Professor Matthew Allen
University of Cambridge
Dogs are 10 times more likely than people to develop osteosarcoma, so focusing on dogs with naturally occurring forms of the cancer could yield vital insight into our understanding of the disease and how it spreads in humans. Dogs develop the same pattern of clinical disease as people, with the tumour developing in bone and spreading to distant organs such as the lung through cells entering the bloodstream (known as circulating tumour cells or CTCs).
When diagnosed, most osteosarcoma patients will show no clinical evidence of distant disease, but microscopic deposits may have already formed in the lung, and it is these metastases that contribute to poor survival rates.
Blood tests for CTCs are already being used to monitor disease progression in other cancers, and a similar approach could be adopted for osteosarcoma. Blood levels of CTC in a dog with naturally occurring osteosarcoma that has undergone the standard treatment of surgery and chemotherapy will be measured over time. These results will then be compared with clinical data on disease progression and overall survival.
This project will make use of the clinical population of dogs seen at the veterinary school for diagnosis and management of osteosarcoma. Positive results from this study will help support the use of CTC measurements to track disease and response to therapy in osteosarcoma.
Identification of the CTCs means we can study these cells in the laboratory, improving the understanding of how osteosarcoma spreads, and will lead to safer and more effective treatments for osteosarcoma in both people and dogs.