Dog cancer research might help humans
Cheryl London's dog, George, has cancer.
The Clintonville resident fails to see any irony in that, even though she's among those involved in research that seeks to determine if treatments which work on cancers in animals might have implications for treating similar cancers in humans.
It's not that London, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard, doesn't recognize the ironic when it crops up in her life.
It's just that as a veterinarian, she saw a lot of cancer in pets and now as a researcher she sees even more.
"We see it so much, I wasn't even surprised," London said of her dog developing the disease.
And she'd very much like to be a part of people not having to see cancer in animals or people at all.
"Cancer is cancer," London said last week. "It's a crappy disease on the human side and it's a crappy disease on the pet side."
George, by the way, has been through chemotherapy and is doing fine, other than having to good-naturedly put up, as dogs will, with the sometimes rambunctious play of London's young daughter.
"George is a hound and he is not a smart dog, but he's great with my 2-1/2-year old," she said.
London is an associate professor of veterinary biosciences at OSU and a member of the Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics program in the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
Sometimes in academia the title is a lot more complicated than what the person describing it does.
Not in this case.
London and others in the program at Ohio State, as well as similar programs elsewhere, are involved in what is called "comparative oncology." This doesn't involve inducing cancer in mice and testing drugs to cure it, but instead devising treatments for cancers that develop on their own in pets. Viewing the different types of cancer - and there are dozens of kinds of breast cancer alone - at the molecular level enables researchers to pinpoint similarities between the disease in animals and humans.
This work has the potential for speeding up the delivery of viable cancer treatments in people, according to London, in part because of how much more rapidly clinical trials can be started for pets.
In part, too, dogs make better subjects for comparative oncology studies.
For example, mice can't throw up; they simply lack the mechanism.
Dogs, as owners well know, can throw up, and sometimes seem to do so for the heck of it.
This alone means dogs can help eliminate some treatment or drug regimen that induces nausea or vomiting, something that testing in mice would fail to reveal, London said. It's one of the failings of what she called "mouse modeling."
"There are clear areas when we can contribute," London said.
Cheryl London was born in Boston. She earned her doctor of veterinary medicine degree at Tufts University, after which she spent several years in private practice in Maine, an experience that helped push her toward a career in research.
"I saw a lot of cancer when I was in private practice," she said. "I was just very interested in learning about cancer."
More than half of dogs who live to be 10 years old will get some form of cancer, according to London, with the rates varying widely, depending upon breed.
"It you just look overall, it's the most common killer of dogs," she said.
After spending some time as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Pathology at Harvard University, London spent six years on the faculty at the University of California, Davis. She was recruited to Ohio State in 2005 to help in building the "translational oncology program."
"I was really surprised when I got here at the depth of expertise at the cancer center and how metropolitan Columbus was," London said. "The other big thing is that they really wanted to grow the program."
In addition to the expertise at the cancer center and the surprisingly metropolitan nature of Columbus, London said that finding a home in Clintonville was another factor that helped bring her to OSU.
"I'm a New Englander," she said, "and I came into Clintonville and said, 'This is it: older houses, a walkable community.' I like being able to walk to a coffee shop and feel like I'm in a city. I have just great neighbors."
OSU has 10 to 12 active clinical trials going on with dogs at any given time, according to London. The pet owners who participate in these are not charged, and in some instances, drug companies provide incentives to get participants, she said.
Ohio State is one of 20 academic comparative oncology centers involved in the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium, which is managed by the National Institutes of Health-National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research Comparative Oncology Program.
"The Comparative Oncology Program will serve as an example of an integrated comparative oncology program and will provide a mechanism by which naturally occurring cancer models can be used to generate new information about cancer, translate biological concepts regarding cancer to relevant in vivo models and bring novel therapeutic options to the management of human cancers," according to the website for the program.
"Funding from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State's Center for Clinical and Translational Science helps support clinical trial efforts at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and has also assisted in the generation of a large bio-repository of animal tumors and normal tissues," according to an announcement from the OSU Medical Center. "The availability of such tissues for research has markedly enhanced the ability of researchers at OSU and Nationwide Children's Hospital to perform much-needed genetic and molecular studies that are critical to advancing the understanding of cancer biology in both dogs and humans."
It can be frustrating work at times, London admitted.
"Failure rates are very high in oncology trials," she said, estimating about 80 percent.