More information on Canine Lymphoma
can be found here.

The answer to a cure lies on the cutting edge. Put yourself there! Explore...

Gene Therapy
(One of many new developments)

This article was reprinted from the Akron Beacon Journal, Akron Ohio
Sat, Jan. 04, 2003. Articles like this are encouraging. 

Gene Therapy Down Canine Road

No cure for lymphoma but researchers looking at ways to extend life with medical treatment...

Lymphoma in dogs is a nightmare I hadn't entertained until I began writing this column, when so many of you began to educate me, chronicling your dogs' battles with the deadly disease. It's a fight the dog can't win, but researchers are making inroads that will ultimately improve treatment options and extend the lives of our trusty companions.

The future could hold a magic, cancer-killing bullet known as gene therapy.

That's the hope of the American Medical Center Cancer Research Center in Denver, Colo., a not-for-profit research institute dedicated to the prevention and control of cancer and other chronic diseases in humans. One of the center's researchers, veterinarian-scientist Jaime Modiano recently completed a grant to take a closer look at the significance of tumor-suppressor genes in the canine cancer lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph glands, a disease that accounts for 20 percent of all canine tumors and 80 percent of cancers arising from blood cells. (For those who would like to delve more deeply into the topic, Modiano's work is detailed at length online at

How tumors begin

There is no cure. Lymphoma kills most dogs within a month of diagnosis. Treatment, however, may prolong life by a year.

A biology 101 refresher: Cancer is the result of uncontrolled cell growth resulting from mutations, or errors in the DNA code, in genes that control cell division. The error rate is small and usually poses no problems in the cell's functioning. When it does, it disables tumor-suppressor genes that regulate cell division and survival. With the cells now multiplying unchecked, a tumor takes shape.

Were the faulty genes inherited? If they were, what you have is a genetic disease. Scientists are looking for genetic markers that define cancer risk for dogs and their offspring, vital information to breeders about which dogs might develop lymphoma.

"The project has helped to broaden the understanding of why tumors happen, so that the abnormalities can be targeted and better therapies devised,'' said Erica Verne, grants administrator of the AKC Canine Health Foundation in Aurora. "Researchers developed and tested gene therapy for melanoma, or skin tumors. In a clinical trial involving five dogs with facial or oral melanoma, they found that gene therapy... was both free of adverse effects and effective.''

Research promising

The research bodes well for humans, because cancers in dogs and humans bear many similarities, and their courses appear to run on parallel paths. This work with tumor-suppressor genes also provides the basis for future research that may ultimately lead to scientists being able to assess an individual's risks for acquiring cancer or for cancer forming among his progeny. Likewise, scientists will be able to identify good candidates for certain types of therapy.

That would include gene therapy, where scientists program a gene to carry a message, shall we say, to kill cancer cells, and introduce it into a harmless virus. It is then transferred to a diseased cell in a dog, where it multiplies. This cutting-edge technique is not the stuff of everyday medicine yet, but it is a likely foretelling of our medical tomorrows.

Matthew Breen, associate professor of genomonics, Molecular Biomedical Sciences at North Carolina State University, is a colleague of Modiano's and co-principal with him in a new grant to study the abnormalities in genes in canine lymphoma and osteosarcoma, or bone cancer.

"We know that dogs form cancer as much as humans, maybe more,'' said Breen. "The cancer in dogs is similar to that in humans -- bone, brain and lymphoma. That's the reason I got involved. My work looks at chromosome damage and their involvement in cancer. We know from our research that human cancers are associated with chromosome damage. The canine and human genomes are very similar. The hypothesis is if we see chromosome aberrations associated with human cancers, we should also see them in dog cancers. Our early calculations validate this hypothesis.''

Large breeds are at risk for developing bone cancer. ``Think about the really big dogs,'' says Breen. ``Within 9 to 12 months, they are enormous. Bear in mind how much growth is occurring in the bone plates. The cells have to divide many times to grow the long bones.'' The more they divide, the greater chance of an error.

The median survival of a dog with bone cancer is three to four months, says Breen. Surgery followed by chemotherapy could increase the dog's survival to over a year. Surgery may mean removal of the cancerous bone and most certainly means removal of the cancer, followed by chemotherapy.

``There are no really robust predictors of response,'' said Breen. ``The survival of a dog with osteosarcoma treated with standard care can range from weeks to years.''


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