Between Mice and Men
A new research center at Auburn is bringing together cancer-fighting scientists and their pet patients—all of whom may become the newest heroes in the quest to conquer one of the nation’s deadliest diseases.
by Phillip Gentry ’77
Gracie isn’t a puppy anymore, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to retire and sit with her head on someone’s lap—although that wouldn’t be a bad way to spend a steamy summer afternoon. Instead, she still looks forward to the hunt—to brisk winter days in Oklahoma, working the fields with younger, less experienced dogs, back and forth, sniffing the ground and air for pheasant or quail until suddenly, there it is and POINT!—goal achieved, albeit with less classic artistic grace than a typical hound.
Gracie, a German shorthaired pointer who lives with her human family in Eufaula, lost her left front leg to bone cancer about two years ago. Most dogs with Gracie’s diagnosis might live a few months to a year, but veterinarians caught her cancer early; oncologists at Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine amputated the leg, then prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy to blast any leftover cancer cells. As in most veterinary cancer cases, the chemotherapy drugs used to treat Gracie—along with an anti-cancer pill she still takes every other day—were originally developed to treat cancer in humans. That’s not surprising considering there are only two approved drugs on the market specifically designed to treat cancer in animals. Two. The good news: Types of bone cancer affecting both humans and dogs are so similar they can be treated with the same medicines.
The associations between human and animal cancers—and their treatments—are the basis for an area of research fostered by a new organization on campus dubbed the
Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer. Funded by a $1 million appropriation from the Alabama legislature, AURIC is based in the veterinary college but also supports cancer research by faculty and scientists in other campus units.
“I have taken some ribbing from a few of my colleagues about funding breast cancer research in dogs,” says Alabama Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, speaker of the state House of Representatives and sponsor of the original appropriation. His interest in the issue has a personal underpinning: “I have a friend who had breast cancer, who received treatment and survived,” Hubbard says. “And her treatment was developed at a vet school.”
… read more