Eighty percent of dogs typically live only 12 months or less after being diagnosed with lymphoma.

The pioneering process, designed by a team of scientists at Texas A&M and the University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston, starts with taking a blood sample from the dog in order to expand T-cells, which are white blood cells critical for fighting off infection and controlling cancer. The T-cells are then infused back into the same dog following chemotherapy treatments to help rebuild the dog’s immune system. The hypothesis of these investigators was that the infused T-cells would wipe out any remaining cancer cells not eliminated during typical chemotherapy treatments. Early results have been encouraging.

“Our [T-cell] treated dogs had a tumor-free survival (first remission) almost five times longer [than dogs that received only chemotherapy treatments],” said Texas A&M’s Heather Wilson, DVM, leader in the next phase of the canine T-cell project that is being funded by CHF.

Dogs are genetically closer to humans than humans are to mice, which are commonly used for pre-clinical studies. In companion dogs, the tumors develop spontaneously in the presence of an intact immune system due to the same environmental etiologies and genetic abnormalities as human cancer. Thus, what is learnt in dogs with cancer may be applied to humans with cancer. Given the promising results with dogs, a similar innovative immunotherapy process is currently in clinical trials to help treat human cancer patients at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, under the direction of Dr. Laurence Cooper.

In the canine studies, “We followed the same rigid standards we practice for human clinical trials at MD Anderson to ensure the safety of each dog,” said Dr. Cooper, professor and section chief of cell therapy at the children’s hospital. “It’s a win-win for dog and human patients. While these pets are benefiting from the T-cell infusions, this collaboration with Texas A&M is a driving force for undertaking similar clinical trials in humans.”

The outlook for using the process to treat humans is promising. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved trials using T-cell immunotherapy to treat humans for lymphoma. New trials stemming from this research are forthcoming.

“Treating dogs with cancer provides us with a great comparative oncology model for humans,” said Colleen O’Connor, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow at MD Anderson. “We learned important details about the interaction between chemotherapy and tumor cells that can be harnessed to improve the body’s anti-tumor immune response. This is something we hadn’t appreciated thus far from our clinical research in humans.”

“We are very excited by the collaboration between Texas A&M and MD Anderson Cancer Center, to help dogs, as well as humans, live longer, healthier lives,” says CHF Chief Scientific Officer Shila Nordone, Ph.D. “As a foundation, we are committed to funding research that will prevent and treat canine cancer. This collaboration also underscores the important role that veterinary biomedical research plays in human translational medical research. It is likely through using naturally occurring veterinary disease models we will be able to identify new therapeutics and treatments more quickly and for far less money than when we use traditional research approaches.”

The CHF-funded project at Texas A&M is sponsored by the American German Shepherd Dog Charitable Foundation, American Miniature Schnauzer Club, American Shetland Sheepdog Association, Central New Jersey Hound Association, English Setter Association of America, English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association, German Wirehaired Pointer Club of America, Golden Retriever Foundation and Otterhound Club of America.

If interested in making contributions directly for canine health research like the innovative cancer therapy research being done at Texas A&M, visit the CHF website at and click on the “Donate Today” button or text “dog” to 20222 to make a $5 donation.