First paper from golden retriever lifetime study declares cancer a major target

In 2012, the Morris Animal Foundation launched its Golden Retriever Lifetime Study and began recruiting 3,000 dogs for the project, which is expected to last 15 years and is aimed at identifying important risk factors for cancer and other diseases. Now the foundation has released its first paper from the study, which was published in a special cancer-themed issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions B.

In the paper, the organization describes the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study and declares its primary endpoint to be the spontaneous occurrence of cancer. The disease is estimated to affect 60% of golden retrievers, but the lack of accurate data has hampered efforts to track and understand the disease in dogs, according to the journal article. Following the dogs over time could help elucidate suspected risk factors for cancer, including obesity and environmental toxins--and the insights gained could very well translate to oncology research in people.

"This study is first and foremost designed to help us understand more about canine cancer, and learn more about factors that lead to illness as well as health," said Diane Brown, chief scientific officer at the Morris Animal Foundation in a release. "That being said, we also will learn much about the environments in which these dogs live--the same environments they share with their families, and perhaps the same risk factors that may influence human disease."

During the study, which completed enrollment in March, the owners of the dogs and their veterinarians will complete annual questionnaires about their pets' diets, activity and health conditions, as well as provide blood samples. The project was modeled after the famous Framingham Heart Study, a long-term research endeavor that began in 1948 and that has greatly improved the understanding of how cardiovascular disease should be managed and prevented.

Dogs are becoming increasingly important allies in the war on cancer, with more and more academic researchers and pharmaceutical companies recruit them for studies that could translate into treatments for people. Those efforts are already bearing fruit. Just last week, for example, Australia's Regeneus won regulatory approval to test a personalized cancer vaccine in people that it has proven is effective in pet dogs.

And at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in April, researchers from the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center described a gene expression model that may predict how dogs with bone cancer will respond to the widely used drug doxorubicin--a model that could be used to improve the treatment of people with cancer.

The use of dogs with spontaneously occurring tumors in studies that may also boost human oncology research--a field known in scientific circles as "comparative oncology"--is one part of the global One Health movement. One Health preaches the value of research collaborations between experts in animal and human medicine as a way to speed up the development of cures for illnesses that cross species. Animal health giant Zoetis ($ZTS), which is one of the companies that promotes One Health, put out a call for greater participation in the movement at a conference in March.  

- here's the press release from Morris Animal Foundation
- access the journal article on the golden retriever project here

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