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Species-Spanning Medicine
Dr. Matthew Breen with Churchill, North Carolina State University

Similarities between dogs and humans, especially when it comes to genes, are also the basis for Dr. Matthew Breen’s research into the most common cancer in dogs, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at NCSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Breen and fellow researchers have, with help from the canine genome map, developed a test that can accurately predict how long a dog treated with chemotherapy will remain in remission. In collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and others, they’re in the process of converting the canine test to a human one.

“If that happens, it will be big news,” says Breen, a geneticist and professor of genomics. Breen lost his first dog to cancer when he was 12 and, as an adult, played a role in the mapping of the canine genome—a game-changing achievement that helped place dogs front and center when it comes to health research.

“It’s likely that we will learn more about cancer by looking at what happens in our dogs over the next five to 10 years than we will in the next 20 to 30 of looking solely at cancer in people,” he predicts.

But the key, he emphasizes, is looking at both at the same time.

“If we consider dogs as dogs, we’ll be able to do so much. If we consider people as people, we’ll do so much. But if we consider them both as mammals, and look at what’s common between them, we will find some intriguing answers.”

The possibilities extend well beyond non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and well beyond cancer. Dogs, long our antidote for loneliness, may hold the most promise of all animals when it comes to solving medical mysteries and curing what ails us.

“The answer to some of nature’s puzzles about genetics and disease,” Breen says, “has been walking right beside us for the last few hundred years.”

***

In reality, we’ve been turning to dogs for thousands of years, sometimes quite cruelly, to try to solve our human ills: from the time of Aristotle, who conducted experiments on live animals, and the era of Galen, whose second-century experiments earned him the title “the father of vivisection,” to the period of Pavlov, whose 19th-century experiments included severing the esophagi of living dogs to better study their digestion and, as a sideline, bottling and selling their gastric juices to the public as a cure for dyspepsia.

Many of the medical treatments we now take for granted were either discovered through the use of dogs or tried on dogs first.

In England during the 1600s, the first administration of medication intravenously was accomplished in a dog, via tubes and a pouch made of an animal bladder. In the 1920s, experiments on dogs led to Frederick Banting’s discovery of insulin. Banting and fellow researcher Charles Best surgically stopped the flow of nourishment to a dog’s pancreas and, after it degenerated, removed it, sliced it up, froze the pieces then ground them up. They named the extract “isletin.” When it was injected into another dog in which they’d induced diabetes, the dog’s blood glucose level dropped.

In the 1960s—long before they were ever slipped into clogged human arteries—stents were inserted into those of dogs. When a ballooning version was developed in the 1980s, it too was first tested on dogs.

Currently, as humans wait to take full advantage of its purported promise, stem-cell therapy is becoming more common—though expensive, at around $2,500 per treatment—in treating dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia and spinal-cord injuries. Removing, treating and reinjecting stem cells (and even differentiated cells) have led to some miraculous recoveries.

Dogs may have access to novel cures and treatments yet to be made widely available to humans, but there’s a trade-off. They are still, in a way, being used as guinea pigs. The difference is—compared to Pavlov’s day, compared to some of the unsavory experimentation on dogs that still goes on—they’re not healthy dogs, or dogs in whom diseases have been induced. Most often, they’re patients, sick dogs who have run out of alternatives and whose owners have enrolled them in clinical trials in hopes of, if not curing their own pet, furthering research that might help other dogs.

The canine cancer samples from around the country that end up in Breen’s lab come from willing donors, or at least willing owners, many of whom see contributing to such research as a way their dogs can leave a lasting mark.

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Submitted by Anonymous | April 26 2013 |

Dear John Woestendiek, I don't wish to offend you but I don't want my dog to be used as an experiment though I realize the benefit of the medical community to enhance the life of my dog so I agree what you have written on page 1 of your article to some extent, but I've lost too many cats to experiments. There seems to be a conflict of interest what the National Center for Infectious Diseases says about dogs, which doesn't refer to the same link that you provide in your article.

I have a dog and a cat. I am their Mother. They think I am their Mother and I agree with them.:) I've had them since they both were around 2 weeks old:) I've invested a lot of love and energy into their health and welfare. Please consider they are my children since I was never able to have children.

Page 2 of your article John states, “Dogs, long our antidote for loneliness, may hold the most promise of all animals when it comes to solving medical mysteries and curing what ails us.”

My comment from the National Center from Infectious Diseases states:
Pets can decrease your:
Blood pressure
Cholesterol levels
Triglyceride levels
Feelings of loneliness

Pets can increase your:
Opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
Opportunities for socialization
http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health_benefits.htm

Regarding page 5 and 6 of the article by John Woestendiek, my comment from the National Center from Infectious Diseases:
Diseases from Dogs
Although dogs can pass germs to people, you are not likely to get sick from touching or owning dogs. To best protect yourself from getting sick, thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after contact with dogs, dog saliva, or dog feces (stool).
Dogs can carry a variety of germs that can make people sick. Some of these germs are common and some are rare. For example, puppies may pass the bacterium Campylobacter in their feces (stool). This germ can cause diarrhea in people. Puppies and some adult dogs often carry a variety of parasites that can cause rashes or illness in people. Less often, dogs in urban or rural areas can carry the bacterium Leptospira (lep-TO-spy-ruh). This germ causes the disease leptospirosis (lep-to-spi-roh-sis) in people and animals. Dogs can also carry rabies, a deadly viral disease. Rabies from dogs is rare in the United States.
Some people are more likely than others to get diseases from dogs. A person's age and health status may affect his or her immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick. People who are more likely to get diseases from dogs include infants, children younger than 5 years old, organ transplant patients, people with HIV/AIDS, and people being treated for cancer.
http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/animals/dogs.htm

I understand the importance of scientific research since I too am a researcher. Thank you for your consideration in this matter. Best wishes to you.

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