Comparative and Translational Oncology

Studying spontaneous cancer in pets enables fast development of precision medicine for humans and animals

Jan Mol, researcher at UU Animal Cancer Centre

Spontaneously occurring cancer in dogs resembles human cancer better than any other model system. Most types of cancer in humans also occur spontaneously in dogs, with comparable clinical and histological presentation, biological behaviour, therapeutic response, and tumor heterogeneity. Dogs share the environment of humans and are thereby subject to similar carcinogens. As disease progression in dogs is much faster, translation of fundamental research from bench to bedside in new therapies takes less time.

Sharing knowledge
The objective of our programme is to improve and share the knowledge on treatment and prevention of cancer in companion animals. We are part of the UU Animal Cancer Centre, a centre of knowledge for veterinary and comparative oncology.

Our focus: Biology of cancer stem cells, searching for novel therapeutic opportunities

Tumor regrowth, metastasis and therapy resistance are the most life-threatening events in oncology. A small fraction of cells within the tumor, the so-called cancer stem cells (CSCs), are in general therapy-resistant. They are also the origin of regrowth and metastasis. It is therefore of the upmost importance to develop new strategies to inhibit not only the differentiated tumor cells, the target of most chemotherapeutics, but also these CSCs with stem cell specific inhibitors.

Finding new treatments
In this programme we study tumors that are frequently seen in companion animals, with incidences even higher that in human oncology. We focus therefore on solid tumors (mammary carcinoma, adrenocortical tumors) or lymphoma. Using cell culture techniques we search for stem cell markers that can be used for a specific therapy against cancer stem cells with small molecule inhibitors or biologicals. We use organoids and zebra fish larvae to test these inhibitors before they can be used for proof-of-principle studies in companion animals with spontaneous tumors.

Group members