A conversation with Rodney Page, DVM
On July 1, Rodney Page, DVM, became director of Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center after 11 years at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. At Cornell he was chair of Clinical Sciences, a founding director of the Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research and administrative director of the Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors. But Dr. Page is not new to Colorado.
Page: I went to vet school here, and although the Animal Cancer Center hadn’t formally developed when I was a student, I chose to specialize in cancer because of the influence of faculty at the vet school. It’s now the most prestigious comparative cancer center in the world.
C3: What is a comparative cancer center?
Page: It’s a center that focuses, both in clinical care and research, on controlling cancer in companion animals as well as humans. We use many of the unique advantages of pets that develop cancer to investigate the cause, prevention and treatment of cancer to benefit every species. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has a Comparative Oncology Program, and about 15 centers around the country compete for funds to study cancer in pets as a model system for humans. CSU is the largest and the best,of course. The lessons we learn about cancer in pets can be applied to humans more accurately, in many instances, than data from rodent models used in most labs.
C3: How does treatment and research in pets with cancer apply to human cancer?
Page: Dogs and cats live in the same environment as we do. They are affected by environmental exposures, nutrition and lifestyle choices, like us. They get many of the same kinds of cancers and the clinical course is remarkably similar. NCI recognizes the dog as a relevant model in studying common cancers such as lymphoma, bone cancer, melanoma and breast cancer. Many of the premier comprehensive cancer centers in the country have developed affiliations with veterinary institutions to promote complementary studies. CU Cancer Center and CSU have been affiliated for more than 20 years.
C3: What are we learning from other species?
Page: I’ve had experience with some unique and interesting animal systems that spontaneously develop specific types of cancer. For example, the domestic hen is a model for spontaneously occurring ovarian cancer in women. Up to 50 percent of hens maintained in captivity are likely to develop cancer. This is believed to result from daily, continuous ovulation stress over the lifetime of the hen. Biomarkers of early diagnosis are easier to identify with a population such as this. The molecular similarities between ovarian cancers in chickens and in women only got a foothold in the past five or ten years, but such a unique resource may hold clues for many important questions for ovarian cancer in women.
The woodchuck is an excellent model of [liver cancer] due to the woodchuck hepatitis virus. Human hepatocellular carcinoma is a leading cause of cancer death worldwide and the woodchuck model has been used successfully to investigate antiviral and cancer compounds.
One of the strangest models of cancer is the clam. Polluted water around Buzzards Bay, Mass., has been traced to leukemia in the clam population. There are likely many such potential “canaries in the coal mine” that relate to environmental effects of pollution on organisms that share our habitat and that could impact human health.
C3: Why does it make sense for CSU to be part of the University of Colorado Cancer Center?
Page: We bring resources that complement CU Cancer Center, and we can leverage each other/s resources in mutually beneficial ways. Our strengths lie in parallel clinical studies with companion animals that develop cancer that are managed with the same care as studies in humans. In addition, as veterinarians we have the expertise to help with other comparative cancer projects, which is critical for the basic and translational research we do. CU Cancer Center and CSU have had a formal affiliation for over 20 years. The CU Cancer Center Pharmacology Core, for example, provides drug analysis for CU Cancer Center members, and it’s located at CSU and run by Dr. Dan Gustafson, one of our faculty members. CU Cancer Center directly supports that core function. We could consider how other core functions might be developed collaboratively.
We could also develop more cancer education and outreach opportunities to serve northern Colorado, and perhaps reduce the cost of doing business by locating some collective resources to Fort Collins from Denver.