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Canine researchers team up for DOGBONe

Photo of Ontario Veterinary College researchers who are part of the DOGBONe research group.Bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is a particularly aggressive disease in dogs – one that has limited treatment options and is almost always fatal. Worse, the current standard method of determining how badly the cancer will behave, tumour grading, can be unreliable and offers little information about the dog’s prognosis.

Treatment usually involves limb amputation when possible. But unfortunately, due to the aggressive nature of canine osteosarcoma, the disease usually metastasizes to the lungs, just like the human form of the disease that struck Canadian icon Terry Fox.

In response, a group of researchers at the University of Guelph called the Dog Osteosarcoma Group – Biomarkers of Neoplasia (or DOGBONe) have teamed up to determine more accurate ways to assess bone cancer.

Their main objective is to identify biomarkers (the quantitative substances that suggest the presence of diseases in organisms) to assess patients with osteosarcoma.

The differences between osteosarcoma in dogs and humans are so slight that even computers aren’t able to distinguish between tumour samples from each species based on gene expression patterns. This makes research into canine osteosarcoma ever more valuable from a One Health perspective. Because the cancer in dogs and humans is so similar, any progress in developing better treatments for one means progress for the other as well.

“The dogs are a model for the worst of the human disease,” said Prof. Geoff Wood, Ontario Veterinary College’s (OVC) Department of Pathobiology. “Right now, the information we find out in human osteosarcoma serves as a model for the dogs. There’s an opportunity to go both ways between the species, for the benefit of both.”

DOGBONe comprises U of G’s top osteosarcoma researchers from across all four departments at OVC, including co-leaders Wood and Alicia Viloria-Petit of the Department of Biomedical Sciences. Other members include Profs. Brigitte Brisson, Tony Mutsaers, Michelle Oblak and Paul Woods from the Department of Clinical Studies, Byram Bridle from the Department of Pathobiology and David Pearl from the Department of Population Medicine.

This group came together after multiple individual collaborations between the researchers who have worked together on projects in the past. Now, as a formal group collaboration, the researchers gain the added benefit of maximizing resources by sharing osteosarcoma samples.

The researchers will be exploring liquid biopsies (blood, serum and plasma) and other potential signifiers at the cellular level to see if they can find biomarkers for the canine cancer.

"There's not a good system to tell, when a dog comes in, how well it’s going to do with therapy – how long it’s going to live with osteosarcoma – except for if they already have metastases in the lung, which means that the disease is already far along and they have a very bad prognosis,” said Wood. Dr. Courtney Schott, a PhD student in Dr. Wood’s lab, recently published a comprehensive study of the two most common grading systems in canine osteosarcoma and found that neither could predict outcome. This study was accompanied by a special guest editorial in the journal Veterinary Pathology, highlighting the importance of the work.

By approaching osteosarcoma from different angles and utilizing each researcher’s expertise in their separate fields, DOGBONe members hope to find ways to connect biomarkers to the aggressiveness of the disease at the cellular and molecular level. They want to know what allows some dogs to survive for longer than others.

Dogs that are diagnosed with osteosarcoma are often referred to the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer at the Ontario Veterinary College to receive surgery and chemotherapy or palliative care, where they receive treatment to lessen their pain. These patients are able to contribute samples to the OVC Companion Animal Tumour Bank, providing crucial material for researchers to analyze.

While the members of DOGBONe continue to have their individual and small collaborative projects funded though the OVC Pet Trust, the researchers are presently seeking funding as a group, and are now undertaking collaborations with researchers looking at osteosarcoma in humans. 

Photo - Back row: Profs. Tony Mutsaers, Department of Biomedical Sciences; Paul Wood, Department of Clinical Studies; and David Pearl, Department of Population Medicine.
Middle row: Profs. Byram Bridle and Geoff Wood, Department of Pathobiology; Brigitte Brisson and Michelle Oblak, Department of Clinical Studies.
Front row: Prof. Alicia Viloria-Petit, Department of Biomedical Sciences