Have you ever been told you look just like your favorite pet? The similarity is more than just skin deep; recent studies comparing genetic similarities between dogs and people are demonstrating that we look a lot like our pets on the inside as well, sharing genetic pathways for developing disease. In a study published recently in Oncogene, researchers at the University of Georgia and the National Cancer Institute/NIH showed that the genes involved in colorectal cancers “look” similar in both dogs and people, highlighting that the study of canine cancer enhances the development of novel treatment therapies for all.
The study is one of the first reports looking not only at genes as a whole, but more specifically at comparison of driver and passenger genes to determine if they behave similarly in human and canine cancer. This novel approach builds upon the knowledge of both the dog and human genome-both of which have been previously sequenced. Researchers know that driver genes are those genetic elements responsible for the initiation and progression of the cancer, while passenger genes are mutations that don’t contribute to the development of the cancer but have appeared during the growth of the tumor. Using this novel method of analysis, the authors have concluded not only that the driver genes in both species, dogs and people, function differently from the passenger genes; importantly they also show that the driver genes in both species code for proteins that similarly function to regulate cell proliferation and cell death.
Discovering this shared distinction of driver from passenger genes allows researchers to develop therapies in the dog that are specifically targeted to interrupt the signal causing the cancer to develop and grow. Because dogs and humans share the same environment, are exposed to the same carcinogens, and develop cancers spontaneously (rather than being induced –as in the rodent model,) the discovery of driver genes in dogs establishes the relevance of the canine cancer research model to enhance the development of more effective targeted therapies.
Barbara Cohen, Executive Director Gerald Post, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Animal Cancer Foundation The Veterinary Cancer Center