OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Canines point researchers toward cancer treatments for humans

06/09/2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University veterinary experts are collaborating with colleagues at the Oregon Health & Sciences University to combine targeted chemotherapy and surgery to treat canine cancer, one of the first efforts of its type.

The work may pave the way for new cancer treatments for people, researchers say.

When Orion, a 9-year-old golden retriever, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer known as hemangiosarcoma, owner Dr. Jody Kujovich took him to the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. The disease affects the lining of the arteries and can spread through the body with deadly efficiency.

In Corvallis, Dr. Stuart Helfand, a professor of veterinary medicine, cultured Orion’s cancer cells and exposed them to several new drugs. Orion may be the first dog to receive cancer care customized to the unique features of his tumor. Helfand is also working with Dr. Bernard Séguin, a surgeon and an assistant professor of veterinary medicine, on treatment of canine bone cancer (osteosarcoma).

Orion’s experience and a description of canine oncology research by Helfand and Séguin are described in two stories — “Saving Orion” and “Canines to the Rescue” — in OSU’s online Terra magazine, oregonstate.edu/terra.

“I was trained as a clinician,” Helfand said, “but came to realize that there were many questions we could not answer in the clinic alone. This attracted me to research in the laboratory with an eye toward learning things that could be brought back to our patients in the clinic, so-called translational research.”

Helfand and his colleagues are investigating compounds known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors — chemical messengers that play a role in cell proliferation. Dr. Brian Druker, director of OHSU’s Knight Cancer Center, developed the first tyrosine kinase inhibitor, or TKI, which is credited with revolutionizing the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia in people 10 years ago. Kujovich was part of the team that developed that treatment, and she is now helping Helfand explore the ability of other TKIs to treat hemangiosarcoma in dogs.

Tests with Orion’s cells showed them to be sensitive to dasatinib, a TKI that was not approved for veterinary use. As a result, the researchers are taking a conservative approach in Orion’s case, giving him low doses initially to see how he tolerates the drug.

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