What are the genetic drivers or mutations behind this process called breast carcinogenesis? The dog may provide the perfect research model to answer this question: The dogs have five pairs of mammary glands and most dogs, especially the ones that remain sexually intact, have more than one tumor when they are diagnosed, some of which are benign, others malignant or in transition to become malignant.
These dogs therefore provide the perfect model to study the transformation for benign to malignant. Because of the clinical and biological similarities between human breast cancer and mammary tumors in dogs, the results may have direct applications for human breast carcinogenesis research.
Saving Dogs, Fighting Breast Cancer
We have built a great collaborative team with researchers from the veterinary school and medical school of the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University and we have a large and diverse tumor tissue bank with corresponding clinical information and outcome data on these dogs.
We hope that this research will help us fill in important gaps in our understanding of breast cancer development and progression, and that ultimately our findings can help both women and dogs with breast cancer.
To date we have screened 172 dogs from various shelters and rescue organizations in the area, some of you may have used us for many of the dogs you get in to your shelters and the smaller rescues have pulled dogs from larger shelters because you know about the program and know where to go for help.
Of these 172 dogs we were able to enroll 145 dogs; the others were not surgical candidates. Interestingly, a common reason was, in fact, that they did not have mammary tumors but rather inguinal hernias. Hernias can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between just with a clinical exam.
Others, unfortunately, had metastatic disease or other illnesses that made surgery not a good option for them. But we are very grateful for all the dogs we were able to help. And equally important; all of the dogs have been placed in new homes or adopted out thanks to your efforts!
And this is truly the measure of the success of the program; these dogs deserve good homes after their hardship. In addition, having the dogs placed in good homes with committed owners allow us to follow the dogs to determine what happens to them, which is crucial for the research part.
This program covers all costs associated with pre-surgical screening, blood work, chest x-rays, surgical removal of their mammary tumors and spay, as well as all follow-up visits thereafter.
So far the program has only involved standard of care surgery for the dogs and while surgery can cure many, the development of metastatic disease is still a common cause of death in these patients. We now have a new study, for which we have received funding and are currently recruiting.
The funding from this study allows us to continue this important work, but is also will help us answer important questions regarding the efficacy of treatments beyond surgery. This new study involves the use of a drug called desmopressin (DDAVP) immediately before and 24 hours after the surgery.
Desmopressin is a drug used for certain bleeding disorders but some recent evidence suggest it may have a role if cancer, specifically preventing metastasis in mammary cancer. It has an extremely good safety profile. The results from many other studies as well as a previous study we did here at Penn Vet confirm the safety of desmopressin. In this new study we seek to verify the results from the first study, therefore we are looking for dogs with mammary tumors greater than 3 cm (1.5inch) to enroll, the dogs will be randomized to receive desmopressin or a placebo.
The funding from this study allows us to continue to accept dogs, but at this point we need to limit the enrollment to dogs with somewhat larger tumors, so that we are more likely to enroll dogs with malignancy and therefore a risk for metastasis. We are hopeful that our findings will help us identify effective therapies for the dogs with high risk tumors.