3 min read

Vets Who Treat Shelter Dogs’ Cancer May Help Humans, Too

<p><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/derekgavey/">Derek Gavey</a></p>

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.

Since the program began in 2009, the veterinarians have treated more than 100 dogs. "So many of us have been touched by breast cancer. It's really devastating," Sorenmo says. "If the dogs can be a link to help advance our knowledge and treatment of breast cancer, it will be a true win-win situation."