Dog Genes Could Help Cure Cancer in Humans

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic
Yana Vasileva/Shutterstock

There are many health benefits to owning a dog. Studies have shown that owning a dog can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and boost immune health. And now, research revealed that dogs could help cure cancer as they have the same tumor-causing genes as humans.

Researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the University of Georgia, and the One Health Company discovered that dog and human cancers are genetically more similar than previously thought. The study, published in the Scientific Reports, looked at genomic data of 671 pet dogs with 23 common tumor types to identify genetic mutations responsible for canine cancer. These samples were compared to human tumor samples to identify overlapping mutations.

The results were astonishing! Researchers discovered many previously unknown similarities in key genetic mutations. The study revealed 18 mutational hotspots that are likely the leading causes of canine cancer, eight of which are reported in human cancers. 

Many of these hotspots can be treated with targeted drugs already used for human cancer patients. This means that dogs battling cancer will get access to highly effective target treatments that can replace or be used combined with traditional cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. 

The good news for human cancer patients is that scientists can use genetic data from dog tumors to advance the development of targeted cancer drugs for people. The research also discovered several previously unknown mutation hotspots in dog cancers

“This study provides the most comprehensive genomic sequencing data on canine cancers, including several previously unsequenced types, and serves as a much-needed resource for comparative oncology,” said Shaying Zhao, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Georgia. 

Researchers also discovered that TP53, the most commonly mutated gene in human cancers, is also the most frequently mutated gene in dogs. Mutations to the TP53 gene are usually associated with breast cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, and soft tissue sarcomas and cause cancer cells to grow and spread. 

“The results of this study show the incredible potential of combining canine cancer genomics and big data analysis to save lives on both ends of the leash,” said One Health Company CEO and study co-author Christina Lopes. “Human cancer research has been moving towards a genomics-based paradigm for decades, but research on canine cancer genomics hasn’t kept up.”

In the past decade, researchers have already used data from dog cancer patients to further the development of more than 10 cancer drugs. But this study provides researchers with a bigger database and could help accelerate the treatment and research for both humans and dogs. 

“Now people can look at cancer and say ‘oh, this cancer looks like a cancer in a human,’ and it also has the exact same genetic mutation as this cancer in people have, let’s see what therapies work here. It’s rare in science to have a win-win scenario - a win for pets, a win for people, and a win for pet parents,” Dr. Gerald Post told Salon in an interview. 

It seems that better days are ahead for those battling cancer on two and four legs!

Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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