A group of veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania is fighting breast cancer, one shelter dog at a time. By treating these dogs, the researchers aren't simply making the animals healthier -- they hope knowledge gleaned from each patient can, in turn, save human lives.
"The dog gives us the potential to answer the question: When did something go wrong at the molecular level?" Karin Sorenmo, a veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania, tells The New York Times. In both dogs and humans, the molecule estrogen feeds breast cancer tumors. And among canines, shelter dogs are at a particularly high risk of developing cancer, as only one in ten are spayed or neutered. (Spaying removes ovaries, the organ that produces estrogen.)
Because female dogs have 10 mammary glands, Sorenmo says each patient she sees can provide a "snapshot" of cancer progression -- a dog may have a benign tumor in one gland and a malignant tumor in another. By comparing the tumors within each dog, the researchers hope to identify the molecular tweaks that make one tumor harmless and the other dangerous.