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Morris Animal Foundation spearheads push to fight cancer


Englewood, Colo. - A $30-million cancer program aims to foster research, treatment and, hopefully, a future cure for canine and human cancer.

ENGLEWOOD, COLO. — A $30-million cancer program aims to foster research, treatment and, hopefully, a future cure for canine and human cancer.

With the motto "helping best friends get better," the three-phase Canine Cancer Initiative from the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) will partner with multiple organizations focused on cancer research, including the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comparative Oncology Program.

"I think the dog may once again be our best friend because they may give us important clues toward a cure because our cancer researchers are telling us that a dog's cancer and ours are very similar," says Dr. Patricia Olson, foundation president. "Someday this horrible disease is going to get solved and there is tremendous opportunity right now with the genetic tools. We are looking for partners wherever we can."

MAF aims to improve the health and well-being of companion animals and wildlife by funding humane health studies and disseminating information about these studies. The foundation previously funded more than 80 individual cancer studies, says Olson, who lost a sister to the disease and has a daughter who is a survivor.

Research Phase I, which begins this month, is a series of clinical trials that will study dogs currently suffering from cancer. The initiative will use the resources of the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (COTC), under NCI's Comparative Oncology Program, to perform the first study on osteosarcoma. Affecting 10,000 dogs and 1,000 children yearly, this has the potential to benefit canines and humans, Olson says.

Made up of 14 veterinary schools across the country, COTC has agreements in place that allows all of the organizations to work together as one cohesive unit, says Chand Khanna, DVM, PhD and NCI clinical veterinary oncologist who leads the oncology program. NCI's focus is to improve outcomes for patients with cancer, Khanna says, by integrating what is learned through animal studies, including clinical trials for dogs with cancer.

"For the Morris Animal Foundation, it is all about the animals. But we want to partner with everyone who can use the information," Olson says. MAF continues to raise funds for the clinical trials, which each cost $350,000, so more cancers can be selected for study.

MAF and the Canine Comparative Oncology and Genomic Consortium, lead in part by Khanna and the oncology program, again will partner in Phase II, aimed to build a repository of 3,000 tumor tissue samples. Projected to cost $2.2 million, the MAF and American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation have collectively given $500,000 to initiate work on populating the bank, with hopes of completing the collection in three years.

The initiative's third phase will focus on treatment and hopefully a cure, Olson says. "We can identify environmental and nutritional risk factors through a longitudinal study that will last the dog's lifetime. We're saying in a dog's lifetime, we may have an answer. Why not try to think about it?"

The MAF initiative and NCI program work to integrate efforts of the veterinary perspective within the broader biomedical research community. This combined and comparative approach has a great opportunity for success against the problem of cancer, Khanna says.

"I look at this as we are going to be helping the animals, and just in doing so, we might help us all," Olson says.

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