The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) has launched a research program to create a biobank of dog tumors for sharing with researchers worldwide, with the goal of offering new insights into cancer in humans and dogs.

JAX said its new Tallwood Canine Cancer Research Initiative (TCCRI) will identify and work closely with veterinary centers of excellence. When a dog treated at one of those centers is diagnosed with a cancer of interest, its owner can have the veterinarian donate their dog’s tumor to TCCRI following removal.

TCCRI plans to use those tumors toward creating patient-derived xenograft (PDX) cancer models, with each model to be sequenced in the manner of human PDX models. The PDX models will be used for ongoing cancer research programs and be offered to researchers worldwide, JAX said.

JAX reasons that PDX tumors grown in mice can provide insights that include how cancer changes over time and what therapeutics are most effective.

JAX investigators will also sequence the DNA from healthy canines of specific breeds and compare healthy dogs to dogs of the same breed with cancerous mutations.

“By studying specific dog breeds’ genomes, we can work to identify which parts of the genome differ between breeds and could contribute to cancer,” Charles Lee, Ph.D., FACMG, scientific director and professor at JAX Genomic Medicine, said in a statement. “Subsequently, identifying corresponding regions in human genomes might potentially uncover new regulatory elements that encourage these types of cancers in humans. This strategy is particularly useful for cancers that are rare among humans, but commonly found in certain dog breeds.”

TTCRI aims to expand the knowledge gained through human–canine comparative oncology, the branch of cancer research focused on studying naturally occurring cancer models in pets, then applying what is learned from them to human cancer R&D. Dogs appear to be ideal pets for such research, as strong similarities in the genetic aberrations and gene expression patterns of dog and human cancers have been confirmed since the sequencing of the dog genome more than a decade ago.

Elevated Risk in Some Breeds

Within JAX, the laboratory of Roel Verhaak, Ph.D.—who joined the Laboratory last year from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center—has focused on studying the elevated risk of gliomas or glioblastomas in short-snouted or brachycephalic breeds of dogs, which include Boston terriers, Pugs, French Bulldogs, Shih-Tzus, and Pekingese.

Dr. Verhaak and a onetime colleague at M.D. Anderson, neurosurgeon Amy Heimberger, M.D., are conducting preclinical immunotherapy trials in dogs through a grant from the NIH’s National Cancer Institute. Working with Texas A&M University and its network of veterinary clinics, the researchers as of November collected 180 postmortem samples from dogs with brain tumors, cancer and normal samples from 70 dogs, and cancer-only samples from another 40 dogs.

The canine cohort, which according to JAX is the largest ever assembled, combines brachycephalic breeds with other breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers, Labrador, and Retrievers.

“We’ve already confirmed that there are similarities, from a molecular perspective, between markers for human gliomas and those for dogs,” Dr. Verhaak said in November. “I think once we have our full cohort completed we’ll be able to see markers that may be more canine specific. That in itself will be interesting: What do you see in canines and not in humans, and vice versa?”

TTCRI was launched last month with a $500,000 gift from an anonymous Hartford donor who also contributed the initiative’s first healthy canine sample—DNA from the family dog, an Irish Wolfhound named Patrick, collected by Kenneth Knaack, D.V.M., of Veterinary Specialists of Connecticut.

“The information gained from this program will undoubtedly also improve what we learn about canine tumors and, in doing so, lead to improved personalized cancer treatments for dogs,” Dr. Lee added. “It really is a win–win for both species.”


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