Every year, 26,000 people worldwide, mostly children and adolescents, are affected by osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Over the past thirty-five years, there have been no new treatments, and those that exist are not very effective. However, there may be hope for a cure, and it is to be found in dogs, reports Wired.
Our faithful four-legged friends are also affected by osteosarcoma – the disease is ten times more common among them. But unlike humans, there is a treatment. When we know that a cancerous sample of canine tissue and a piece of human tissue are indistinguishable under the microscope, we can think that the remedy could also apply to our species.
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A dog cured of osteosarcoma
Wired went to meet Jellybean, a 5-year-old Labrador, and his owners Patricia and Zach Mendonca. Three years ago, their dog contracted bone cancer. Despite amputation and chemotherapy, the disease spreads to the lungs. “We had no hope of being able to treat her. We were devastated”remembers Patricia Mendonca.
In November 2020, the couple still decided to participate in clinical trials for treatment at Tufts University, near Boston. With daily administration of three different drugs, Jellybean’s tumor shrank and hasn’t grown back since.
In the United States, if this canine treatment is possible, it is mainly because the medication for dogs is not subject to the same regulations as that for humans. Veterinarians have more freedom to use various drugs for diseases that do not have appropriate remedies.
The other advantage of these animals is that they are better suited to clinical studies than laboratory mice. Dogs develop tumors naturally when exposed to human-like environments, unlike rodents that researchers keep in cages to study cancers under artificial conditions.
A hope for mankind
Some treatments used on dogs seem to have the same effects as on children and adolescents with osteosarcoma. In 2019, researchers at Colorado State University prescribed twenty-eight dogs with bone cancer an antihypertensive drug, losartan, in combination with another tumor medication. After three years, this combination of remedies reduced or stabilized the cancer in 50% of cases.
Now about forty children with the disease are given losartan and the human equivalent of the canine cancer drug. According to Steve Dow, veterinarian and director of the Center for Regenerative and Immune Medicine at Colorado State University, this is a promising step, but it’s too early to draw conclusions right now. Human treatment is still poorly administered, where drugs have proven effective in many dogs.