Dogs have long been recognized as man’s best friend. But a new cancer study confirms that canines offer humans a lot more than companionship.
Scientists just identified new genes that may predispose humans to lymphoma, a common blood-borne cancer. They arrived at this discovery by studying naturally occurring lymphoma tumors in golden retrievers, cocker spaniels and boxers. The research could yield new treatments for humans with lymphoma.
This study is hardly an outlier. In recent years, research with the help of dogs has yielded significant advances in medical and veterinary science — especially in the fight against cancer.
Yet even as research yields promising results, animal-rights groups have redoubled their efforts to end scientific research involving dogs. These opponents have long been willing to sacrifice human lives for their ideology. But by campaigning against canine research, they’re also putting the lives of dogs in danger.
Scientists discover cures by studying diseases in living systems — first in animals and then in people. They can’t test a drug’s effectiveness by just plugging formulas into a computer model.
Consider cancer, which is as big a threat to dogs as it is to humans. One in four dogs develops cancer at some point in its life. Dogs also develop many of the same cancers humans do. But more importantly for researchers, they develop cancer in the same way as humans: spontaneously.
That’s different from mice and rats, the go-to models for cancer research. Rodents are genetically engineered to have various forms of the disease. And while they are incredibly valuable for cancer drug trials, even they don’t mimic how cancer acts within a person’s body as closely as a dog with a naturally occurring form of a similar cancer.
So people living with cancer benefit from canine cancer research. But dogs themselves benefit just as much.
A few years ago, researchers at the University of Minnesota successfully removed a form of brain cancer known as glioma from a 10-year-old dog named Batman with the help of several experimental treatments. Glioma is often impossible to fully remove in dogs through surgery. Among humans, this form of cancer accounts for 80% of malignant brain tumors.
Or consider the story of Sasha, an American bulldog diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2012. As many as 8,000 dogs are diagnosed with this form of bone cancer every year. The majority do not survive for more than a year following their diagnosis.
Sasha and four other dogs gained access to a new vaccine through a clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania. The treatment enabled Sasha and the others to live healthily for another two years.
Opportunities for dogs to receive advanced cancer therapies are growing more common. The National Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium, for instance, is currently managing dog trials at 20 institutions around the country.
Thanks to these studies, dogs are benefiting from some of the most sophisticated cancer treatments available to any species.
Why are activists fighting this dog-saving research? In recent months, campaigners from a non-profit known as the Beagle Freedom Project have been publicly attacking — and even suing — research institutions that conduct canine studies. Their ultimate goal is to end all research with dogs and cats.
If they succeed, many cancer patients — across multiple species — will die. Who knows how long it will take to cure cancer if scientists are precluded from using some of the most effective research techniques available to them.
And that’s to say nothing of the dogs who will die along the way.
Canine cancer studies are offering new hope to the owners of dogs with cancer — and paving the way toward new, more effective treatments for humans. That activists oppose these efforts in the name of animal rights reveals their hypocrisy.
Frankie Trull is president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research.