World Class Cancer Research at the AHT:
Report on Mast Cell Tumour Breakthrough
Tragically, one in four dogs and one in six cats are likely to be affected by some form of cancer. Cancer is the main cause of death in dogs over 10 years of age and there are approximately 200 different types of canine cancer. Horses also suffer from a variety of aggressive skin tumours.
The Animal Health Trust already has a proven track record in both veterinary oncology and cancer research. Our clinicians are among the European leaders in diagnosis and treatment. Lead by Dr Mike Starkey, AHT’s Head of Molecular Oncology, our researchers are developing tests that detect tumours early and predict how they will behave. We are determined to reduce the death rates from cancer and we believe that our facility is the UK’s leading animal cancer treatment and research centre.
Cancer is a disease of DNA. The impact of recent advances in the detection of changes in DNA and understanding their effects has never been greater for dogs with cancer.
A focus of the AHT’s Oncology research is on three of the most malignant cancers that are amongst the most common affecting UK dogs. We feature our investigation of Mast Cell Tumours where the AHT’s recent research has made exciting advances.
AHT Focus on Mast Cell Tumours
Mast cell tumours (MCTs) are the most common skin tumour in dogs. In the UK alone, 9,000 dogs every year are diagnosed with MCT’s and out of these 30% of dogs suffer from tumours that spread. In order for these dogs to access appropriate treatment it is critical that an effective diagnostic test is developed to help veterinary surgeons distinguish if a tumour will spread or not. Using such a test, once the vet has determined how the tumour is likely to behave and how aggressive it is, they can then prescribe the most suitable treatment which is normally surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of the three.
Achievements So Far
Dr Starkey’s team compared the ‘genetic blueprints’ of MCTs that spread, with those that did not, and identified changes in the levels of over 200 genes that are linked to MCT spread. The identification of these ‘biomarkers’ is a key step towards the development of a new prognostic test for canine MCTs.
Dr Starkey’s work showed that measuring the levels of 19 of these genes in a MCT could be used to identify a tumour that spread with an accuracy of 90 – 100%. Using these 19 genes, or a subset of them, we are aiming to develop a test that will accurately predict whether a MCT will spread.
Chemotherapy is used to slow MCT spread, but there is no treatment that can stop the tumours from spreading and affected dogs from dying prematurely. By identifying changes to genes that enable MCT metastasis, the results of Dr Starkey’s research could also promote the trials of anti-metastasis drugs in dogs affected by MCTs predicted to metastasise.
In 2018 a scientific paper, featuring this breakthrough research, was submitted for peer reviewed publication. We are pleased to report that a description of the research study has been successfully published in ’PLoS One’. This has led to further popular coverage of the breakthrough, including a front page article in the 14th January 2019 edition of the Veterinary Times with the headline; “Study Adds Major Boost To Canine Skin Cancer Fight.”
Future Research Plans
This recent discovery is the first major step on the path to creating an accurate and predictive test. In the next research phase, we will be appealing to the veterinary profession to help provide 100 new canine MCT samples (50 cases of dogs with metastasising MCT and 50 with non-metastasising MCT.) This will be used to validate our initial research results and prove that the 19 previously identified genes do accurately identify if a mast cell tumour will spread or not. This two-year study will span 2019 and 2020.
Further to this, if we are able to identify which changes in the 19 genes cause the mast cell tumours to spread, we can then investigate how to interrupt those genetic changes which will ultimately enable future development of new drugs to stop the tumours spreading. There are currently no drugs capable of preventing tumour metastases, so their future development would be a revolution in canine cancer treatment.
The AHT’s cancer research receives no government funding and relies solely on charitable donations. With your help, the AHT commits to reducing the suffering of dogs caused by cancer for the benefit of present and future generations.