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U of M researcher aims to improve golden retriever cancer diagnostics, treatment as part of new $1 million grant

Photo: Sonja Lovas via Flickr CC

Jaime Modiano, V.M.D., Ph.D., a canine cancer researcher from the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, is one of a trio of researchers receiving a new $1.1 million grant from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation and the Golden Retriever Foundation to investigate improved cancer diagnostics and treatments for golden retrievers and, by extension, humans.

Modiano, a professor in the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the university’s Animal Cancer Care and Research program, will join collaborators Matthew Breen, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University, and Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, Ph.D., of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in refining the current understanding of why golden retrievers are more susceptible to two hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma cancers than other dog breeds.

“We want to investigate which combinations of heritable traits make these dogs more prone to cancers than other dog breeds,” said Modiano. “After we understand the source of the problem, we can begin to understand what to do to prevent the cancer in the first place.”

The new $1.1 million research award will build on Modiano, Breen, and Lindblad-Toh’s previous discoveries of the tumor mutations linked to cancer, and the area of the genome which appears to be accountable for as much as 50 percent of the risk factor for hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma. The research team will move forward from these discoveries to develop markers for personalized cancer risk assessments (DNA tests) and treatment options translatable to all dog breeds.

Canine and human tumors are often nearly clinically identical, making treatments and diagnostics that work for dogs potentially translatable to humans. Additionally, the understanding of lymphoma or hemangiosarcoma that might take five years to develop by observing a human patient might be understood in less than one year in a canine patient, because cancer’s progression is accelerating in a relatively shorter canine lifespan. Furthermore, the more common occurrence of some cancers in dogs than people provides additional opportunities for treatment and diagnostic investigation.

“To best help dogs and humans, we have to determine which of our findings are dog-specific and which are human-specific,” said Modiano, “and where the links are between the two universes.”

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