Bringing Cancer to ‘Heal’ by Studying Dog Genome

Man’s best friend doesn’t just share our living spaces – he also shares some of the most common cancers that afflict humans. A new grant from the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation and Golden Retriever Foundation will allow researchers to focus on genomic “trouble spots” in golden retrievers that are associated with increased hereditary risk for lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma.  Almost a third of all goldens will succumb to one of these two fatal cancers during their lives.

Matthew Breen, professor of genomics at North Carolina State University, is part of a team that has identified two different sequences in the dog genome that increase risk of developing lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) or hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels) by 50 percent. Kerstin Linblad-Toh of MIT and Harvard’s Broad Institute and Jamie Modiano of the University of Minnesota are the other lead researchers involved.

All three researchers are co-recipients of the three-year,  $1 million grant, which will be used to study the distribution of these genes across populations of golden retrievers and other breeds, to determine which mutations lead to the onset of cancer.

According to Breen, being able to test for the presence of these genetic variants gives owners and veterinarians a means to screen individual dogs for predicted risk, as well as a way to define the underlying genetic mutations. Such testing also provides new opportunities to manage risk across the population as a whole and to develop new therapies to treat these cancers once they are detected.

“While we are focused on treating and controlling these two cancers in golden retrievers, our research also has implications for numerous other dog breeds and potentially for human health as well,” Breen says. “Dogs and humans have the same cancers, likely caused by the same mutations. Identifying those mutations in dogs can therefore accelerate detection and treatment in humans.”


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