PBS documentary spotlights translational cancer research in dogs

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A PBS documentary explores how dogs with cancer can aid oncology research.

Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center has long been a proponent of comparative oncology--a worldwide effort to recruit dogs that develop cancer into clinical trials that could translate to new therapies for people. Now the university’s veterinarians will be able to preach the value of their research to a broad audience, thanks to Rocky Mountain PBS, which will air a documentary about their work on September 29.

The film, called “The Answer to Cancer May Be Walking Beside Us,” features several translational studies involving pets with a variety of cancers that are similar in dogs and people, including bladder cancer, brain cancer and osteosarcoma. (See preview below.) It includes input from veterinarians, oncologists, dog owners and human cancer patients, as well as comparative oncology experts from Ohio State University, the National Cancer Institute, Children’s Hospital Colorado and more.

“We don’t give dogs cancer,” explains Matthew Breen, professor of genomics at North Carolina State University, during the film. “They get the cancers naturally. Man’s best friend is probably man’s best new biomedical friend.”

Several of the veterinarians featured in the film were participants in a two-day conference on comparative oncology held last year by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine. During that event, more than two dozen veterinarians and scientists explored topics ranging from cancer biomarker discovery in dogs to the potential of learning from dogs with naturally occurring forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, breast cancer and other tumor types.

The PBS documentary features human patients who have benefited from treatment techniques pioneered in dogs. One such treatment is “limb sparing,” which CSU Flint's founding director Stephen Withrow first developed for his canine patients fighting osteosarcoma. The technique involves removing the tumor and surrounding tissue, and then replacing the bone with grafts or metal implants. It is now widely used in human medicine to help osteosarcoma patients avoid amputation.

CSU, which spearheaded the production of the documentary, says “opportunity” is the film’s prevailing  theme. “Cancer experts at Colorado State University have long advocated the value of comparative oncology in the fight against cancer in all species,” says Tom Milligan, vice president of external relations for the university, in a statement. “We hope this documentary will help spread this message to a broad audience.”

The half-hour film will be available online after the initial airing, according to CSU.

- read more from Colorado State University

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