Dogs offer genetic clues to deadly glioma brain tumors


Gliomas are aggressive and tough-to-beat brain tumors that occur in both people and dogs. Understanding the genetic factors that cause the disease could lead the way to targeted therapies for both pets and people.

That’s the motivation behind new research out of Uppsala University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, where scientists have identified three genes in 25 dog breeds that are associated with glioma formation. Their study was published in a recent edition of PLOS Genetics.

Gliomas are particularly prevalent in “brachycephalic” dogs, such as boxers, Boston terriers and other breeds known for their broad but short skulls. To identify genetic drivers of the disease, the Swedish researchers took blood samples from 39 dogs diagnosed with gliomas and 141 control dogs, then sequenced their genomes to look for genetic variations associated with the cancer, according to a press release from PLOS.

They pinpointed three genes associated with glioma formation: CAMKK2, P2RX7 and DENR. With further research, the scientists discovered that CAMKK2 expression is lower in human and canine gliomas than it is in normal tissue. Previous studies had shown an association between cancer and P2RX7 variations in both dogs and people, according to PLOS.

“These results indicate that further investigations of the role of these three genes in glioma development would be of interest, with potential benefit to both dog and human,” said Karin Forsberg Nilsson, professor of immunology, genetics and pathology at Uppsala University, in a press release from the school.

The Swedish research is the latest in a string of studies aimed at improving the understanding of cancers that are similar in dogs and people. In November, scientists from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute teamed up with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine to test a new method for preventing chemotherapy resistance in dogs with glioblastoma. The researchers formed a company called FirstString Research to further the development of the therapy for people. And researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have identified genes that drive some types of lymphoma found in both people and dogs.

The National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) is among the organizations promoting research collaborations between veterinarians and oncologists, which is often referred to as comparative oncology. Last June, the IOM hosted a two-day workshop in Washington, DC, where veterinarians and scientists from academia and the pharmaceutical industry traded ideas about how they could expand such collaborations to accelerate the development of new therapies for both pets and people.

- read the press release on the glioma discovery from Uppsala University
- get more from PLOS Genetics
- access the study here

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