Health Team

NC State, Duke partnering to research cancer in dogs, help humans

Posted January 27, 2016 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 27, 2016 6:52 p.m. EST

Duke University and North Carolina State University have long been sports rivals, but they are now officially joining forces in an effort to fight cancer in dogs.

Dr. Michael Nolan, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at N.C. State's College of Veterinary Medicine, says cancer is common in canines.

"Cancer affects about half of dogs, and it's a major cause of death in dogs," Nolan said.

Cancer researchers have long known that therapies that work on dogs often work in humans, and vice versa. Osteosarcoma, or bone tumors, are most common in large-breed dogs.

"They live with us. They live in our same environment. They have for thousands of years," Michael Kastan, executive director of Duke's Cancer Institute, said.

Duke cancer researcher Mark Dewhirst echoed Kastan's sentiments, saying the "genomics of the dog and genomics of the human are very well known now, and there's a lot of similarity between them."

Because of those similarities, N.C. State veterinarians and Duke researchers have often collaborated.

In 2010, research using small fat molecules to carry a tumor-killing drug were tested in dogs at N.C. State.

"We were able to ascertain what levels of drug we could achieve in tumors," Dewhirst said.

Now, the method is in human trials. That success has helped inspire a more deliberate collaboration between the schools – the Consortium for Canine Comparative Oncology, or C3O.

"The collaboration will bring new teams of people together and enhance opportunities for research funding," Nolan said.

Kastan said C3O is a "win-win."

"The dogs benefit, the owners of the dogs will benefit, and the human patients will benefit," Kastan said.

The two universities will hold their first annual symposium to discuss what's next in March. One possible benefit of the consortium is that it will attract more federal cancer research funding, in turn cutting the high costs of treatment many dog owners are forced to pay as they try to extend the lives of their beloved companions.