Novel Immune Therapy Could Benefit Both Human and Canine Cancer Patients


February 01, 2023

(Banner Image: A veterinarian examines a dog on a table while a young girl looks on.)

Dr. Paul Woods with Bella

Research on a new bone cancer treatment in large breed dogs has potential to translate to bone cancer treatment in young children. 

Researchers at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), working with 10 American veterinary colleges as members of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) comparative oncology (cancer) trials consortium, conducted research in companion dogs who naturally develop osteosarcoma, which is a bone cancer. The dogs in this study were given a novel immune therapy.  

With a goal to translate the study results to human patients with osteosarcoma, this research underscores a basic tenet of One Health: the relationship between human and animal health, and their shared environment. 

Osteosarcoma looks very similar in dogs and people,” says OVC’s Dr. Paul Woods, a veterinary medical oncologist and former founding co-director of the Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation at the University of Guelph. “If we can show improvement in care in one species, then that may translate to help the other species as well.” 

Osteosarcoma commonly affects limbs, such as legs, in dogs and youth. Treatment is similar – with surgery, chemotherapy, and occasionally radiation. But while such treatment usually relieves the pain caused by the cancer, unfortunately it often doesn’t stop cancer spread to other areas of the body. The individuals typically die because of cancer spread to critical organs, such as the heart or lungs. 

To address this problem, University of Pennsylvania researchers developed a vaccine to help the body fight the cancer. It trains the immune system to recognize and attack a target that is often found on bone cancer cells. The rationale is that this could stop or delay the cancer from going throughout the body. 

The NIH ran a study on the vaccine at 11 veterinary colleges across North America. Eighty dogs afflicted with osteosarcoma were recruited and administered the vaccine, in addition to the standard treatment that includes amputation and chemotherapy. The dogs were monitored through routine physical exams and chest X-rays to determine if the vaccine is successfully extending their lifetime. 

Woods says a unique aspect of this disease is its similarity across species, despite significant genetic diversity. Dogs that develop osteosarcomas span a variety of breeds such as Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers and Great Danes. Each breed is genetically diverse, and that diversity only increases across species, to humans. 

“If you compared dog osteosarcoma tumours with human tumours, you wouldn’t be able to easily distinguish which species they came from,” says Woods. 

Funding for this research is provided by the Morris Animal Foundation. The study is now complete and results can be found on the Morris Animal Foundation's website

Learn more about Woods and the work of the Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation here: 

This article, written by Anna McMenemy, was adapted from the One Health Institute’s, University of Guelph website for use on the OVC’s news page. The original article can be found here:

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