Groundbreaking program cares for shelter dogs while advancing knowledge of canine and human breast cancer

[June 3, 2013; Philadelphia, PA] – The Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program has reached a milestone. A Chihuahua named Brownie is the 100th dog to join the program, which was founded in July 2009 and provides care for shelter dogs while advancing knowledge of both canine and human breast cancer. Brownie came to the program from the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and is currently in foster care with a PAWS volunteer, while waiting for her forever home.

Founded and led by Karin Sorenmo, DVM, DACVIM, chief of medical oncology at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital, the Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program provides care to shelter dogs with mammary tumors that are homeless and without access to the care they need to survive. The program covers surgery and follow-up care costs and helps facilitate adoption.

Shelter dogs provide an ideal population for studying mammary tumors, because only 10 percent of animals received into shelters have been spayed or neutered. The incidence of mammary tumors in unspayed female dogs is at least four times greater than in spayed dogs.

Mammary tumors in dogs and breast cancer in women have many similarities, both in terms of risk factors and biology. Many of the dogs have multiple tumors, often in different stages of malignant transformation, and therefore provide a unique opportunity to study cancer progression. “We believe that by studying dogs with mammary tumors, we can improve our understanding of how cancer develops, and through this understanding, find better and more efficient drugs to treat and prevent cancer,” explains Dr. Sorenmo.

“The Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program is particularly rewarding, in that we are attaining such important knowledge while actually saving the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of animal shelter populations,” adds Dr. Sorenmo.

Dr. Sorenmo is collaborating with Dr. Olga Troyanskaya of Princeton University in this project. Dr. Troyanskaya and her group at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and Department of Computer Science at Princeton University will perform the molecular analysis to identify the molecular alterations associated with progression from benign to malignant. The first results will be available later this summer. Comparison to human breast cancer data will be performed in collaboration with Drs. Robert Vonderheide and Susan Domchek of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

This program is supported by the Buerger Family Foundation, the Wiederhold Foundation, the Kindy French Foundation, and individual donors including Ms. Mina Ebrahimi of Saint Germain Catering.

Penn Vet is one of the world’s premier veterinary schools and is the only school in Pennsylvania graduating veterinarians. Founded in 1884, the school was built on the concept of Many Species, One MedicineTM. The birthplace of veterinary specialties, the school serves a distinctly diverse array of animal patients at its two campuses, from companion animals to horses to farm animals.

In Philadelphia, on Penn’s campus, are the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (Ryan Hospital) for companion animals; classrooms; research laboratories; and the School’s administrative offices. The large-animal facility, New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, PA, includes the George D. Widener Veterinary Hospital for large animals; diagnostic laboratories serving the agriculture industry; and research facilities to determine new treatment and diagnostic measures for large-animal diseases. For more information, visit www.vet.upenn.edu.