Here are some numbers: Each year, roughly 800 to 1,000 children are diagnosed with bone cancer (osteosarcoma, or OS). For pet dogs, the count reportedly exceeds 25,000. For both species, it’s a scary diagnosis with a generally poor outcome. And despite the fact that it’s been under investigation for decades, there have been no significant medical breakthroughs or improvements in survival rates.
This may be changing, however. A study published in Communications Biology [2019; 2 (1)] and reported in Science Daily has identified recurring genetic mutations common to both humans and canines afflicted by the disease. In fact, the transcriptional profiles—quantifications of gene expression at the RNA (ribonucleic acid) level—of the two species are “virtually indistinguishable.”
What does this mean? In the near-term, that we will gain a better understanding of how (and possibly why) bone cancer develops. In the long-term, that advancements in the treatment of canine bone cancer will also benefit children with the disease.
To put the study’s potential in science-speak, “Assessment of somatic mutation signatures can provide clues to cancer etiology.” It’s a classic example of species-spanning medicine, which Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist John Woestendiek described in detail a few years ago in The Bark.
Although—as is the case with many cancers—a cure is not yet in sight, work such as this offers hope that one may yet come into view on the horizon. In the meantime, we can also hope that this work informs the development of more effective treatment options for the benefit of both children and dogs, natural allies in play and, as it turns out, in life.