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Translational research at OVC benefits pets and people

Collaborative, translational research benefits all species. It leads to improved diagnostics for pets and people, and also new therapies.

The Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph is uniquely placed to provide leading comparative medicine opportunities in cancer, cardiovascular and reproductive research.

“Multi-disciplinary, collaborative research teams at the University of Guelph combine a unique blend of animal and human-health researchers, creating an unparalleled opportunity for translational health research,” says OVC Biomedical Sciences researcher Dr. Jim Petrik who has researched ovarian cancer at the University of Guelph for almost 15 years, focusing on anti-angiogenic therapies to inhibit growth of new blood vessels to tumours.

This collaborative approach has resulted in new therapies for the treatment of companion animal cancers, as well as innovative therapies that have led to human clinical trials related to ovarian and breast cancer, he adds.

When the Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation (ICCI) launched at OVC in 2007, it was the first of its kind in Canada, bringing together expertise in cancer biology and veterinary medicine for an integrated approach to cancer studies. ICCI brings together researchers from across the UofG campus as well as collaborating with external research groups such as at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo. Research collaborations seek to further the understanding of cancer for the benefit of all species while training highly qualified personnel.

Similarly, the Centre for Cardiovascular Investigations (CCVI), launched in 2015, is transforming thinking about cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in North America. “CCVI faculty have an outstanding track record of scientific excellence, and the Centre also supports an ambitious teaching and networking program with national and international allied institutions and research programs,” says Tami Martino, a cardiovascular researcher at OVC and leader of the CCVI. ”It is one of the few Centre’s worldwide looking at cardiovascular disease all the way from single molecules to clinical applications.”

Research collaborations between cancer and cardiovascular researchers provide unique opportunities. A few examples of this work include:

  • OVC Biomedical Sciences researchers Petrik and Martino, share a common interest in vascular biology. For example, angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation) is a key target in cancer care. In heart disease, angiogenesis can benefit repair after heart attacks, and reduce the burden of the global epidemic of heart failure.
  • OVC researchers Byram Bridle, in OVC’s Department of Pathobiology, Paul Woods, a veterinary oncologist in the Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer at OVC, and McMaster University’s Immunology Research Centre have teamed up to treat breast cancer in cats using new vaccines designed to boost the immune system and kill tumour cells in cats with the disease without hurting healthy tissue. The groundbreaking clinical trial may lead to better treatments for breast cancer in animals and people. The work is the first animal patient clinical trial funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
  • Petrik’s lab is searching for novel therapies to treat advanced stage ovarian cancer. An animal model they have developed for advanced stage ovarian cancer mimics the disease’s advanced stage in humans and has dramatically increased survival in affected animals.  By normalizing tumour blood vessels, this improved blood supply to tumours can be used to deliver treatment such as chemotherapy or other therapies. Improved delivery means tumours have less time to develop drug resistance, allowing for lower doses of chemotherapy and reducing side effects.
  • Research has shown that virus uptake is also increased with improved blood vessels.  Petrik is also working with Bridle and Sarah Wootton, in OVC’s Department of Pathobiology, in research using oncolytic viruses, which fight cancer cells, to fight tumours.
  • On the cardiovascular research front, Tami Martino’s group in Biomedical Sciences are actively investigating how the heart’s circadian rhythms impact potential treatment strategies. For example, timing of drug therapy (chronotherapy) with ACE inhibitors improves outcome in some heart diseases. Maintaining circadian rhythms and sleep is a promising non-pharmacological approach to improve outcomes after a heart attack. And experimental studies using the new circadian medicine drugs are improving outcomes in models of high blood pressure, cardiac hypertrophy, heart attacks, and heart failure.
  • Research by Glen Pyle, OVC’s Department of Biomedical Sciences, and Lynne O’Sullivan, OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies, to identify causes of inherited dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in canine patients also has translational impacts. DCM is a fatal cardiovascular disorder shared by dogs and humans. Research into DCM in dogs provides a unique opportunity to learn more about the cause and potential therapies for DCM.
  • In terms of pre-clinical translation, both groups are now strongly focussed on advancing therapies using state-of-the-art health sciences imaging. As leaders in the field, this will rapidly accelerate the most promising basic research findings forward to clinical translation, to benefit patients in clinical oncology, cardiology, and other areas of medicine as well.

“Our goal is to improve discovery leading to new therapies for both animals and humans for both cancer and cardiovascular disease,” adds Petrik: “At OVC and UofG, we have the expertise, translational research experience, and clinical facilities to achieve these short- and long-term research goals and to conduct this innovative research.”