Man’s best friend helps fight cancer

Rod Page (left), DVM, director of CSU’s Flint Animal Cancer Center and Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, director of CU Cancer Center at the Colorado State Capitol Feb. 23. 2016

Rod Page (left), DVM, director of CSU’s Flint Animal Cancer Center and Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, director of CU Cancer Center at the Colorado State Capitol Feb. 23. 2016

The University of Colorado Cancer Center and Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center recently highlighted their collaboration at the State Capitol. The two institutions work together to advance the discovery of cancer therapies in humans and companion animals.

Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, director of CU Cancer Center and Rod Page, DVM, director of CSU’s Flint Animal Cancer Center appeared before the Colorado State Public Health Care and Human Services Committee.

From basic science in the laboratory to human clinical trials, research conducted by CU Cancer Center investigators often leads to more effective cancer treatments with fewer side effects helping cancer patients live longer, better lives.

“We want to change the paradigm for cancer treatment in Colorado,” said Theodorescu. “We want the advances we make to extend to patients nationally and internationally.”

One way to make those advances is to offer compassionate cancer care to companion animals and apply the knowledge to the treatment of human cancer patients and vice versa.

The Flint Animal Cancer Center at CSU in Fort Collins is an acknowledged leader in veterinary care and a member of the CU Cancer Center consortium. One of the Center’s specialties is in osteosarcoma, commonly known as bone cancer, which occurs 10 times more often in dogs than in people. Cancer also accounts for 50 percent of deaths in dogs above the age of 10. Osteosarcoma in people and tumors in companion animals are indistinguishable under the microscope or by genetic analysis.

“That gives us an opportunity when there is a tenfold increase to expedite the drug discovery process,” said Page. “Dogs are not only important parts of our families but they offer an opportunity to perhaps make a difference in drug discovery. This is a win-win situation for people and for my patients.”

Page says a clinical trial that may take five years in humans may only take a year in canines which means a reduced time for informed decisions about whether a therapy may be useful in people.

It goes both ways: people with cancer also are advancing treatment in dogs. Theodorescu has pioneered work in predicting which cancerous tumors will be responsive to which kinds of chemotherapy agents. Recently scientists at the Flint Animal Cancer Center found those predictions to be accurate across species, meaning that pet dogs treated at CSU may benefit from the discoveries made with human patients at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“As the owner of two dogs, I’m really happy our work could contribute to help our best friends,” said Theodorescu.

CU Cancer Center and Flint Animal Cancer Center are part of the National Cancer Institute’s comparative oncology network to expedite the development of therapeutic agents for cancer patients.

Along with 10 other major cancer centers, CU Cancer Center is involved in the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN). The partnership takes samples from patient tumors and pairs it with information describing their treatments and results. The information is collected in a shared database so ORIEN affiliated cancer researchers can draw conclusions based on 11 times the number of patients.

ORIEN makes it possible to populate studies of smaller subtypes of cancer when no one institution sees enough patients to make conclusions.

Whether collaborating with Flint Animal Cancer Center or ORIEN centers, the future of cancer treatment lies in finding treatments that move the needle a little at a time.

“Think of cancer as an onion,” said Theodorescu. “Peeling that onion, even if we peel it five percent at a time, if we keep at it relentlessly, we are going to make that onion go away. Small victories. If you are that patient, that five percent can be 100 percent.”

About the author: Erika Matich

Erika Matich is the communications manager for the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Contact her at Erika.Matich [at] ucdenver.edu.

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