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Collaborative research opens door for improved osteosarcoma treatment

About thirteen years ago, Jaime Modiano, V.M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, began a collaborative research process with members of the Broad Institute, Ohio State University, and North Carolina State University. The goal of the group: to understand more about Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and how it is similar between canines and humans.

Osteosarcoma is a rare disease in humans most commonly found in children. The condition is far more common in dogs, however. According to Modiano, there are about 10,000 bone cancer cases in dogs annually compared to less than 1,000 in humans.

“While the disease impacts more dogs than humans, the clinical behavior of the disease is very similar,” Modiano said.

Now, research from the collaborative partnership has started to chip away at determining whether or not osteosarcoma is the same in canines and humans. Their findings suggest that if the diseases aren’t identical, they’re close to being the same.

Among canines, the larger the animal the greater the risk of contracting bone cancer. The bigger the dog, the longer the bones, which increases their cell count. Making an increased cell count requires more divisions, which means there’s a greater chance of developing mutations.

But an animal’s size doesn’t tell the whole story. Some breeds, like the Irish Wolfhound and Rottweiler, have separate traits that increase their risk of osteosarcoma. Modiano’s group in particular was largely responsible for obtaining Rottweiler samples that allowed the group to uncover some of these characteristics.

“As a result, we might actually be able to categorize the different ways that an animal can get predisposed to bone cancer,” Modiano said. “Then we can screen these dogs alongside human patients and say ‘which of these traits do they both carry?’”

Deciphering all of those variables is still a complex work in progress. However, there are simple ways to lower the risk of your dog contracting osteosarcoma.

How to lower risk:

  • Feeding a dog less energy-dense food to slow down its growth and allow it to reach its final size over a longer period of time.

  • Don’t let your dog run on hard surfaces like concrete until its bones are fully matured. This lowers the potential for microfractures, which are a risk factor for bone cancer.

The steps Modiano and others took for this research collaboration are important milestones for understanding more about the disease. More can be done, but looking at how osteosarcoma impacts dogs is opening the door to improved treatment for humans.

“With kids, we don’t know what these risk factors are,” Modiano said. “But uncovering the risk factors in dogs can help us understand human risk factors though, because the diseases are so similar between canines and humans. Our research is moving forward and we’re excited to see where our progress takes us down the road.”

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