Cy-Hawk researchers start new program to study cancer in pets and humans

Researchers from ISU and Holden have started the Side by Side in Cancer Research program to study similarities between human and animal cancer in order to further research and treatment options.


Lily Smith

The Stead Family Children’s Hospital is seen on on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017.

Jordan Prochnow, News Reporter

Researchers from Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine Oncology Program are collaborating to study how cancer in humans and animals share similarities in order to develop new methods of research and treatment.

Holden Center Director George Weiner said that after visiting ISU, he realized there were many parallels between the two universities’ respective areas of research.

“I was struck by a lot of the similarities and overlap with the research we do and the desire to care for patients,” he said. “We realized that when we looked at the research, there was a great potential to collaborate and to apply our research to the different areas.”

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The two universities recently developed the Side by Side in Cancer Research program, a collaboration between the different medical fields while they figure out how to best serve their patients. The program is in initial stages, but researchers have formulated a number of areas to study.

One goal of the program is to advance the understanding of cancer in diagnostics and treatments that is available for both people and animals, ISU Assistant Professor Chad Johannes said in an email to the Daily Iowan.

“Several common cancers seen in humans are also seen naturally in our pets,” Johannes said. “Because our pets have a shorter lifespan than people, their cancers typically progress more quickly, and we are able to study treatments and outcomes in a shorter period of time. This knowledge may then help inform cancer treatments in humans.”

UI Professor Michael Henry said there is a growing effort to include companion animals, such as dogs and cats, into planning for clinical trials, because their owners are affected by the pets’ health struggles, and many similarities can be seen in a variety of different cancers.

“Many people are pet owners, and many people are also impacted by cancer,” Henry said. “This collaboration is right at the intersection of that.”

Researchers in the program plan to examine a number of ways in which household pets and humans are genetically affected by cancer, particularly examining lymphoma, sarcoma, and others, as well as external factors that may be carcinogens.

Currently, the team is studying how radon affects the growth of tumors, as well as how high doses of Vitamin C can help cancer patients. In Iowa, radon levels in homes with non-cigarette smokers who develop cancer are the highest in the nation and affect both humans and their pets.

Weiner said the next step in the program is to find ways to support the research, which will take place in Iowa City and Ames. Despite the fierce competition between the two universities in athletics, Weiner said, the collaboration will ultimately benefit both institutions.

“It’s like a sibling rivalry,” he said. “You might squabble and argue about some things, but you’re clearly part of the same family. We can and are working together, and it’s a great potential for us.”