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NC State and Lineberger Center Collaborate to Combat Cancer

What do a college of veterinary medicine and a cancer treatment and research center have in common? The answer may be as plain as the nose on your dog’s face. Researchers from North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are combining their expertise to pinpoint the cause of – and improve treatments for – non-Hodgkin lymphoma in human and canine patients.

The dog is an excellent model to study human cancer, particularly lymphoma. The disease is biologically similar in human and canine patients, but is much easier to narrow down problematic areas in a dog’s genome because the genetic variation among dogs of the same breed is so much lower than genetic variation in humans. These factors, coupled with the publication of the human and canine genomes, make the dog the perfect candidate for this collaborative research.

Drs. Steven Suter, professor of clinical sciences, and Matthew Breen, professor of genomics, along with statistics professor Dr. Alison Motsinger-Reif and Dr. Dahlia Nielsen, research assistant professor of genetics, lead the NC State component. Researchers at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are led by Dr. Kristy Richards, geneticist and clinical oncologist. The team is recruiting dogs diagnosed with lymphoma to collect tissue samples for study. A simple and speedy procedure at the NC State Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the collection causes no discomfort to the dog and owners receive $1,000 for their pet’s participation.

Labs from both institutions will study tissue samples from human and canine patients, with the hope of creating a genomic “profile” of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that would give oncologists and veterinarians greater insight into the disease’s biology, and improve their ability to diagnose the illness early.

“Non-Hodgkin lymphoma ranks fifth in cancer deaths among human patients, and the mortality rate for dogs is even higher,” Suter says. “By combining the strengths of our programs, we expect to enhance our understanding of the disease and speed improved treatments for people and pets. This is another example of ‘One Health,’ the concept of comparative medicine that acknowledges human and animal health relies on a common pool of medical and scientific knowledge and is supported by overlapping technologies and discoveries.”

Richards adds, “Traditionally, lymphoma researchers have used laboratory mouse models of lymphoma, but it would be advantageous to study lymphoma in a large animal model with spontaneously occurring lymphomas that more closely mimic the situation in humans. There are very few places in the country where a top-rate veterinary program is in such proximity to a top-rate medical school with a comprehensive cancer center. We aim to take full advantage of this partnership to discover, develop and test new treatments much faster than could be done in either organism alone.”