How dogs and human can team up to battle cancer with new research

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Dogs are affectionately known as man's best friend, and now there are even more reasons to appreciate them.

A new program is underway that makes research on a certain type of cancer up to five times faster than typical - all thanks to a partnership between people and their pets.

Watching Dugan Smith play baseball, you'd never know what all he's overcome. Diagnosed with a bone cancer known as osteosarcoma as a child, Dugan underwent radical surgery in which doctors removed, rotated and reattached his leg. For patients like Dugan, there aren't many options.

"We haven't had a new drug in osteosarcoma in over 30 years," said Dr. Joel Mayerson, OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center. "So we really haven't had a huge jump in survival in 30 years."

In an effort to increase treatment options, a new cancer research program is underway designed to help people by way of our pets.

"Dogs get a lot of sarcoma," said Cheryl London, of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center. "And many of the sarcomas we see in dogs really look identical to the sarcomas that are seen in people."

So, vets here have teamed up with doctors at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and Nationwide Children's Hospital using one of the largest banks of sarcoma tissue in the nation, they hope to speed up the research process. Right now, it can take 10 years to develop drugs for humans. Dogs are a good comparative model for human cancer, but studies take a fraction of the time.

"So, in two to three years you have an answer and then you don't have to lose that time on the human side," London said. "It makes a very big difference in terms of impacting how clinical trials are run on the human side."

And it could lead to the first new advances in osteosarcoma treatment in generations.

"Once we know they help in dogs and we know the biology of osteosarcoma is pretty similar, we then can take that into the human world and hopefully begin human trials," said Mayerson.

It's an approach Dugan thinks could be a game-changer. In the meantime, when he's not on the mound, he's mentoring young patients facing surgeries similar to his.

"This changed my life and I look at life differently now and I feel like I need to help people and that's why I’m here today," he said.

This collaboration is the newest and one of the largest comparative oncology programs in the U.S.  Recently the National Cancer Institute and many pharmaceutical companies officially acknowledged the similarities in sarcomas in dogs and humans.

That is helping to not only accelerate the pace of research, but may also help funnel research funding into those efforts as well.